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As some others have said, I was initially surprised that the author had
even bothered to talk to Penley et al, but overall the piece was as
misinformed and spiteful ('snide' will certainly cover it too) as the
pieces we have to put up with periodically over here in the UK. (The same
kind of nonsense - Media Studies is by turns 'too easy', or 'too obscure',
or run by a cabal of Marxists - the same drivel we can see in the LAT piece
and, sadly, some of the responses to it).

The lazy conflation of what seems to be ALL theory (except of course the
most basic of empiricist approaches, where the researcher is simply
ferreting out self-evident historical facts - no 'theory' there, then)
demeans us all. Part of what we do is using existing theories, developing
them in new directions, applying them to things they have not been applied
to before, etc. I'm no real fan of psychoanalysis as a 'theory', yet this
does not stop me using some of its conceptual framework to understand what
I'm researching. For instance, I'm looking at animation, rotoscoping, and
representations of the real (and dreaming) - I can be broadly critical of
some of what psychoanalysis says and does, while still finding concepts
like the 'uncanny' or the 'mystic writing pad' very useful for describing
how a film like 'Waking Life' is meaningful. Similarly, I know plenty of
people who would never describe themselves as a 'Marxist' but find many
theorists/critics working broadly within that area have said useful things.
Does finding useful Walter Benjamin's analysis of photography, or his
concepts of 'aura', or the 'optical unconscious' make you a 'Marxist' (or a
'Benjaminist')? Maybe. But it's much more likely that you are someone who
simply reads stuff and then works out how it might (or might not) apply to
what you are researching.

Again, as others have said, the bizarre labelling of Branigan as some sort
of crypto-Marxist is simply wrong (perhaps because he was talking about
Benjamin, Weddle got confused?). And, certainly, his work can be demanding,
but that means one has to make some effort, enagage with and critique it,
not simply conclude that because he uses some long words he is an
obscurantist (whoa!). His work on narrative is a case in point: does
'narrativity' simply mean the same as 'storytelling'? Answer - I'm not
sure, but having a think about it might help. That's what we should be
encouraging students (and each other) to do - think critically about
whatever they are looking at. I get the impression that, if the LAT guy and
others like him had their way, a lecture on film narrative could be given
by Homer Simpson, with his statement 'It's just a bunch of stuff that
happened!'

My final point is to do with the idea of 'relevance' (I was going to say
'use-value' or 'exchange-value' - as that is what we are talking about
here: how 'relevant' are the skills students learn to the job market? -

but I wouldn't want to be labelled a Marxist). I agree that programmes of
study need to be constantly updated, revised, critiqued. This keeps them
intellectually relevant. And I am perfectly happy when students of mine get
jobs (in film and Tv, and elsewhere). But to conclude that what we are
doing is somehow training people in an instrumentalist fashion to 'do'
specific things in the workplace is, I think, wrong. There are courses that
do that sort of thing, but the majority of Media courses do not (or
certainly don't spend ALL their time doing this). (By the same token,
I'd imagine that not many English Literature graduates go on to become
novelists, poets etc). Lest we forget, one can learn an enormous amount by
researching something really obscure or popular (or in some people's eyes,
dumb). What you then have are a set of skills that can be applied elsewhere
. . .you've basically learned how to research and think about something. Is
it a coincidence that most of the scorn poured on Media Studies emanates
from people like Weddle (a journalist) and Ebert (a film reviewer)? Perhaps
they don't want people around who are equipped with the critical
wherewithal to dissect what they do. . .

Incidentally, does anyone know what Joe Bob Briggs thinks of Branigan's
work, or film theory in general? Maybe Weddle can tell us in a follow-up
piece.



***************************************
Paul Ward
Lecturer in Film and Television Studies
Dept. of Performing Arts
Brunel University
Uxbridge UB8 3PH, UK
01895 274 000 ext 3956
***************************************

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