Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Sad Attempts at (Insider) Humor Rectified (With Your Aid) A comment on a thread about (this-is-not-a-theme) another The Narrative hits close to home. Its author, the self-styled "Cowboy," claims "absolute moral authority," because he's an English professor. I have my doubts, as might you after you read his riff on Jeff Foxworthy's "You might be a redneck if..." routine: You might be an English Department professor if... Before I get started, who says "English Department professor"? None of the "English Department professors" I know would call themselves or their fellows that. It's the equivalent of a "knowledgeable" baseball fan complaining about opposing teams "sacrifice walking" Barry Bonds. Cowboy's unfamiliarity with the lingo gives up the game from the start. But humor him, as he's about to humor us: You might be an English Department professor if... You think Marx was reasonable— Your last article was on the literary value of a grocery list— You believe Moby Dick isn't worth reading— But that the Porky's movies are culturally revealing— Your superpower is the ability to make students hate great literature— You think Sylvia Plath is anything other than just sad— You hate, and I mean really hate, Ted Hughes but can't name one of his poems. You think the culture wars are over ... and you won. You think a rifle is the same as a shotgun. You can look in the mirror and say any of these without cracking up: "Visual rhetoric." "Cultural studies." "Technological literacy." "Gender studies." "Queer studies." "I am a specialist in post-Imperialist Jamaican Feminist and Transgendered Literature." "I am qualified to teach undergraduate survey course to your undergraduate English Majors." I'm hard pressed to find a decent entry into this mess of stupidity, so I'll start with the obvious: the Porky's movies are culturally revealing, in that they reveal something about the culture which produced them. A work need not be artistic to be culturally revealing. Consider the popularity of the equally (if differently) odious Left Behind series. It's no more literary than Porky's, but it's certainly culturally revealing, given that its popularity accompanied (or pushed, or was driven by) a swell of evangelicalism. Of course, attempting to provide an intelligent account of why popular things are popular, now or historically, falls under the rubric of "cultural studies," i.e. the phrase no one but an "English Department professor" can look in a mirror and utter without laughing. Like "but shrug ant farm," the phrase is inherently funny. Only, what's so funny about that? Granted, Foxworthy's shtick is inherently unfunny. I only think this because I'm an elitist, obviously. I don't know from low humor. I'm all like "if it lacks the pathos of the Sad Clown, it will win no chuckles from me." Still, assuming there's a universe in which the likes of Jay Leno are funny, "cultural studies" isn't a funny punchline. I spent ten minutes looking in the mirror saying it, and not only was it not funny, it got progressively unfunnier before teetering into absurdity as I stood there saying "Chet. Chet....
Some Good News on the Honesty Front I admit that as an academic, nothing bothers me more than plagiarism. I don't care where or why it happens, it always riles me up. (Despite my empowering of them.) When I found that this post had been plagiarized, I wrote another in which I mocked Onika (MAYOR OF SEXYTOWN!) for accepting praise for my work. Fair enough. Checking my mail—as always, I'm about a week behind—I find that the plagiarist herself wrote me. Here's her response: I just wanted to let you know that I apologize for using your blog. I got my ring stuck on my finger and came across it while I was looking for "advice." I thought it was funny and I changed some stuff and posted it. I should have made it clearer that I took most of it from you but I really didn't think it was that big of a deal. People have taken things that I wrote and done this too. People have started to write me and implied that I steal your work all the time. I've never seen your blog before. Anyway, I'm sure you'll post this so everyone can laugh at what a shameful loser I am. So have fun. Hope everyone gets a good laugh. Despite the momentary wavering—"I really didn't think it was that big of a deal"—this is a refreshing admission of guilt. I'm constantly having that dread conversation with student plagiarists, in which I have their "original" work in one hand, and a hard-copy one of the first two returns in a Google search for the novel/play/poem I've assigned in the other. Not only will students refuse to admit what they've done, they'll babble complete nonsense like: "What do you mean by exactly the same? Maybe this Henry James plagiarized me?" "'The first share of Charlotte Perkins Stetson's intellectual and professional indebtedness was undoubtedly to the Nationalist movement promulgated by Edward Bellamy and his 1887 novel Looking Backward' sounds like something I would write." "Of course I know what it means: 'promulgated' means, like, to attack something a lot." So, Onika, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but we won't be laughing at you for having the guts to admit what you've done. The stakes may have been close to nil, but that makes it all the more admirable. You could've done what all those cowering students with they could've: run and hide. You didn't. That says a lot about you.

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