John Caldwell’s call for a variety of perspectives on industrial analysis, most notably the inclusion and anthropological and ethnographic methodologies, is a point well taken. However, I find his willingness to admit industrial modes of meaning production into academic study troubling for a number of reasons.
No doubt canonizing works of television along with the rest of the pantheon of western art in an ultimate hall of masterpieces is hardly a prudent way to proceed, a wholesale rejection of the form is equally foolish. Caldwell’s tribulations as the “lone” TV Studies defender in a sea of ridicule notwithstanding, what we need is a critical theory of the form. This approach was not in evidence in much of what Caldwell put forward, and his lionization of the “avant-garde” qualities of mainstream marketing departments certainly had my blood boiling.
Understanding corporate culture as “culture” (at least in the anthropological sense) is no great leap forward. What such studies do is illuminate an ethnographic lack in industrial studies, not any way towards a method that understands the “reality on the ground.” If television studies comed forth as a more revolutionary medium when compared to some of the staid and traditional considerations of film, it will only be because we develop a critical approach that is able to reflect on its own goals and processes. Self-reflexive critical practice should still be at the center of any approach to industrial structure.
In addition, when we speak about the need for other approaches to temper films studies’ viewpoint, this interdisciplinarity cannot be proposed as a collapsing of methods into each other. We must think of it as an opening up of the concepts that animate method (space, time, textuality, performance etc.) Interdisciplinary discussion must involve a meta-critical, reflective component and that need is best addressed in the classroom, not the board room.
On the subject of the “Avant-Garde” in marketing:
Marketing departments do not create art, they create hype. It is naked cynicism to assume that the two enter into each other’s orbit. Furthermore, if one can use critical practices for marketing purposes they cease to be critical practices.