Polemics and disciplinary questioning in Marc Furstenau's talk on (the style of) "Cinemetrics"

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If one defines a polemic, as Michel Foucault does in a 1984 interview with Paul Rabinow, as the methodological enemy of truth, which "[rejects] all possible solutions except for the one valid one," (Michel Foucault, Ethics: Essential Works, 112, 114) then how are we to position Marc Furstenau's self-proclaimed "polemic" that "cinemetrics" cannot properly measure filmic style in a meaningful way? Now, I don't quite agree that this argument is a polemic, as the term has been defined above, but I also don't believe that Furstenau fleshed out the opposition to cinemetrics as fully and forcefully as may have been necessary to decide whether or not this opposition to quantification of style carried out in this way may either limit or open up "truth" or any such disciplinary goal of film studies.


To reject cinemetrics does not necessarily lead to a diminishment in our ability to know or understand style better. As much as we all may believe (or not believe) in the ideal of a large diversity in research surrounding our disciplinary object, can we not ask if particular strategies might not lead our discipline astray, and even be a huge waste of our time? In the Q and A, the comment was made (not by Furstenau) that "It can't hurt to have this information. [...] the more information the better." I don't agree with these statements. Information is not neutral. For instance, who knows what kinds of interests fund such projects as cinemetrics, perhaps the underlying quest in this research is to create the "perfect film formula," verifiable by science you see, which can be used in a totalitizing manner by business executives to limit which scripts get produced and which do not in the future.


Furstenau responded to this comment by asserting that the information provided by cinemetrics was meager and redundant (already intuited), concluding that its most sizeable contribution might be as a "demonstration of what careful analysis looks like." As someone who agreed with Furstenau's "polemic" to question the value of cinematrics in a discussion of film style, I was a bit disappointed that the positivistic model was yet again being held up as the ideal in a discussion of the needs of one of the Humanities. I find these moments of deference to scientific ideals a little baffling. Do we in film studies want to set as the standard for "careful analysis" those projects of quantification that aim towards producing information, data, and certainty? Where else might we look within our own discipline to find better examples of "careful analysis" one that depends on qualification, perhaps. Furthermore, positivistic projects to measure and define expression have particular goals that should be understood within our discipline before being sanctioned by it. We should be asking what the value of these efforts might be.  It is important to question the values we place on particular methodologies if we are to position ourselves as a discipline, and justify our unification, as we must publically. I understand positivistic projects exist already within our discipline. This discussion, in which "the more information the better" seemed not to be met with much resistance, makes me wonder if those positivistic projects already underway were not questioned too heavily because of this attitude, and if many of them were funded (over others) more readily by education administrators because of an already prevalent assumption that scholarship is more rigorous (and profitable for business, as well) when it engages in the scientific method. If fear that we lack rigor in our (non-scientific) methods is causing us to take a rather lax, "anything goes" attitude toward these quantification projects that take their justification so easily from a privileged scientific position that seeks to maintain such a hierarchy, we need to reevaluate our understanding of whose standards we are holding ourselves to?


Information is never merely information. It is motivated by ideology every bit as much as anything we do in qualitative analysis, but information attempts to disguise itself as neutral objectivity. In addition, information is highly susceptible to being co-opted by powerful entities to be used as support for various dubious projects (of which there are many). Moreover, it structures the way we come to think about our objects of study, with the danger of reification perpetually knocking on the laboratory door.


I believe Furstenau was right to ask the value of such research, though I believe he could go further in his questioning. I believe that by asking this question he is not limiting our view of truth or meaning to "the one valid one" but rather focusing our attention of the question what we choose to accept as worthwhile uses of our disciplinary resources. And if cinemetrics is getting something right, we will only be able to know by evaluating its usefulness in these discussions. Perhaps Furstenau's (false) "polemic" is really the critique we need to open up the question of what place our discipline chooses to give such projects of quantification of expression over the ever-evolving qualification methods used throughout the Humanities.


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