Friday, July 4, 2008

Cultural Citizenship

Warmly socialist.
—Anne Cooper-Chen (2002)
From the time the term “politics” was invented, every type of politics has
been defined by its relation to nature, whose every feature, property, and
function depends on the polemical will to limit, reform, establish, shortcircuit,
or enlighten public life.
—Bruno Latour (2004, 1)
Because my job as a private investigator lent itself more toward the
mundane and realistic, I didn’t have much use for theory.
—James Crumley (2005, 24)
This book takes its frames of reference from cultural studies, but without
neoliberal or reactionary rapprochements. We simply must address the destructive
implications of the fact that “consumption is now virtually out of control
in the richest countries”—that the wealthiest 20 percent of the world consumes
over five times more food, water, fuel, minerals, and transport than their parents
did, and that the annual expenditure on advertising in the United States
alone is heading towards US$275 billion, close to half the global total. In the
last two centuries, the world’s population has increased by a factor of five and
goods and services by a factor of fifty (Beck 1999, 6; Klaasen 2005; Sanders
2005b; Sattar 2001, 12).
Of course I am not arguing for an absolute choice between pleasure and
politics, leisure and labor, or consumption and citizenship. It is as absurd to
ignore markets as it is to reduce society to them (Martín-Barbero 2001b, 26).
In pondering communications scholar Liesbet van Zoonen’s productive provocation,
“Can citizenship be pleasurable?” (2005, 1), I endorse the stress on freedom
to choose, and the use of commodities to build culture. Yet, I abjure the
model of the consumer, audience member, or artist as the center of politics
and theory, in favor of a commitment to difference, understood through disability,
religion, class, gender, race, and sexuality.
Unlike many within cultural studies, I do not focus primarily on fictional
media. Instead, I concentrate on the factual deficit that neoliberal deregulation
and its associated moral panics have generated. Clearly, popular art is
22 | introduction
enormously important in the world constructed for citizens; both in the
themes it investigates and the formal and stylistic tropes it pioneers. But my
intention is to shed light on who owns the knowledge that animates society,
how they define and communicate that knowledge, and the complex imbrication
of politics, economics, and culture that colors our barrio. This is a work
of tendency, designed to assist leftist politics via the reassertion of a democratic,
internationalist state that ensures citizens know enough to comprehend
and change relations with others, by reducing the risks of everyday life and
their distortion as moral panics.
It is obvious that media coverage of terrorism and militarism poses key questions
for citizens, and that media deregulation has led to a consolidation and
rationalization of ownership and practice that militate against adequate public
knowledge about foreign policy—hence the centrality of terrorism and war
to Chapter Two. But why are food (Chapter Three) and weather (Chapter
Four) here? They concern the problems identified by the first demographers,
and listed by the economic critic Will Hutton as our “great global public
goods—peace, trade, aid, health, the environment, and security” (2003b: 3).
Cultural Citizenship uncovers how these goods are privatized, transforming
the citizen into a consumer governed via cultural niches, and the cost of such
developments to progressive politics. Utilizing Hutton’s categories:
• Under peace and security, I look into terrorism and war—how the
media and the state externalize and export risk.
• Under trade, aid, and health, I consider food—how the media and
the state regulate and corporatize risk.
• Under the environment, I turn to weather—how the media and
the state govern and commodify risk.

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