July 26, 2006

Totally Radical

So I read this article, over at Inside Higher Ed. It's written by a professor who teaches rhetorical studies, but the entirety of the article is about the challenge of teaching queer theory to Texans, and whether or not he has somehow compromised his radical street cred by relying on liberal humanism.

Well, fine. I'm a traditionalist, so I'm not gonna waste time arguing about it--just call me a pawn of the phallocentric culture, yadda, yadda, yadda. But that's not even my point.

The writer spends some time lamenting the death of academic freedom and growing public hostility toward the professoriate at the same time that he creates an interesting meta-example of why these things may be the case.

First off, the paragraphs wherein the professor describes the subject matter read like a parody of an academic written by someone like, well, me. When you start a paragraph with

The day after I lectured on heterosexist norms in heavy metal music videos, I was summoned to the principal’s office to get a talking to.

you might be inviting some ridicule from the outside world. I read the prof's email to his class, his explanation as to why he's doing what he's doing, and have to wonder what would happen if he sent it to the parents of the students he teaches.

Because here we see the disconnect between the real world and academe. Like it or not, the image of the ivy-covered walls that the public has of academia does NOT include a classroom full of co-eds involved in a discussion of The Man forcing his phallus on society via Warrant's Cherry Pie video. Seriously.

It's obvious that part of the university's job is to expose students to different points of view and to force them to examine rhetoric and rhetorical strategies. It's also apparent to anyone who's been in academe and then left for the "real world" that the compartmentalization and obsession with minutiae that serves professors so well in getting published and getting tenure doesn't translate well outside the academy; in fact, it tends to seem like so much meaningless mental masturbation. And when you're paying someone up to six figures a year on the taxpayer's dime to talk about interchangeable sex organs as represented in the music of a "polyamorous figure" named Peaches--well, I can see where the public hostility is coming from.

There's room in the university for both academic freedom and the ability to fire hacks, proselytizers and plagiarizers without apology (not that this professor is any of the latter). But I don't exactly trust academia's leading lights to figure out how to do this any time soon. How's that for radical?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at July 26, 2006 02:26 PM

I don't get heavy metal. I do know the phallocentric implications of swagger, however : too tight pants.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at July 26, 2006 06:16 PM

Did you see the First Person column from Thursday July 20th in the Chronicle of Higher Ed's Career section? It's by a new prof who frets about social responsibility in regard to his university's retirement plan.

He's also disturbed by his tendency (in the face of mortgage payments & child care) to find himself "gravitating toward the inexpensive and mass-produced clothing offered by large corporate retailers." (wow, this poor schlub is actually having to descend to the level of the Great Unwashed Masses by shopping at the cheapest store--what a martyr.)

What really freaks this guy out, though, is that by participating in a retirement plan that depends on "capitalist" investments, & by buying cheap clothes at (presumably) a big-box store, he's "essentially saying that the welfare of my family is more important than the welfare of others, which is truly the last sentiment that I want my students to identify with."

My jaw hit the floor at that last sentence. Yeah, that's what we should be teaching our students to do--flush their family's long-term wellbeing & financial stability down the toilet just to make a "socially responsible" gesture.

Yechhh. I'm still feeling queasy.

Posted by: stina at July 26, 2006 07:24 PM

If only I had written that paper, 20+ years ago on the Rocky Horror Picture Show serving as the Eucharist for the church of American hedonism, I'd *have* tenure. (Yes, I WAS drunk and throwing fistfuls of rice when inspiration struck me.)

Posted by: Naomi at July 26, 2006 07:46 PM

Mencken on Thorsten Veblen, 1919. Long, but worth it and strangely relevant....

[Veblen's prose is] a cent’s worth of information wrapped in a bale of polysyllables.... It was as if the practice of that incredibly obscure and malodorous style were a relentless disease, a sort of progressive intellectual diabetes, a leprosy of the horse sense. Words were flung upon words until all recollection that there must be a meaning in them, a ground and excuse for them, were lost. One wandered in a labyrinth of nouns, adjectives, verbs, pronouns, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and participles, most of them swollen and nearly all of them unable to walk. It was, and is, impossible to imagine worse English, within the limits of intelligible grammar. It was clumsy, affected, opaque, bombastic, windy, empty. It was without grace or distinction and it was often without the most elementary order.... Worse, there was nothing at the bottom of all this strident wind-music – the ideas it was designed to set forth were, in the overwhelming main, poor ideas, and often they were ideas that were almost idiotic. The concepts underlying, say, “The Theory of the Leisure Class” were simply Socialism and well water.

Academe has been that way a long time.

Posted by: PersonFromPorlock at July 26, 2006 08:13 PM

So in a post about the tension between the Walls of Ivy and The Real World, why should anyone give a bubbly fart about ringtones?

Posted by: Bruce Lagasse at August 1, 2006 03:16 AM