Them and us? Cool cultural studies and sweaty journalism! Reply

We all like to tell stories. Journalists do it for a living and are supposed to seek the truth. Cultural studies academics are also in the story telling business but most think there’s no such thing as the truth.

Journalists meanwhile are certain there are such things as deliberate lies.

Cultural studies academics often see journalists’ search for the truth as a sham and their pretensions to professionalism, a joke. Baffled journalists respond by suggesting some cultural studies academics are just embroidering their own prejudices.

Their critiques are not close.

However, the latest edition of the Cultural Studies Review is in fact all about critical proximity, which was said to be :

…not just the application and creation of critique but the acknowledgement that a radically new arrangement of the ordering principles of distance and closeness has come to pass.

You might be tempted to ask what this means. But there’s more… The article “Transactions in Desire”, attempts to analyse what journalists do, in what was described as “Media Imaginings of Narcotics and Terrorism in Indonesia”. It seems that the words of naughty Australian journalists have damaged relations with Asia.


Much of the Australian media and political ‘mediasphere’ have contributed to the destabilisation of this relationship [between Australia and Indonesia ], most particularly as many media professionals reduce complex transcultural and transnational engagement to simple and essentialised cultural dichotomies.

Perhaps this means that journalists see the relationship as a case of “them and us”. You might think that anyone who has seen commercial media’s parachute reportage of Asia, would regard this as a reasonable, if not obvious, hypothesis. But a journalist might ask what proof is cited for this rather big claim?

The article describes a journalist in Asia:

An Australian journalist, sweaty and nervous, sits on the floor of the visiting room in Bali’s Krobokan Prison.

The journalist was not initially identified and the time of the meeting was not indicated. Is this an imaginary journalist imagining Asia? If so, we would be entering a right old hall of mirrors here.  The authors describe the journalist as “sweaty and nervous”. Does this indicate the journalist is insecure in this foreign “other”?

He fumbles around in his pockets looking for a pencil sharpener.

The use of the verb “fumbles” may indicate the journalist is incompetent.

I thought you were a professional’, someone laughs.

Professionalism would appear to be seen as a joke.

The journalist’s eyes darken. ‘I am!’

It would seem that assertive journalists take this joke seriously.

He sneers and returns his gaze imploringly toward the subject of his
interview, convicted Australian drug courier, Scott Rush.

It would appear that the use of the ambiguous verb “sneers” indicates what unpleasant chaps these generic journalists really are.

First year journalism students would be failed for purple prose larded with unsubstantiated assertions. “What’s your source?” they would be asked. Who was involved? Where did it happen? When? Where are your direct quotes? If the first year students could answer these questions, then they might be permitted to speculate why.

The authors claim to have witnessed the exchange they wrote about. But since there’s no clear attribution, or what journalists call sources, there was no way of telling where it came from.

Cultural studies professors appear unhindered by such petty methodologies. After all, if there’s no such thing as the truth, there are no facts and if you don’t have to worry about proof, you can deliver expert commentaries without raising a sweat.

That takes us even deeper into the hall of mirrors.

Why go to the trouble to go to Asia to report, when you can just imagine it? If you do have to provide references, you can just quote journalists, who can’t be trusted anyway.

Anyway, journalists are stupid as well being cultural criminals:

The sweaty journalist in Krobokan Prison entirely misses the point. His own industry—and indeed his own appalling narrative of the ‘dead man talking’— is complicit with the crime of cultural excess.

In short,  this academic article about journalism appears to contain unsubstantiated prejudice, which is of course exactly what journalists are accused of. Perhaps what we are seeing is little more than what the authors  called “essentialised cultural dichotomies”.
But that couldn’t be true?
Could it?


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