Why Media Studies is shit
Over at Stumbling and Mumbling Chris Dillow has been considering how ‘dumbing down’ in education can be economically prudent.
‘…the dumbing down of exams can help. They’ll allow those people with good but non-tested skills to now acquire credentials as well. And as these people can now get jobs ahead of good exam-passers with poor other skills, so labour productivity might improve. This would happen if the decline in average tested skills is small, relative to the improvement in average non-tested skills of the new exam-passers, or if non-tested skills are very important for job success. It’s possible, therefore, that dumbing down can be good for the economy.’
This looks to me like the ‘skills agenda’, which privileges technical over academic performance, eviserating the intellectual content of courses, as it is doing in Media Studies.
Media Studies has a poor reputation anyway and is often in the frame when the accusation of dumbing down is levelled at contemporary education. It’s as if seeking to understand a modern world, increasingly dependent upon mass forms of communicative practice, is somehow an errant way of spending your time and money. Admittedly Media Studies has endeavoured to dignify an academic interest in the popular and sometimes the apparently trivial but this is an important part of its project, to illuminate the banal and the everyday in ways that expose their ideological significance.
When Media Studies is done properly it is as intellectually demanding and rigourous as any discipline. In fact, Media Studies is multi-disciplinary, drawing upon sociology, political science, economics, literary theory and psychoanalysis to name but a few. And it’s this very promiscuousness that may cause alarm in some quarters. In others, namely the media itself, hostility to Media Studies is inspired by its discomfort at being subject to scrutiny.
But now Media Studies’ critical relation to the media is being replaced by subservience to the media industry’s economic requirements. Rather than analyse and interrogate the media, university departments serve the industry by supplying ‘industry ready graduates’. And in this way Media Studies becomes less an intellectual pursuit than an apprenticeship for a future job.
There is a massive contradiction here, for who would seriously spend over £3000 pounds a year on university fees (plus other expenses) to learn how to use a camera when you could simply read an instruction manual. But that’s where we are these days and there are influential bodies set up to encourage this anti-intellectual drive in higher education.
Take Skillset, for example, a body jointly funded by industry and government, which supports skills and training for the creative industries by colonising university departments, replacing the intellectual with the purely technical. For some departments the promise of profitable links with industry and the assumption that the association with Skillset will aid recruitment is too much to resist.
The most pernicious thing about this agenda is the way in which it further institutionalises a class divide in HE, between a new university-educated proletariat, who are technically proficient, and the graduates who will manage them in the future, and will have gone to universities that didn’t submit to the ‘skills agenda’. And for this reason it is hard to take seriously the Great and the Good who fret about ‘dumbing down’ when they and their offspring will surely profit from it.