The other mistake is in the opposite direction--the mistake of confusing fancy terminology, jargon, and footnotes with "intelligence." My own Film Studies program is headed by a professor who has done most of his work as a journalist or editor of other people's work, in other words not as a scholar or thinker. He makes this mistake himself. He confuses obfuscation with profundity, being derivative with being a scholar. He thinks that foreign terms, names, references, footnotes, and bibliographies are what turns something into "scholarship." It's a natural enough mistake for someone who has spent most of his life as a journalist and editor to make. Most of what students learn in his courses is how to translate films into fancy terminology and jargon and references to other people's ideas. It's the opposite of real scholarship, of course, which is ultimately simply about being intelligent and perceptive and original and insightful. The students are taught to cripple themselves with fake-scholarly crutches, forgetting that everyone they quote, every term they borrow, every footnote they insert in their papers was originally just one particular person's idea or insight--and often a bad idea or fake insight. Just because they are quoting something from a book or big-name thinker doesn't make it any smarter. The students think that by borrowing someone else's ideas, they are demonstrating their own intelligence, when the opposite is the case. They are putting their own brains on pause to borrow someone else's ideas. So guard against that kind of book also--the unreadable one full of big words and lot of "scholarly" footnotes. It's all the rage in Film Studies, where the field itself is so inherently flaky and full of nonsense that students and professors feel they have to dignify their banalities and mistakes with fancy words and a foreign intellectual pedigree.
Another extremely common and fashionable critical fallacy is to treat art as if it dealt with social and cultural externals—the outsides of life—systems of power relations; social and economic issues; questions of race, class, and gender; ideological, political, and social systems of relationship; etc. Generalizations about history, culture, and society become the meaning of art. This treatment of art can be incredibly appealing to a student because it gives works of art a stunning degree of power in society. The problem is that it’s not true. In fact, it’s so ridiculous it’s laughable. These professors don't understand the first thing about art. Art has no power of that sort. The power-obsessed, power-hungry critics (many of them in gender and multicultural studies, all the more unfortunately) are utopians. They want to change human nature; they want to abolish fundamental sexual, emotional, and cognitive differences between men and women; they want to reform the world. They think their kind of art (and their kind of criticism) can change those things--that it can change gender values and the nature of society. They are worse than wrong. They are in denial--in denial of fundamental truths about human nature and culture. They think their kind of art (and their kind of criticism) can change the world. They want art to fight a gender war and lead a multiculural crusade. But art makes nothing happen. And it is about insides not outsides. In fact, it understands the unimportance and irrelevance of power as a definition of human relationship. It creates and celebrates heightened imaginative states; it cultivates feelings; it builds consciousness. It does not change the world. Sorry, guys: Works of art can neither oppress nor liberate the masses. Neither art nor criticism has that kind of power—nor should you want them to have it—unless you’re Hitler or Stalin.
[For anyone who is interested, the preceding three paragraphs criticizing prevalent critical approaches to film are the kind of ideas I was formally told (in several cases, in writing) by the Boston University Legal Department, the Boston University Provost, the Dean of the College of Communication, the Chairman of the Department of Film and Television, or the Director of Film Studies that I was not allowed to tell my students in class ("too controversial") or to publish on my faculty web site ("casting the department in a false light"). These were not casual, idle, or passing threats. In terms of the first prohibition--on what I was and was not allowed to say to my students in class--specific students were deputed (without my knowledge of course) to spy on me and file "reports" with my Dean about anything I said in class that might be considered "controversial," so that I could be called on the carpet for having said it--with my pay and evaluations negatively affected of course. (As I note this spying policy was adopted and carried out in secret, without my being warned that such reports were actively being solicited and filed about my classes.) My views on race, class, gender, ideology, art, and criticism were politically "incorrect," and political incorrectness is not only prohibited but punished at BU--with the full knowledge and approval of the university Legal Department. In terms of the second prohibition--the one censoring what I was allowed to publish on my official university web site, which in the end completely withdrew my right to have a faculty web site at all at Boston University, I was explicitly told that if I didn't agree to the complete censorship and withdrawal of everything that I had posted on the site, the university would take two specific actions to destroy me professionally and financially. The first was that BU administrators would make a public posting on the university web site designed to undermine my reputation and standing (destroying me professionally); and the second was that university lawyers would be brought in to tie me up in legal maneuvers that would bankrupt me financially if I chose to fight them and resist the censorship policy. For detailed descriptions of the lengths to which these particular Boston University administrators and others were willing to go to stop me from saying or publishing these sorts of ideas and financially and bureaucratically punishing me for having said them, see the introductions to three other earlier blog pages (available in the side menu): "Censorship, Punishment, Abuse, Threats--Being Banned in Boston," "Making a Living or Making a Life--The Purpose of an Education," and "Losing Consciousness--Losing Invaluable Ways of Understanding." (The introductions to the first and third pages in this list have the most detailed descriptions of some of the techniques of torture Boston University administrators have come up with to enforce their censorship policies against me and my ideas.) A fourth blog page, posted in November 2013 and titled "The Thought Police," also contains a narrative account of the actions of BU administrators to attempt to control and suppress my publications and punish me, financially and bureaucratically, for having expressed the opinions I had.]
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