IN HIS NEW BOOK Blow Up the Humanities, Toby Miller divides the humanities into two camps. Humanities One lionizes books, is dominated by the disciplines of literature and history, pushes values and disdains trade, belongs primarily to “fancy private schools,” and organizes instruction around the charisma of the professor, who responds to the “ethical incompleteness” of his or her students by modeling good taste through ingenious interpretations. When Humanities One professors hear the word “commodity,” they reach for their fountain pens. Humanities Two, on the other hand, centers its energies on film, television, and media; courts relevance and employability; sets up shop in “everyday state schools,” community colleges, and for-profit institutions; and prefers the economic sugar high of rapid enskillment to the wine-and-cheese durée of self-cultivation.
Miller, a Distinguished Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at UC Riverside, prefers the populist front of Humanities Two to the head-in-sand elitism of Humanities One. His real goal, however, is to promote a Humanities Three, dedicated to studying the “cross-pollinating world” of the creative industries, including news, entertainment, and sports. By coupling intellectual seriousness with pragmatic engagement, Miller aims to merge the two humanities in a resilient new hybrid, a curricular Prius whose data engine is boosted by a steady hermeneutic feed. This new hybrid Humanities will “reflect the multimedia future of our society and economy and the intertwined cultures of our population,” providing both new tools for citizenship and some hope of meaningful employment for next-generation college students. Blow Up the Humanities persuasively argues that humanists should tip their research and teaching away from the cultural heritage of the past and towards the products, platforms and infrastructure of contemporary creative industries, so that both students and the institutions that teach them can thrive.
Miller has already demonstrated how this work can be done in his many previous books; please read his funny and illuminating chapters on the weather channel and food programming in Cultural Citizenship (2006) or his rousing account of the international body industry in SportSex (2002). He has also written extensively on how cultural policy, written by and for academics, business leaders, foundation presidents, and government officials, helps shape public debate about art and information in Australia, Latin America, and Europe, but flails and fumbles in the United States’ market-driven civil society. Policy-blind and sociology-shy humanists may know how to analyze fictional texts, but, Miller tells us in Blow Up, “they are typically ignorant of where those texts physically come from or end up and what happens to them in between.” A policy-based approach, on the other hand, takes into account numbers and trends in order to make larger recommendations to agencies in charge of learning benchmarks and income flows. Cultural policy requires its practitioners to navigate the polluted riptides of capital, rather than simply “withdrawing to cloisters/enclaves of dead white men and living people of color.” Buoyant with data and armored with action points, Blow Up the...read more