Cultural Studies, The Sopranos, and The Courier-Mail
Brisbane-based, News Ltd daily, The Courier-Mail, has an expose on the flagrant misuse of taxpayer’s money by an arrogant, elitist, money-grubbing academic at UQ. His crime? He went to a conference! Shock! Horror!
In this case, Assoc. Prof. Jacobs was an invited speaker at an international conference on The Sopranos, presenting a keynote paper entitled “Christopher, Osama and AJ: Contemporary Narcissism and Terrorism in The Sopranos“. Aside from the prestige of being invited, a fact that cements Jacobs’s reputation as a major scholar in television studies, and a credit to UQ and Australian scholarship, the comparing of highly visible, popular cultural texts with the foremost social panic of our times—terrorism—is an important thing for scholarship to be doing. Terrorism is not just a security issue: it is a social and cultural construction, and needs to be examined in these contexts, as well as in military and security ones.
But this hatchet-job—fairly predictable for the C-M: one of the most populist and anti-intellectual rags in the anti-intellectual News Corp stable—is interesting for other reasons. The more optimistic among us thought that last November’s change of government might have heralded a new era of acceptance for scholarship that doesn’t have a direct financial benefit, but this was always a faint hope: note Kevin Rudd’s habitual tying of education to employment, if you want to know what he thinks about the purpose of scholarship.
Forty years after Hoggart, Williams, Hall, and the others, it is a crime that we still have to justify the role of cultural studies in a world that makes more and more use of our objects of study. It’s not just “chatting about the telly”, although that is what the C-M article implies. The Sopranos, at one point in its run, was watched by over 13 million people, has won 21 Emmys, five Golden Globes, and on syndication commands something like $2.5 million per episode.
That an industry with this sort of impact shouldn’t rate some sort of critical, theoretically-informed analysis is ludicrous.
Jacobs’s $2,000 (which probably wasn’t even enough to cover the airfares) is a measly amount to provide to a major, international scholar in this context. And I expect it looks pretty paltry compared to David Fagan’s expense account.