We get nowhere by pretending to ourselves that we can ever break out of culture and view it, as it were, from the outside. We’re in it. And we’re there to stay. By loving something and criticising it too, you kind of efface the nature of the all-embracing grip. But how can you not? You shouldn’t pretend you can.
The solution (for me anyway) lies in using and abusing what you love, forcing it – and your talk about it – to become a way of criticising the society that created it. You don’t break out of culture but you do turn an aspect of it into a weapon of sorts, even if you just use the weapon to recarve the inside of your own head. This, of course, comes from my personal ideological perspective.
More. For me, the approach to culture can always be both for itself, for its own sake, for the sheer hell of it, *and* as a way into social criticism. You can love it because you love it and also because you hate it, because of what your hatred for aspects of it allows you to do. Assault everything. You can have your cake and eat it too. You can enjoy the ‘use value’ of the commodity (TV show, film, book, whatever) while also analysing it. Where does my enjoyment come from, what does it mean, how to others enjoy it, why is it created the way it is, what does it do culturally and politically, etc. I think any other approach ends up with you thinking you shouldn’t enjoy stuff you find politically dodgy and then pretending you don’t (which leads to strange neuroses that are actually pretty common on the left).
Of course, that model assumes that there can never be any positive critique in mass culture. I’m not one to think mass culture can ever really be ‘subversive’… but I do think it can (and does) sometimes provide uncompromised critique that can be used positively rather than negatively, i.e. you can supportively adopt aspects of what it ‘says’ as well as using some of what it ‘says’ against it.