A Love Letter to My New Job

Or, A Labor Day Post Quite Different from Last Year’s

Labor Day reflections. Western Maryland 4-H Education Center. Photo Credit: The Madwoman, 8/31/14.

Labor Day reflections. Western Maryland 4-H Education Center. Photo Credit: The Madwoman, 8/31/14.

The summer of 2014 has been long and strange for me and horrifying for much of the world. I’m not sorry to see it end. Within a 17-day period in July, I started a new job, lost a beloved and relatively young (six and a half years old) dog, and lost my mother, who was not young and hadn’t been in good health for a long time, but still. And when I say that I lost them, I don’t mean I misplaced them. I mean that my dog and my mother died, within eight days of one another — while I was still trying to sort out the best places to park and pee in my new job. Why, yes, as a matter of fact, it did suck.

I don’t want to blog about the dying, though. I hope you won’t mind. I’ve done plenty of sharing on Facebook, and maybe some day I’ll find a way to blog about the powerful ways in which these two deaths, so proximate to one another in time, are linked in my heart-mind. For now, I’d like to blog about the happy part of my long, strange summer, the part that went beautifully when so much else was so achingly out of joint — the start of the aforementioned new job.

Classes begin tomorrow at Queer the Turtle U, but I’ve just gone through one of the busiest weeks of the year in my new position as executive director of an academic residential community that is home to close to 2,000 academically talented freshmen and sophomores. This past Wednesday, we welcomed our new cohort of 977 freshmen to campus with a convocation ceremony that featured some first-rate a cappella singing, the university president, and yours truly in the role of inspirational speaker, though I have a hunch our young scholars will forever remember me as the Lady in the Awesome Red Jacket Who Inadvertently Made Them All Think About Sex at the Same Time. (Long story. Brief occupational lesson: Never forget that eighteen-year-olds are always this close to thinking about sex. Speak with caution. And laugh along with them when you push them over the edge.) On Thursday, we sent them all out at ten minutes past the butt crack of dawn to do service projects at thirty sites throughout Maryland and Washington, D.C., a logistical operation on par with the invasion of Normandy as far as I am concerned. On Friday, we worked quietly in our offices while caffeinating heavily and patting ourselves on the backs that not a single teenager had been maimed or killed on Service Day. Some of us stayed late to hang out at a burrito slam (is that a thing now?) being hosted by four of our programs. On Saturday, I pulled my sleeping bag out of mothballs, gave a quick kiss to the Person to Whom I Am Legally Married, and headed off to a 4-H camp (see photo above) in the part of Maryland that is really West Virginia to spend the weekend with students and faculty in another of our programs who prefer to do their getting acquainted in the company of snakes, mice, and salamanders. In this instance, tacos were slammed. (Long story. Brief occupational lesson: The new job involves lots of social eating. Someone is headed back to her Lifestyle Adjustment Program soon for a quick refresher course before the buttons on that red jacket start popping off.) I drove home this morning, exhausted, stiff as a board from two nights on a flimsy mattress in a rustic cabin, grinning like a fool. Labor Day? I chuckled to myself. In this case, I think we should call it Labor of Love Day.

Go ahead. Roll your eyes. Feel cynical or superior. Or click back to that Word document of the syllabus you’ve been working at in a desultory way for the better part of the weekend. Or stick around for a minute or two and listen to an academic talk about something other than fear and loathing of everything currently happening in higher education. Don’t worry. I haven’t lost sight of the fact that there is plenty to fear and loathe. That’s just not my focus here.

I’m an academic, and I am having fun at work. There. I said it. I know I’m still in the honeymoon phase of this new gig and that one day I’ll wake up and there will be reports to write instead of inspirational speeches and meetings that will make me wish I had food poisoning to get out of attending. I am also acutely aware of how fortunate I am to be in a big honking R-1 school chockablock with cool programs that need people to run them. Still, I don’t think my situation is all that unusual. Most schools have similar opportunities for mid-career course adjustments that can ease the dread so many faculty members feel this time of year. My advice to those for whom the dread is starting to feel unbearable? Look around you. Keep your ears open for opportunities. Put out feelers. Be open to possibilities that might seem unusual.  Unusual could easily turn out to be just right. That’s what happened in my case. I’d never been involved in a living-learning program. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to apply for my current position if I hadn’t been actively exploring what I might do once I stepped down from twelve years of running a small academic program. I was prepared to head back “home” to the English department full time and focus on getting promoted, but when this opportunity came up something told me I ought to pursue it. I was surprised by what my gut was telling me to do, but my gut has never steered me wrong. I listened to it. I’m glad I did. I love the energy and excitement of my new office as well as the commitment to working together to make great things happen for undergraduate students in their first two years.

I’m an academic, and I am having fun at work. Are you? If you aren’t, look around you. Maybe the best job you’ll ever have is right there on your own campus. Don’t just stand on the dock feeling surly or sad. Dive in — Summer may be over, but the water is still fine!

This post is dedicated to my dear pal Lisa, who lives on the water, recently became a dean, and is also in mad love with her new job. Lisa, my friend, you make me regret every No Dean Left Behind joke I ever made. If higher ed is in your capable hands, we might avoid the apocalypse after all.

Advice for (Virtual and Actual) Life: Don’t Be a Butthead

Don't Be a Butthead

Profiles in Science from the National Library of Medicine. Poster for a 1998 anti-tobacco campaign by the Centers for Disease Control. Original Repository: The History of Medicine Division. Prints and Photographs Collection.

That’s not the kind of butthead I had in mind, but, well, if the shoe fits, don’t smoke it. Or something.

Anyhoo, yours truly was on a little panel Monday morning at QTU focused on online professionalism for grad students. The panel included poet Josh Weiner, digital wunderkind Matt Kirschenbaum, and digital wunderkind-in-training Amanda Visconti, whose fabulous blog post of the remarks she made you should totes go read, soon and carefully. (Great links! Sound advice! Pithy wisdom on the magic of blogging!) The audience was lit critters, but the issues and advice are relevant to all job seekers in the age of social media, so I figured I’d share my own comments and links here. Feel free to weigh in with your insights, questions, and pithy wisdom. The un- and under-employed are eager to hear from you!

One of the questions put to the panel by organizer (and blogger) Rachel Vorona was, What does online professionalism mean, especially for graduate students? That’s where I decided to begin my reflections.

* * *

What does online professionalism mean, especially for grad students? Pretty much what it means for anybody else:

Don’t be a butthead.

Don’t tweet naked selfies. Don’t provoke flame wars with senior scholars in your field. Don’t brag about grading drunk on Facebook. Don’t blog as a dog or, worse, a dead dog, until you have tenure or, better still, are a full professor.

Here is a good local example of why online professionalism is important for aspiring academics. Recently adopted changes to Queer the Turtle U’s guidelines on search and selection have this to say about use of the Internet and social media in the hiring process:

a. The Internet and social media may be used to recruit and vet applicants for employment.

b. Information pertaining to personal characteristics or traits that are not job-related, such as race, religious affiliation, and personal appearance, should not be considered in the hiring process.

c. The use of the Internet and/or social media should be consistently and fairly applied to all candidates at the same stage.

d. The use of the Internet and/or social media should not be the only means of vetting applicants.

e. Search Committees should not use information found through Internet searches and/or social media unless the information is verified and related to the essential functions of the specific job.

I love point d. in particular. Oh, crap, you mean we have to keep reading all these recommendations and writing samples after all? The Google can’t do it all for us? The guidelines are an admirable attempt to acknowledge that we live in the twenty-first rather than the nineteenth century, but the problem of course is that you can’t un-ring a bell. Once a search committee member has seen the photo of you tongue-kissing Testudo or read your agonizing blog post about what an intellectual fraud you are, he or she is almost certain to reassess your candidacy, even if only unconsciously and silently. You can take comfort in knowing that all of your competitors on the job market are as vulnerable as you are to such scrutiny, but the bottom line is that you need to exercise good judgment in your online behavior and do what you can to assure that your digital footprint bolsters your chances of gainful employment rather than undermining them. That doesn’t mean you should live in a state of digital paranoia or desperately cultivate and promote unrealistic images of yourself as a saint or a superstar. It just means you should assume that everything you put up online will be permanently and universally accessible. Nothing ever really disappears, so make sure you won’t mind having it follow you around forever. (You can try to delete yourself from the Internet, but is that a realistic option for someone aspiring to work and live in the world? I don’t think so, sweeties.)

How might blogging fit into your efforts to build a professional online presence? That’s a great question, but I’m not sure it’s one that a former dog blogger is equipped to answer. A year and a half ago, I put down the dog, as it were, and started blogging as a Madwoman, but The Madwoman with a Laptop is still not an “academic blog” if by that we mean a blog primarily aimed at developing and promoting my scholarly work. Nonetheless, I do blog regularly on academic professional issues, and blogging has become an important part of my academic profile. I’ve published articles on the subject, given lots of talks at conferences, teach a class called “Writing for the Blogosphere,” and now list my blogs on my CV under the category of creative nonfiction. (That feels right to me, though the question of whether it fits and how it counts is something we might take up later.) My most widely viewed post ever was one I published this Labor Day called “Take This Job and Shove It.” It focused on assistant professors resigning from tenure-track positions, a trend we are seeing increasingly, unfortunately, among women and faculty of color. I’ve written a lot on the so-called funding crisis in higher education and on the pressure on universities to produce Excellence Without Money in the age of helicopter parents and neoliberal austerity.

So, why should you blog? I peeked ahead to Amanda’s presentation and note that she describes blogging as magic. She’s right. I think it’s also, ideally, just about the most fun you can have while staring at a screen. What thrilled me about blogging was that it helped me to re-establish a regular practice of writing something other than the dull reports and soulless e-mails I had to crank out in my administrative work. I enjoyed the informality and the creativity of blogging. I delighted in being able to compose multimedia texts without having to know anything more technical than how to flip open a laptop. As the blog grew, I loved the sense of connection to a live and responsive audience. Every post felt like an adventure and an experiment. If it was labor, it was a labor of love. Nearly eight years later, I still feel considerable love for blogging and can recommend it to scholars at any stage in their career as a writing practice that encourages the disciplines of clarity and concision and affords the pleasures of thinking out loud in public. Light-hearted as it often is, my blogging is always informed by what I’ve learned in my life as a scholar and teacher. I view blogging and other social media as tools of outreach and education, means of engaging in public pedagogy, of translating our work into terms that a broader public can understand and, I hope, support. David Palumbo-Liu wrote recently in the Boston Review of the profound effects that changes in communications technologies and the information landscape have had on the concept of the public intellectual. His comments resonate with what I strive to do as a scholar blogger, and I think they would be useful to anyone interested in engaging in public conversations. He writes:

What is called for are public intellectuals who exert critical intelligence in synthesizing multiple sources of information and knowledge and presenting their opinions for debate, not simply for consumption. A public intellectual today would thus not simply be one filter alongside others, an arbiter of opinion and supplier of diversity. Instead, today’s public intellectual is a provocateur who also provides a compelling reason to think differently.

Nonetheless, I have to admit that in the last couple of years I have come to feel a little burdened by the labor part of my labor of love. Blogging is work, and it is work that is devalued if not wholly disregarded in the academic reward system. That is something worth thinking about very seriously if you are in the early stages of your career and trying to figure out how to spend your time and energy and balance your various commitments. I’m fortunate to be in a department that let me start teaching courses on online writing and culture when I decided it was time to make my hobby part of my work life. With the security of tenure, I was able to re-tool myself as something of a digital humanist. It is worth noting, however, that, although my hilarious – and entirely fictional — Xtranormal cartoon “I Want to Be Promoted,” in which an associate professor meets with her department chair to discuss her desire to go up for full partly on the basis of her blog, has gotten more than 11,000 hits on YouTube, I am still, three years later, an associate professor and expect to remain so unless and until I produce that second scholarly monograph, which is still the standard for promotion in humanities departments at R1 universities.

Thus, though I cling stubbornly to the kind of idealism Palumbo-Liu expresses about the vital work of the public intellectual in our changed information ecosystem, I also share the ambivalence articulated so eloquently in Mimi Nguyen’s trenchant “Against Efficiency Machines,” which I urge all of you to read in its entirety. (She published it in September on her blog, Thread and Circuits.) Nguyen is absolutely right that blogging, tweeting, and other modes of online communicating have been sucked up into the maw of the neoliberal university, with its insatiable demands for “flexible subjects, immaterial labor, round-the-clock consumption, and the commodification of the self.” We are expected to prove our public relevance, encouraged to cultivate and “enjoin our personal brands to the university while being capable of working more for less compensation, or the same — or none at all.” Nguyen’s closing words feel hauntingly relevant to the kind of conversation we are having here today:

Professionalization comes at a cost, including that of your own uncompensated labor. And, you might not distinguish yourself after all, but instead become just another click in a continuous feed.

I pass those somber words along to you by way of a conclusion and hope that we’ll have a more upbeat conversation during discussion. I’m a glass half full kind of gal, but these are times that test even the most cock-eyed optimists.

* * *

The conversation that followed was indeed upbeat and lively, with Kirschenbaum insisting that building a professional digital presence should be as much a part of academic career prep today as putting together a CV, while Weiner extolled the virtues of writing within the 140-character limit of Twitter and Visconti focused on blogging and tweeting as ways of workshopping ideas and building connections. (The whole convo is Storified here if you’d like to follow along, thanks to Kathryn Kaczmarek. I’m not sure I’ve ever been Storified before!)  I hope the audience of aspiring English profs found it informative and maybe a little provocative. Mind your digital footprints, kids. Don’t leave a mess behind you. Build something you’d be thrilled to have the world see. Because, you know, the world may well be watching.

On Boycotts

Channeling blog pal Historiann, The Madwoman prepares to get off the fence and take a stand. With, you know, mixed feelings and lots of qualifiers.

Channeling blog pal Historiann, The Madwoman prepares to get off the fence and take a stand. With, you know, mixed feelings and lots of qualifiers.

I have, until now, avoided writing on the controversy that has raged within my academic professional networks since the American Studies Association voted in December in favor of a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. I did so because I didn’t feel informed enough on the issue to stake out a position publicly and, truth be told, because I had no desire to insert myself into a debate that seems inevitably to devolve into name-calling and mutual accusations of bad faith. I may live to regret writing and publishing this post, but after attending both the ASA and Modern Language Association conventions, reading a lot, thinking a lot, and tuning in as carefully as I can to the vibe in the aforementioned networks, I feel ready to weigh in. (NB: The MLA’s Delegate Assembly has not endorsed the boycott. It debated and narrowly passed a resolution “urging the U.S. State Department to express concern over what the measure calls restrictions on scholars’ ability to travel to Israel and the West Bank to work at Palestinian universities.” The resolution still faces review by the MLA’s Executive Council and has to be ratified by the membership.)

As a member of both the ASA and the MLA, I have deep qualms about these moves for reasons that have nothing to do with how I feel about U.S. aid to Israel or Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. I have come to oppose organizational endorsements of the boycott because I think they are producing dangerous divisions within the memberships of the ASA and the MLA and distracting the organizations from their primary missions at a time when those missions urgently require attention and action. The debates and votes are also dominating media coverage and supplying ample fodder for those who dismiss politically engaged humanistic scholarship as propaganda. (They are also provoking lawmakers to propose stripping funding from institutions whose faculty participate in organizations that support boycotting Israel, but one has to imagine that such hysterical overreaching will not be taken seriously.) I note with chagrin that in the past couple of months both The New York Times and The Washington Post have extensively covered, and, in the case of WaPo, editorialized against, the boycott, while neither has said a word about, for example, adjunctification, the erosion of tenure, or the slow starvation of public higher education that has put our institutions and access to them at risk.

The press attention to the boycott has perhaps contributed modestly to breaking down the reluctance to criticize Israel and begin to hold it accountable for its occupation of the West Bank. That is a laudable achievement, but I can’t help worrying about the cost to the ASA and the MLA of having helped to bring it about. These are membership-based organizations that rely on the good will and support of scholars and teachers whose livelihoods are threatened by the new normal of diminishing support and dwindling opportunities. If members come to feel their professional associations are spending their limited political capital on quixotic missions tangentially related to the organizations’ main goals and functions, they may well abandon them, feeling, not without some justification, that the organizations have in a sense abandoned them. Poor attendance at a conference session on contingent and part-time faculty issues is by no means proof that the MLA and its members are not concerned about such issues. One cannot, as they say, prove a negative, and I went to three sessions at the MLA that featured Famous People Speaking on Big, Hot Topics to surprisingly small audiences. (Two out of the three were, like Lee Skallerup Bessette’s session, held in the 5:15-6:30 slot. I blame cocktail hour for the paltry crowds.) Nonetheless, I understand why some presenters might have felt marginal to the concerns of a convention in which “the talk of boycotts and resolutions . . . threaten[ed] to overshadow the rest of the proceedings,” as Jennifer Howard put it in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Judith Butler has commended the ASA for taking a “principled and courageous stand” and “assuming the public responsibility to defend equality, justice and freedom” by supporting the boycott. I have enormous respect for Butler, whose work constantly teaches, thrills, and challenges me. Her characteristically thoughtful comments on the boycott, however, are not sufficient to overcome my doubts about the wisdom of  the ASA (and perhaps, ultimately, the MLA) pursuing this particular course. How much courage, I can’t help but ask, have these organizations or their members — myself included — expended in the fight to improve working conditions for contingent academic laborers? Where is our bravery when it comes to demanding resources adequate to preserving quality, affordable higher education? What risks are we willing to take to protect tenure and the academic freedom it affords? If we are going to put ourselves and our organizations’ credibility on the line, I respectfully submit that it should be for causes such as these.

I am not, by the way, suggesting that the ASA or the MLA have been inattentive to the issues and causes noted above. The MLA in particular in recent years has been tireless in its efforts to document and respond to changes in the academic workforce. (See, for example, this collection of surveys and reports.) My point is simply that our efforts so far have been ineffective and the boycott is a distraction that impedes our ability to communicate and educate on matters vital to the professional futures of everyone who belongs to these organizations.

Further, the contentiousness of the Israel/Palestine issue undermines whatever solidarity there is among the diverse members of ASA and MLA, creating or exacerbating tensions and leading to flame wars and the kinds of gratuitous insults one sees in Cary Nelson’s “Playing Heedless Politics at the MLA.”  Nelson is strongly opposed to academic boycotts and even the MLA’s much milder resolution of concern. I have some sympathy for the substance of his arguments, but his post attacking the Delegate Assembly as “a circus with a surfeit of clowns, incompetently run by people who had mastered neither Robert’s Rules of Order nor the association’s own procedures” is a dispiriting example of how toxic and destructive these debates tend to become. I’m inclined to agree with a commenter on Nelson’s post, Jonathan, who attended the Delegate Assembly (which I did not) and felt that it “resembled every other Israel/Palestine event I’ve ever attended or participated in — ferocious differences leading to caricaturing of opponents’ positions, angry denunciations of motives, and all-around ill will manifesting itself at the earliest opportunity. So be it — the stakes are high, for both sides. But this very fact is why I think the MLA is ill-suited as a venue for this kind of discussion and potential action.” Amen.

Look, I know that civility is overrated and often used as a way to avoid or shut down conflict. I also appreciate that many people believe that a strong collective stance against the occupation is necessary to force Israel to change course and that the violations of Palestinian academic freedom under occupation are sufficient to justify organizations such as the ASA and the MLA getting involved in the struggle. I hear and respect those arguments, but I also cannot shake the concern that these actions are not without cost or consequence to the organizations taking them. Ill will may weaken them internally and engaging in what many will perceive as feel-good political gestures far afield of the organizations’ zones of expertise and responsibility will likely weaken them externally. Many friends and colleagues have clearly decided those risks are worth taking. For now, I cannot concur in that judgment. The world will always need saving. Right now, so does higher education. I would prefer that my academic professional organizations concentrate their energies on the latter rather than the former.

That’s my two — or twenty — cents. Have at ’em, Madpeople, but be nice. I’ve got that lasso in my hand for a reason. Peace out.

Random Bullets of Post-Thanksgiving Mellowness

Still cooking . . . . Photo Credit: The Madwoman, 11/30/13

Still cooking . . . . Photo Credit: The Madwoman, 11/30/13

The carcass of the bird is on the stove (or was, last night, when I began this post), simmering down into a stock for a soup we’ll eat for a week, if we’re lucky. This soup, I think. The lemon sounds good to me, and the Middle Eastern spices will be a nice change of taste. The guests have gone. A fire crackles. I am tired but happy and, yes, grateful for all the things a person in my ridiculously comfortable position ought to be: love, leftovers, a house suited for both comings and goings, a little dog, a partner skilled in fire-building. These are not things I take for granted. Oh, and you, of course, despite my terrible neglect recently, I am, I swear, still grateful for you, my legions of loyal, lovely readers. Thank you for being here. I’d be truly Mad without you. Now, those random bullets I promised you.

  •  Movie Mavens: Go see All Is Lost, writer-director J. C. Chandor’s absorbing, nearly wordless tale of an aging white dude (Robert Redford) whose solo sailing adventure goes horribly awry. It is brilliant for all the narrative and cinematic cliches it manages to avoid. In that respect, it is a much better film than this season’s other Adrift in an Indifferent Universe epic, Gravity, which I also enjoyed despite the fact that it collapsed into ludicrousness and sentimentality at key points. (I’d stage a full-on smackdown between the two films, but, lucky for me, someone has already done that.) Chandor deserves a medal for believing that moviegoers in a moment as loud and chattering as ours would sit through a film with one character who stares mortality in the face for a hundred minutes and has next to nothing to say. Reward his faith. Go see All Is Lost and then come back here and debate the ending with us. And tell us if you think the wedding ring on Our Man’s right hand is as significant as the close readers in our group of moviegoers thought it was. I thought it meant Redford’s character was a widower, which might help to explain his longing for solitude in a world far from home. Also, though, read A. O. Scott’s wonderfully astute reading of the film as “a fable about the soul of man under global capitalism.” Yeah, I know it sounds like the abstract of a paper from last week’s American Studies Association convention, but it’s really smart.
  • Grammar Geeks: Go read this delightful account of the evolution of “because,” which now operates as a preposition in statements such as, Grammar nazis will grouse, but the rest of us will celebrate because USAGE! Language changes, and that isn’t always or necessarily bad. The speed and terseness of Internet communication have helped to produce new usages that are concise, clever, dense with irony and wit, and highly adaptable. Yes, I hate it when student papers sound as sloppy and informal as a late-night text message, but I love a cool maneuver that tightly yokes syntax, semantics, and zeitgeist into one neat little package. I could spend all day explaining this to you in great detail, but neither you nor I have time for that and you already know anyway because Interwebs!
  • Book Nerds, Obamaniacs, and Friends of Willa Cather: The president patronized an independent bookstore in Washington, DC in support of Small Business Saturday. Among the books he purchased was Willa Cather’s classic My AntoniaI would have pegged the prez as more of a Professor’s House guy myself, but it could be he’s feeling nostalgic for his childhood on the Kenyan prairie. Or something. I just hope it’s not a gift for one of his daughters. I’d hate to think all that tuition money he and Michelle are dropping on Sidwell would end up in a future of farm work, bad teeth, and prolific motherhood. And, you know, being the object of some middle-aged white dude’s nostalgic fantasy. Just sayin’. (No disrespect to farming or the conditions of rural American life in the late nineteenth century, of course. Antonia has just never been my favorite Cather novel. Call me for recommendations, Mr. President. I am ready to serve as your Secret Santa/Cather Scholar on Call. Or, you could just buy this book.)
  • Higher Ed Reformers: Read this and then shut the f_ck up about trying to reform higher ed. The opening lines made my heart sing: “The more I read and think about higher education, our shortcomings, our crises, our threats, and our supposed saviors, the more I come to believe that the best thing we could do in the name of reform is absolutely nothing. Down with the pursuit of ‘excellence!’ Enough with innovation! Leave some of the children behind! Say it with me! Let’s do nothing! I say this because I wonder what chasing the next shiniest thing has really been getting us.” Amen! (H/T The Reader Formerly Known as Dudley’s Human.)
  • Un-Smart Smart Phone Users: (By which I mean: me.) Help is out there. Here are “19 Mind-Blowing Tricks Every iPhone and iPad User Should Know.” Hey, it’s worth the click just to learn that pressing your space bar twice will magically produce a period, a space, and a capital letter on the next word you type. I saved 15 minutes of my holiday weekend by using this trick on pointless holiday texts to members of my beloved but far-flung family. Try it. Because tick-tock, tick-tock!

Oh, dear, speaking of time passing, I gotta go. It’s Sunday. It’s December. There’s soup to be made and feedback to be given and classes to plan and meetings to remember. So long, mellow. Hello, Madness! Hope you had a delightful holiday, darlings, and that the Madness is manageable in your neck of the woods. Just remember: Things could always be worse. You could be a guy in a boat in the middle of nowhere who manages to run into a shipping container full of tennis shoes. Because random! Because globalization! Because oops!

Our Man faces another fine mess in All Is Lost. Photo Credit: Daniel Daza © 2013 Roadside Attractions

Our Man faces another fine mess in All Is Lost. Photo Credit: Daniel Daza © 2013 Roadside Attractions

Random Bullets of Holy Crap It’s October?

  • How to Lose the Interwebz: Follow up your most ridiculously popular post ever (thank you, Twitters!) with a solid month of the blogging equivalent of this! And watch your hits go from the stratosphere to the toilet in 3-2-1-boy, that didn’t take long, did it? Sorry, readers, we were busy. Love you, mean it!

take this job & shove it weekly stats

  • Counting the Ways: The federal government is shut down over a hissy fit, George W. Bush is posting kitten and baby photos on Instagram, Carrie Mathison is off her meds again, and you think there are only Twelve Signs America Is Insane? Gee, and I thought I was an optimist. But, srsly, Justin Bieber made $55 million in 2012? What am I doing wrong?
  • Academia Kills: Yes, I read the unbearably sad “Death of an Adjunct” column published by Daniel Kavolik in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in mid-September. The titular adjunct was Margaret Mary Vojtko, who had taught French at Duquesne for 25 years without job security or health benefits and died in poverty after a heart attack at the age of 83. Reaction to the column was swift, as the piece went viral in the unhappy, increasingly adjunctified world of higher ed. Good lord, people, how do we bear to look at ourselves in the mirror?
  • Academia Chokes, Mid-Stream: Tenured Radical examines the misery of the middle ranks of academe in a post that did not make me cry or squirm or feel the least bit ashamed or defensive everyone should read. It’s called “The Associate Professor Blues.” Which, at least in my head, sounds a lot like this. Deep in the heart of my second decade as an associate professor, I have nothing to say on this subject that I didn’t say in my epic Xtranormal cartoon of 2010, “I Want to be Promoted.” Close your office door and watch it. I promise it won’t make you cry or squirm or feel the least bit ashamed or defensive.
  • Because I Always Thought Christopher Robin Was Kind of a Jerk: Read this McSweeney’s piece (by Rachel Klein) on how residents of the Hundred Acre Wood react to a barrage of out-of-the-blue friend requests from the Boy Who Went Away all those years ago. It’s pitch perfect. Especially if you always thought Eeyore was the best judge of character in the forest and the animal most likely to embrace new communications technologies.
  • Because I Never Thought Obamacare Had Anything to Do with ME: I set off a bit of a poop storm on my own Facebook wall yesterday when I declared I was angry to discover that the Affordable Care Act was going to force me to purchase prescription drug coverage. I’ve always had access to such coverage and not purchased it because I am a) healthy, b) cheap, and c) convinced that the pharmaceutical industry is going to destroy human life through overuse of antibiotics. I appreciate the need for such coverage, especially for folks with chronic conditions requiring life-sustaining medications, and I accept the argument that those blessed, as I am, with ridiculously good health, should buy into the pool to help offset the costs of those who will rely on the coverage more. Still, it ticked me off to realize that the ACA was going to compel me to buy something I had rationally decided I did not want. It felt like a violation of my consumer sovereignty, which, in the United States of Walmart and Starbucks, is the only form of sovereignty that matters. That is the problem, as one of my Facebook pals pointed out, with having stuck with a market-based model for health-insurance reform rather than moving to a public, single-payer model. I have never objected to paying taxes to help educate other people’s children or to build hospitals I hope never to use. I view paying taxes as part of my duties as a citizen — an exercise of my political sovereignty, a contribution to the public good that I am happy to make. The market model, by contrast, taps into my inner Ayn Rand, as another of my FB friends teased, making me feel not altruistic and publicly good, but selfish, niggardly, and privately robbed. Look, I will get the coverage and sincerely hope that the ACA proves to be the most wildly popular act of the federal government since the repeal of Prohibition. My point in confessing a momentary, knee-jerk reaction against the law’s impact on my own associate professor’s wallet is that I think it is a small but good example of why, for now at least, the ACA stokes ambivalence at best and fuels apoplexy at worst. It is a law no one can truly love. It is proof of how little we are willing to invest these days in common sense and public goods. It is a law that might have improved the life and death of Margaret Mary Vojtko, but only marginally so. She deserved better from us, but, well, so does nearly everyone.

Happy October, darlings. May it be the best month money can buy.

Take This Job and Shove It

A (Not Going) Back to School Post

No, not me. Y’all know I’m too attached to things like food and my pretty house to walk away from lifetime job security, even in the dying world of American higher education. (Tim Burke explains that higher ed isn’t the only thing dying in our sorry, twisted, clueless nation. Go read his latest here.)

Pardon me while I take a sip out of my half-empty glass. It’s hot here today. This is not the Labor Day post I thought I’d be writing, in part because it is kind of downbeat and I prefer to be a chirpy, uplifting blogger, but also because it involves matters not often discussed in public. Quiet, please. Nice people don’t talk about personnel issues.

Newsflash: People are leaving academia, and they are talking about why. (H/T to Historiann for the first of those links.) Those of us who haven’t left had damn well ought to be listening — and thinking and acting on our own campuses to improve working conditions before it’s too late. Too late for what, you ask? Too late to save the dying world or the generation of scholars we helped to train? Maybe. Maybe it’s already too late, but shouldn’t we try to do something?

I am haunted by the words of the departing: “I found that I couldn’t do the work I used to love. My motivation stalled. Something broke, and it seemed irreparable.” “I was tired of a system that served black students badly, promising an education that it failed to deliver, condemning them to repeat classes, to drop out, to believe they were stupid; I was tired of colleagues who marveled when I produced an intelligible sentence; I was tired of attending conference panels where blackness was dismissed as ‘simple,’ ‘reactive,’ ‘irrelevant,’ ‘done’; I was tired of being invited to be ‘post-black’ as the token African, so not ‘tainted’ by the afterlife of slavery; I was tired of performing a psychic labor that left me too exhausted to do anything except go home, crawl into bed, try to recover, and prepare for the next series of assaults.

On my own campus, it isn’t just adjuncts who are quitting, worn down by brutal teaching loads and appallingly low salaries. The second quotation in the paragraph above is from my friend and former colleague, Keguro Macharia, who resigned his assistant professorship in May not to take a job elsewhere but to return to Kenya to focus on building not just a career but a sustainable life. He is not the only person to walk away from a tenure-track position without a firm offer or a clear sense of what’s coming next. I won’t go into detail, because others haven’t been as public as Keguro, but I know of at least three other assistant professors in the humanities at QTU who have resigned in the past three years.

The Woman Formerly Known as Goose points out that, when it comes to personnel issues, academics tend not only to be quiet but also maddeningly particularistic. We view each case in isolation and as somehow unique or exceptional. Oh, well, this one had health issues, you know, and that one had aging parents in a remote part of Never-Never Land, and I hear that other one was having problems with the book. For all our critiques of neoliberalism, we privatize personnel issues and fail to look for patterns and the structural inequities that might produce them. Is it a coincidence that all of the resignations I know of were from women or people of color? Given the glacial pace of hiring in recent years, shouldn’t we be concerned about this rate of voluntary attrition? I know I’m just a numerically challenged English prof, people, but this data feels significant to me. Shouldn’t we be paying attention to it?

I have worried for years about how assistant professors were faring in the cash-strapped, technocratic, lawyered-up, outcomes-obsessed postmodern university. Tenure has never been a sure thing, but it is a far less certain prospect than it once was, even for those who spend six years running themselves ragged on the hamster wheel of hyper-productivity. We mentor them to death, mostly, I suspect, to protect the institution from liability in the event of a negative tenure decision. We fill their heads with conflicting advice about what and where and how much they should publish. We urge them to focus on their research but worry if their anonymous student evaluations of teaching lack the now-expected comparisons to Jesus Christ. And some of us undermine them in ways large and small, treating them as a servant class or as children in need of hand-holding. In most cases, our actions are well-intended. We don’t want to lose them. We want to support them. We want to smooth the uncertain path toward tenure. And some of them are saying, “Thanks, but no,” and stepping off the path.

“I quit!” is both a refusal and an affirmation. It is a screw-you to working conditions that have come to feel unbearable, inimical to sanity or well-being. It is a declaration of the need/right/desire for something more or other than the hollow, uncertain promise of “security” in a broken, hostile, dying professional world. I applaud those brave enough to state their “I quits!” publicly and in thunder, though I mourn these losses to my institution and, perhaps, to my profession.

On this Labor Day weekend, I challenge those who are going or have already gone back to school this year to look around and notice what’s happening with assistant professors on your campus. Do you have data or observations that comport with what we’ve noted at QTU? How do you think your junior profs are doing these days? What great ideas do you have for supporting the up-and-coming without making them feel that they are being infantilized or surveilled?

While you ponder those deep questions, take a listen to the song that inspired the title to this post. A guy named Johnny Paycheck did the original back in 1977, but the Dead Kennedys did a cool cover in 1986. No, I am not cool enough to know that, but fortunately the Google machine is. Happy Labor Day, workers and ex-workers and non-workers of the world. Unite.

Tab Overload Disorder

Tab overload is a real thing in the virtual world. It’s what happens when you spend your days skimming, clicking, reading, and thinking, “Oh, that’s interesting. I’ll finish reading it later. Maybe I’ll share it on my Facebook page. Maybe I’ll even blog about it!” Soon you’ve got two or three browser windows open and eleventy billion tabs crammed across the top of your screen and you imagine that the virtual chipmunks who keep your machine running are panting, sobbing, begging for mercy. Sensible people, technologically savvy people, deal with the problem of tab overload (which actually does put a strain on your computer’s memory) by adding free extensions like OneTab to Chrome. OneTab will convert all your open tabs into a list. When you need to access the tabs again, you can either restore them individually or all at once. No, I haven’t tried it, but just writing this paragraph has enabled me to close one tab in my browser that has been opened for nearly a month. Spring cleaning FTW!

Less sensible people who are sick and tired of trying new things manage Tab Overload Disorder by being secretly happy when their computers crash and all their carefully arranged tabs disappear. (Yes, I know they can all be restored through “History.” I’m not an idiot, just lazy.) Or, they finally bang out a blog post that is little more than a link farm so they can close a few tabs and start the Madness all over again.

Welcome to the Madwoman’s Spring Link Farm Extravaganza. I’m still alive. And blogging. Sort of. If you are reading this, you are alive, too. Congratulations. Follow these links and your mind will feel refreshed for the next round of grading. Or at least my Tab Overload Disorder will have become your Tab Overload Disorder, which will bring us closer, sort of, virtually. Read on.

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet was on my campus yesterday. The Woman Formerly Known as Goose and I spent the whole day in the presence of this affable fellow, who was as impressive and remarkable as I had heard he would be. We liked his humility, his playfulness, his obvious delight in every aspect of the occasion, including the Terp schwag he got as a gift:

Photo Credit: Gary Cameron, Reuters. 5/7/13.

Photo Credit: Gary Cameron, Reuters. 5/7/13. Via.

(Yes: We are aware that His Holiness has a thing for visors. We’re just glad he liked ours.)

Our favorite moment was when the Dalai Lama went nose-to-nose with Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley as the big wigs gathered on stage at the end of his lecture. We may not become Buddhists, but we are definitely committed to becoming nose-rubbers:

Photo Credit: Nicholas Kammnicholas, AFP/Getty Images. 5/7/13.

Photo Credit: Nicholas Kammnicholas, AFP/Getty Images. 5/7/13. Via.

Question: Would the world be a better place if President Obama rubbed noses with, say, John Boehner or Wayne LaPierre? Call me crazy, but I think it’s worth a try.

Second Question: Does the Pope do nose-rubs? Again, totes worth a try, in my opinion. Nothing says humility like a good eskimo kiss.

Enough religion and hyperlocal news, let’s turn to the Black Gay Sports S/Heroes tabs that have gotten opened up in our browsers in the last couple of weeks. Kwame Holmes has an excellent analysis of how class factored into the highly respectable coming out of basketball player Jason Collins. Holmes doesn’t disrespect Collins or underestimate the significance of his announcement. His aim is to situate it within the context of black respectability politics, which is helpful indeed. Meanwhile, Wesley Morris explains why Brittney Griner’s coming out was totally no big deal. It’s a deft analysis of how Griner’s self-confident gender performance over the past few years made her official coming out seem so superfluous. Griner herself addresses her sexuality, the bullying she has endured over the years, and her commitment to helping to ease the way for others in an essay in the New York Times. Brittney, we’d look up to you even if we wouldn’t have to climb a step ladder to rub noses with you.

Meanwhile, in academia, our friend and QTU colleague Keguro Macharia is resigning his assistant professorship and returning home to Kenya. His staggeringly eloquent “On Quitting” is about precarity, professionalization, toxicity, deracination, and bipolar disorder. Among other things. It deserves a response, but I am not ready to produce one. Not yet. Not publicly. Go read it. Also, Tim Burke will make you think and feel better with a marvelous piece called “The Humane Digital.” It explains the necessary messiness of humanistic inquiry and its many differences from managerial modes of thinking. I would declare Burke my blog boyfriend if Chris Newfield didn’t already occupy that position. Chris, by the way, has some thoughts on MOOCs up on Remaking the University, for those of you whose Tab Overload Disorder is all about the MOOC Madness. Knock yourselves out, people.

There, that’s better, and I didn’t even bother to burden you with several dozen links related to the recent publication of The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, edited by my pals Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout. That’s big news in my neck of the professional woods, but I’ll save it for another post. Meantime, happy grading or happy avoidance of grading or happy celebration of finishing your grading. And remember: Close your eyes when you rub noses with someone. It’s sweeter that way.

Excellence WITH Money: Or, Dreaming While Academic

If you are bored senseless by the details of other peoples’ dreams, move along. If, on the other hand, you are a caring, sensitive person who realizes that literary critics have dreams that are finely wrought allegories chockfull of wit, wisdom, and the kind of symbolism that comes from taking Lacan way too seriously, then stick around.

True Story: I’ve been busy lately, embroiled in a high-stakes, high-stress initiative having to do with securing the future of the happy little academic program I’ve spent the last decade or so of my career trying to build. I’ve been staying up late, working on proposals and worrying about budgets and pondering the difference between the perfect and the good. The other night, I was up extra late, but by the time I went to bed I had begun to feel that I was seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. (Tunnel? Oh, boy. Paging Dr. Freud, paging Dr. Freud. You’re wanted in the Dream Lab!) My sleep was restful but full of vivid dreams, one of which clearly, hilariously demonstrates the psychic costs of academic administration in an age of austerity. In the dream, I was talking to a dean, and not just any dean of course but the dean who oversees my happy little program. We were reminiscing about my tenure as director, which is, by my choice, currently winding down. (Eleven years, people. Eleven years!) We were both feeling nostalgic and mutually admiring, and so I asked her at one point how she had managed to give my program such generous support over the years. She laughed conspiratorially, leaned closer to me, and explained in a hushed voice that in the dean’s office they had discovered a special key on one of their computers that was connected to a fund nobody knew about. They didn’t know how much money was in it and fully expected that it might disappear at any time, but they figured that for as long as they could they would just keep pressing the button to make funds available! So, presto, at the click of a magic button, the wise and generous dean doles out the resources needed to produce Excellence WITH Money!!!


Oh, sandman, you candy-colored, revenue-enhancing clown, I heart you so. Why must you abandon me in the sober light of morning? Why must I awaken into a world of MOOCs and kooks and the grim realities of Excellence WithOUT Money? (Many of those realities are documented and kvetched about here. There’s even a movie, featuring an entirely fictional program director and a 100% imaginary dean having a completely hypothetical argument about resources. That’s here.)

You have to admit it’s a funny dream. How do you read it, o skilled interpreters of texts and souls? Straight-up wish fulfillment? One hopeful colleague, a medievalist by training, insisted it was prophetic. Another, perhaps more cynical, comrade pointed out the resemblance to the cheesy Staples “Easy Button” campaign.

Me, I just like a dream in which the characters laugh and behave well rather than cry or shout and behave badly. It’s nice to suppose that some of the psychic stuff churning around in the unconscious shows some faith — yes, I’ll call it that — in the decency of one’s self and others. Some nights, perhaps, one glimpses an answer to the question, “What do I stand for? What do I stand for?” and falls gently back to sleep, with the faint trace of a smile on one’s lips. “Oh,” one says to oneself. “That was a good dream. I’ll have to try to remember it.”

And remembering it, one passes it on, with a simple, stubborn wish: Sweet dreams. Some nights, you do know.

2012: The Year in Madness

Oh, thank god there wasn't a total blackout from December 23-25, 2012 due to "an alignment of the universe." If that had happened, I would have to kill a LOT of people.

Oh, thank god there wasn’t a total blackout from December 23-25, 2012 due to “an alignment of the universe.” If that had happened, I would have had to kill a LOT of people.

This blog was born halfway through 2012, but I’m happy to offer an idiosyncratic survey of the entire year in Madness, by way of my Laptop, which is currently ensconced in a sleepy little town on the shores of Lake Michigan, where Ruby and I, along with the Woman Formerly Known as Goose, are planning to ring in 2013 in low-key style.

Before we get to the survey, though, raise your hand if, like me, you feel slightly creeped out by the idea of a year that ends in thirteen. Shouldn’t we be feeling superstitious about this? Historians, please weigh in on whether years that end in thirteen tend to suck more than other years. My research assistant Wik E. Pedia suggests that 1913 was heavy on wars and revolutions, though I suppose we might be grateful for the invention of stainless steel, which occurred in August of that year. As for 1813, well, it turns out that the (obviously misnamed) War of 1812 was still being hotly contested, but Pride and Prejudice was published, so the year couldn’t have been entirely bad. Still, let the record show that I have reservations about the coming year, based strictly on a previously undiagnosed case of traiskaidekaphobia.

So: The Year in Madness.

Mad Words: Time magazine published a long list of words that should be banished in 2013 (among them are amazeballs and zombie apocalypse, with which I wholeheartedly agree, but where oh where is double down, a phrase that totes [also on Time‘s list, but I ain’t giving it up] annoys me as one of the poorest substitutions for thought I have ever encountered). Because I am a glass half full kind of gal, I offer in reply to Time a short list of expressions I shall always be grateful to dear old 2012 for producing:

Yes, thank you, Congressman Todd Akin and Commonwealth of Virginia, for finally putting the GOP’s maniacal determination to control women’s bodies in terms that galvanized attention and motivated large numbers of people to wake up and vote against extreme right-wing candidates. Which, I’m pretty sure, contributed to the next Mad item in my survey.

Madness Averted: On November 6, a majority of American voters sensibly chose not to let this guy add the White House to his long list of homes:

Mitt Romney at a gas station in La Jolla, CA. Via

Mitt Romney at a gas station in La Jolla, CA, 11/19/12. Via.

Need I say more?

Madness Goes Public: Call it the prequel to the item above, my favorite political moment of the year was definitely Clint Eastwood’s speech at the Republican national convention. I predicted that Romney would lose and that this moment would be “blamed for thwarting Romney’s momentum by crystalizing for voters the race and class resentments that are the heart and soul of today’s Republican party.” I think I was right. Thank you, Mr. Eastwood, you grumpy old man of the year.

Clint Eastwood at the Republican National Convention, 8/30/12

Clint Eastwood at the Republican National Convention, 8/30/12

Mad Feats: Let us not forget that 2012 was the year in which a dude hurtled 24 miles through space at speeds as fast as 834 mph on his way to setting records in altitude for a manned balloon flight and parachute jump and the greatest free fall velocity. Uh, wow. I bought a treadmill. Does that count?

Mad Surprises: Marriage equality wins on the ballot in not one, not two, but THREE states in the November election, including the great state of Turtle Country. Wow. Just wow. But don’t order those toaster ovens yet. WFKG and I have still not committed to getting married. Stay tuned.

Mad Satisfaction: Who are the two most popular politicians in the final NBC-Wall Street Journal poll of 2012? Why, Bill and Hillary Clinton, of course, and if you are surprised by that news, you haven’t been paying attention. Also, Nate Silver is smarter than you are, but it’s okay — He’s smarter than everybody. Deal with it.

Mad Losses: Death had a big year in 2012, as it generally does. We note with sorrow the number of sheroes who left the building this year and console ourselves by imagining that the afterlife, whatever it may be, has a number of glorious new contributors to its word/soundscape: Nora Ephron, Whitney Houston, Etta James, Jenni Rivera, Adrienne Rich, Donna Summer, Chavela Vargas. Also, Sally Ride, a lesbian who orbited the earth. Speaking of astronauts, Neil Armstrong, a man who walked on the moon, died this year, too. Finally, Larry Hagman was not a woman, an astronaut, a poet, or a singer, but we worry what will become of the spectacularly cheesy new remake of Dallas without him, and so we mourn his passing, too.

Madness in School: In June, University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan abruptly resigned over a “philosophical difference of opinion” with the university’s governing board. The disagreement appeared to be over the pace of change happening at the academical village founded by Thomas Jefferson, particularly with regard to online education. Two weeks later Sullivan was reinstated after a tidal wave of protest and negative publicity both on campus and off. Two weeks after Sullivan’s reinstatement, UVA announced it was joining a group of 12 institutions planning “to open their courses to the world, free of charge, through an online platform created by the start-up company Coursera.”  And so the brave incrementalist so staunchly defended by the apostles of shared governance and the academic community of trust turns out to be just one of the herd, her voice blending into the soothing chorus of MOOC, MOOC, MOOC. What can that mean? Where will it lead? Heck if I know, kids. I hate what UVA’s board did in booting Sullivan and am tickled pink she got her job back. MOOC’s are the big story in higher ed this year, but I have to confess I am among the foot-draggers, the nay-sayers, and the worry-warts who fear that we may be putting the final nails in our own coffins by jumping on this particular bandwagon. Some days, I walk across my lovely campus and wonder, Which of us will be asked to turn off the lights in the last of these red brick buildings? Who will we be when the last of the turtles has lost its shell?

Madness in School, Part II: December 14: A guy, a rifle, and 26 corpses. (27 if you count the shooter’s mother, killed at the home they shared before the shootings at the school; 28 if you count the shooter’s fatal self-inflicted wound.) God, where will it end?

Lord, even an idiosyncratic year-end survey is exhausting! And at times depressing. I’ll stop here and try to do a follow-up post focused on the year in artsy-fartsiness, because that’s the kind of thing folks expect from an English prof spouting off on the Interwebz. Meantime, feel free to weigh in with your picks for the Maddest Moments of 2012. Tell me what I missed, Madpeople at your Laptops!

Saving the Humanities, Gangnam Style

So, this was on Glee Thursday night:

Which made me think it’s high time we commissioned some time use studies to see just how much time has been spent across the dying globe watching or producing “Gangnam Style” covers and parodies in the past four months. Seriously, people, I’m pretty sure the Bureau of Labor Statistics is going to need to put a new slice in its pie chart to account for this astonishing phenomenon in its 2012 survey of lies people tell about how they spend their leisure time. (Eighteen minutes a day each for reading and exercise seems refreshingly honest, but 26 minutes for farting around at the computer? Gimme a break.)

The slice for “Watching or producing Gangnam Style covers and parodies” should of course be pink, in keeping with the insanely kitschy style of the original by South Korean rapper PSY. (Go on. Click on that link. We’ll wait. For the entire 4 minutes and 13 seconds if we have to. This is work time for you, darlings: cultural studies.)

Now that you’ve seen the original, go destroy a few brain cells do a careful study of a few parodies, including this excellent one produced in the QTU library (featuring a turtle, a marching band, and the dean of the libraries!) or this diabolically witty one called “Mitt Romney Style.” I’m reasonably certain it explains why Obama won the election.

You are probably wondering at this point how in the name of Judy Garland I managed not to convince GayProf, Historiann, and Tenured Radical to do a Gangnam Style parody on the beach in San Juan a couple of weeks ago. I apologize to each and every one of you for squandering this exceptional opportunity to bring Western civilization to a crashing, cheesy, glorious end. As you can tell from the photo at the bottom of this post, three out of four of us were scantily clad and sporting huge sunglasses in San Juan. GayProf no doubt had plenty of extra tiaras and knee-high red boots in his suitcase(s). The Woman Formerly Known as Goose was there with a camera, more than ready to point, shoot, and tell people where to go. (Oh, wait, she did that.) It would have been the parody to end all parodies. It would have made “Call Me Maybe” a minor footnote in the history of virality. It would have made “Academic Tim Gunn” look totally five minutes ago. It would have made “Texts From Hillary” — Wait, no, some things are sacred, aren’t they?

Just so we’re clear: I totally heart “Gangnam Style” and its thousands upon thousands of goofy imitations. I’m fascinated by the phenomenon — as is no less a thinker than Zizek, by the way, so don’t judge, biatches. (Again, click on that last link: You need to see a nose-pulling Zizek explain how Gangnam Style is destroying Justin Bieber.) I can’t wait to read the dozens of dissertations and special issues it is sure to spawn. I predict the academic job crisis will end when armies of PhDs are hired to staff the departments of Gangnam Studies that will spring up when entrepreneurial deans of colleges of arts and entertainment sciences throughout the land realize that this is a sure-fire way to prove they are cool culturally relevant. Yes, darlings, “Gangnam Style” is the cure for what ails us in the age of Excellence Without Money (™RW Enterprises, LLC). Who are we to argue with 861 million views? Who among us has not longed to ride an invisible horse? (Looking at you, cowgirl.) You want Massive, dudes? I’ll give you Massive.

Sometimes, kids, you have to destroy the discipline in order to save it. Let’s do it, Gangnam Style. Don’t forget your sunglasses.

Op op op op oppan Gangnam Style.

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