Content of the Form

Next week in the Media and Culture class I’m teaching, we’re taking up the debate between ideological reading and (British) cultural studies, using Flashdance as a case study text and reading Michael Ryan/Douglas Kellner and Angela McRobbie. Now there are all sorts of philosophical differences underlying each approach, but I find it remarkable how the difference between the two readings can be determined by the priority they place on the same observations. Ryan and Kellner write,
Working-class films are contradictory in character. Most, like Rocky, Saturday Night Fever, and Flashdance, evidence a desire for transcendence of working-class life that potentially threatens the class system. But that desire to overcome the limited life possibilities which capitalism bestows on its bottom rung is generally limited to individualist forms, which tend to reinforce the founding values and the legitimating ideology of the class system.
What if we wrote, instead:
Working-class films are contradictory in character. Most, like Rocky, Saturday Night Fever, and Flashdance, tend to reinforce the founding values and the legitimating ideology of the class system by approaching class in individualist terms. But that desire to overcome the limited life possibilities which capitalism bestows on its bottom rung potentially threatens the class system.
Where you put the “but” makes a lot of difference. I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice this, and it makes me wish I knew a little something about rhetorical forms, or epistemology.

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