Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Now I really have seen EVERYTHING!

Chinese academics purporting to deconstruct South Park!  Top that!!

The latest in the long line of depressingly awful 'academic' articles I've had to edit was attempting to survey the interaction of popular culture with the realm of international affairs. It was, as usual, a ragbag of disparate points, with no overarching structure or original analysis.

It is an habitual problem with these articles that the authors are - quite literally - 'cutting & pasting' long extracts from native English sources, with little or no real grasp of their meaning. Hence, for example, the doltish duo responsible for this latest abomination note the use of the derogatory term 'South Park conservatives' by journalists such as Andrew Sullivan (an Oxford lao tongxue of mine, who was once kind enough to give me a plug on his blog on The Atlantic), but fail to explain what the connotations of this expression are, or what kind of people it is applied to (in their original text, before I clarified it, they appeared to suggest that this was a comment on the show's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone).

Better yet, they assert that the fact that accidents and disasters in the show are usually Cartman's fault somehow establishes an argument that the theory of global warming is bogus. Come again?

The humour in South Park is so densely layered, so profuse in its cultural references, and so scattergun in its targets that it is scarcely susceptible to analysis at all. Matt and Trey boast of being "equal opportunity offenders" who deliberately avoid adopting straightforward or consistent political atttitudes in their humour: they ridicule anyone and anything; they make jokes just because they're funny, not because of their content or implicit viewpoint. I know that - since I am not an American, not living in America, not immersed full-time in American news and media and popular culture - at least 50% of their jokes go right over my head. But at least I'm usually vaguely aware that I'm missing something. Chinese professors attempting to dissect the show apparently don't have this consciousness of their limitations, this humility.

A brief bit of online research reveals - unsurprisingly - that most of this passage on South Park (and the entirety of a lengthy section on the villainy of Lord Voldemort as a parable of fascism and international terrorism) was lifted word-for-word...... from Wikipedia!! (But the extracts were selected so ineptly as to remove all the crucial linking or introductory sentences which provided the necessary context for any of it to be readily comprehensible or logically relevant to the arguments supposedly being made.)

I find this kind of work often reduces me to tears. And it's not just laughter.


JES said...

Under the circumstances, you probably will greet this article (from the Guardian) with even more of that mad, bitter laughter. Headline: China poised to overhaul US as biggest publisher of scientific papers.

Quite an accomplishment when you consider the difficulty of all that cutting-'n'-pasting!

Gary said...

No WAY?! Cartman's a doofus, so Matt + Trey must be climate change skeptics? Yeah that makes perfect sense.

And they rely on Wikipedia for their knowledge of Harry Potter, rather than, y'know, reading the books - or watching the movies? Mind-bogging!

I don't know how you put up with this crap.

Froog said...

Neither do I, Gary, neither do I. It really isn't good for my brain.

JES, your comment got diverted to 'Spam' for some reason. Sobering news indeed! However, I suppose in the pure sciences, there probably is quite a bit of genuinely 'original' research going on. It's only the humanities and social sciences and authors think they can get away with recycling.