Written for one of my media studies classes, How to Watch TV – about the ongoing conflict between scholarly work and the popular press.
I’m posting this here because I’ll inevitably lose my original files and copies at some point, and it doesn’t hurt to get the work I’ve done “out there,” even if nobody reads it. Also, there’s always a chance that my publishing it online here will trip up the automatic plagiarism detectors.
The popular press—newspaper journalism, magazine articles, online blogs, and the such—have traditionally been looked down upon and considered inferior to academic work. Scholarly work is elitist and exclusive, limited to professors, researchers, and anyone else who never bothered to ever leave school. Fortunately, this trend of academic work’s superiority over the popular press has been changing. Recently Maria Bustillos wrote an article that clashed with a previous one by Amanda Ann Klein and Kristen Warner; the discourse between them highlights the contentious debate between the work of academics and that of journalists in the popular press. The evolving relationship between the popular press and scholarly work is especially complicated in fields such as television studies, in which aspects of popular culture are analyzed in an academic manner. Publications within this field that address a similar subject underscore the complicated relationship between scholars and journalists. An academic essay by Mark Gallagher and an online TV review by Dana Stevens both focus on the show Iron Chef, and the differences between their styles of writing serves to demonstrate this rapidly changing relationship.
In general, scholarly work has traditionally been characterized by certain features. These features can be found within Mark Gallagher’s essay “What’s So Funny About Iron Chef?” Though this essay was written about a popular media product, it was written in a scholarly style and published within the peer-reviewed Journal of Popular Film and Television. One of these scholarly characteristics is the depth of analysis in the writing. Because Gallagher is not limited to a certain word count or page count, his essay is able to address complex media and cultural theories. Gallagher uses one specific media product, Iron Chef, to begin his discussion of broader issues, such as the flow of cultural products from a subculture to a dominant culture—which is counter to the traditional flow of culture from dominant culture to subculture. (183) To put it another way, a scholarly analysis of the media enables the author to go beyond the text itself. Gallagher uses Iron Chef as background context and a starting point before continuing to his analysis of culture. Another feature of scholarly work is related to the very structure that it exists and operates within. This fact may seem evident, but cademic papers are published in peer-reviewed journals and contain references to the related work of previous scholars. The effect of this is twofold. First, it provides a method for the verification of the paper’s validity. Second, it situates the essay within a related body of work, and offers suggestions of further reading for the audience if they so choose. The last page of Gallagher’s essay contains 16 citations to other sources, which point the audience to further information about Iron Chef and the cultural theories discussed therein as well. (184) However, one potential downside to this scholarly style of work is its overall lack of accessibility. The highly technical and field-specific language notwithstanding, academic essays such as Gallagher’s are not widely available for reading by a general audience in the first place. It was published within the Journal of Popular Film and Television, meaning that someone without a journal subscription would be unable to simply “stumble upon” the essay; it will remain unknown to those who do not specifically seek it out. These features—both positive and negative—are unique to scholarly work and distinguish it from the popular press.
Similarly, writing for the popular press also has unique characteristics, the most prominent of which is its overwhelming accessibility to a wide-reaching audience. Though the Slate article about Iron Chef America was written by a staff critic, it is realistically possible for virtually anyone to publish popular articles. (Stevens) Internet communication and web publishing technologies have nearly eliminated the barriers of entry to publication. No longer is discussion of the media limited to academics writing scholarly papers. Slate’s film critic Dana Stevens alluded to the cultural implications of Iron Chef and Iron Chef America, but it could have just as easily written by someone with no journalistic experience at all. The writing quality may differ, but the discourse of ideas would remain the same. Klein and Warner argue against this openness to authorship, stating that “decades of scholarship are erased by a single, viral essay that is presumed to be the first observation of some ‘new’ phenomenon.” (Klein and Warner) This mistaken crediting of original authorship of ideas within popular discourse is a real effect, but arguably an acceptable tradeoff in exchange for increased access to these ideas. For instance, Klein and Warner admit that academic work is typically “hidden behind pay walls and university libraries,” where few people have access. Especially because media and culture affect everyone—not just academics—accessibility to the relevant cultural and media theories within the popular press is an important endeavor.
The ideal solution, therefore, is one that incorporates features of both scholarly work and the popular press. The two fields are not necessarily as separated as they might seem, and technology such as the Internet makes it possible to erase the barrier between the two. (Bustillos) Online publishing platforms make it simple for anyone with an Internet connection and a keyboard to offer their thoughts to the world, and similarly makes accessible millions of other users’ ideas. Bustillos suggests that the future is in the inclusive, as made possible by the Internet. However, this wide accessibility—a feature of the popular press—can be supplemented by a feature of scholarly work—the use of citations and references. Once again, Internet technology and online publishing platforms make this a trivial task, simple as hyperlinking to related articles and other stories. Finally, the perfect marriage of scholarly work and popular writing will ideally have multiple conclusions that appeal to a wide range of audiences. For instance, an article about Iron Chef could include an academic conclusion such as Gallagher’s reference to theories of cultural imperialism. Yet it could also reference things that are more relevant to a general audience, such as Stevens’ review of Iron Chef America not stacking up to Iron Chef. This is just one possible example, but one aspect remains clear. Scholarly work and the popular press is not as separated as once thought, and it is possible to include the best features of both.
The relation between academic and journalistic work has been contentious and complicated, especially in the field of television studies. Even articles that address the same media text can approach it in vastly different ways, reach vastly different audiences, and make vastly different conclusions. However the advent of new technology such as the Internet has helped bridge the gap between the two. Because culture and media permeate all aspects of life, it is unreasonable to limit discourse to the academics. Scholarly work, the popular press, and a combination of the two all have a unique angle to offer and are worthy of consideration.
Bustillos, Maria. “Profsplaining, Or, The Internet Is a Classroom, Whinypants!” BLARB. N.p., 12 Aug. 2016. Web. 9 Feb. 2017.
Gallagher, Mark. “What’s So Funny About Iron Chef?” Journal of Popular Film and Television 31.4 (2004): 176–84. alliance-primo.com. Web.
Klein, Amanda, and Kristin Warner. “Erasing the Pop-Culture Scholar, One Click at a Time.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. N.p., 6 July 2016. Web. 9 Feb. 2017.
Stevens, Dana. “Asian Fusion.” Slate 23 Apr. 2004. Slate. Web. 9 Feb. 2017.