Category Archives: Academia
A lot of academics in my discipline speak of their respective departments as a community. The one we have in Communication Studies at the University of Texas is considered pretty strong.
For me it feels more like a neighborhood.
I grew up in a pretty tight-knit neighborhood that had a lot of families that partied pretty hard together. We had two kinds of parties: 4th of July, and whenever we felt like it. The first involved shutting down our street, being loud and obnoxious, and having the cops show up–to the free BBQ we gave them. The second kind usually started with the phrase “well, Ray and Tina are out in their driveway with the stereo up. What can we bring over?” Plan or no plan, both ended up with the adults in the neighborhood going long into the night.
I feel like I have somehow stumbled upon that same thing here in my graduate department.
This past weekend a bunch of my fellow graduate students, and some professors, celebrated a birthday in the form of a house party, complete with DJ and dance floor. The party was deemed “sold out” by the host, as both the smoke machine and guests repeatedly came billowing out onto the back porch, where the designated champagne sabering area was. It wasn’t anyone’s first time being at a house party where the cops made an appearance. But I’d be willing to bet it was that officer’s first time responding to a noise complaint at a party full of people with Masters’ Degrees.
Then the Superbowl, a day where no plans were needed, we all just “knew” to show up at our own designated “driveway.” Combining our “refined” tastes as graduate students (kegs and champagne) the night involved a lot of yelling, obnoxiously critiquing the power dynamics at play in various Superbowl ads, and a Rockband marathon going long into the (school)night. An actual neighbor, upon seeing the keg the birthday boy and I were unloading from my trunk, asked if we had any for her. Of course she was invited, this is how it works.
Most of the original families from the street I grew up on no longer live there. Some do, but for the most part they’ve moved on to different places. Yet from time to time they still meet up and throw the same parties. The Neighborhood is more a dynamic than a place. I feel the same thing about The Department.
For my family back home who want to know what graduate school has largely been like here in Austin, you already know.
For my new friends here, a bit of a glimpse into how we all ended up in this place.
Except here we are ALSO getting our PhDs.
With the recent crediting of Jon Stewart as helping to move along the 9/11 First Responders bill by dedicating an entire show to its passage, he may have made important strides beyond “advocacy satire” and into a realm some journalists have rightly, and often wrongly, traversed: advocacy journalism.
I like the first term because it gives satire its due credence that is often discounted as non-serious or not to be taken as such. Much of this blog is reflective of my academic interests, most of which have sought to figure humor and satire’s current place in our culture. In the last few months I finally feel like im getting close. I recently received my first revise and resubmit notice from the journal of Journalism: Theory and Practice on an essay I wrote last spring on Stewart and Colbert as public journalists that tried to tackle this idea. They want me to go further.
Which is what Stewart and Colbert are doing. A major component to public journalism as outlined by Jay Rosen and Davis “Buzz” Merritt is that taking matters of public importance into account is a much needed journalistic practice. But they are also quick to warn that it is not the same as journalists advocating for specific positions, a consideration I went to great lengths to illustrate Stewart and Colbert were taking.
All of that seems to have been thrown out the window in the past few months. The much hyped and misunderstood, rallies to restore both sanity and/or fear were met with much criticism in the mainstream press for the two comedians overstepping their bounds and creating their own spectacle. Colbert’s testimony in front of Congress on the plight of migrant workers in light of a recent farm bill was soundly discarded.
But lo did Stewart bounce back with an actual legislative win! The 9/11 First responders bill special marked a significant point where Stewart was rightly credited and praised for raising a significant issue, in his own way, while acknowledging that he was right in skewering those he thought were responsible for its blockage. Republicans. Allowing NY firefighters and police to come on the show and state their case, while hearing their voices shaken by the ravages of cancer from Ground Zero, became un-debatable. And as the NY Times pointed out Stewart may be actually moving into the role of satire advocate journalist with this episode, comparing him to Edward R. Murrow in the process. Take that Keith Olbermann!
In light of this, I do not feel that Stewart and Colbert have wholly abandoned the notion of public journalism in the sense laid out by either Rosen or Merritt. In order to understand the influence of Stewart and Colbert I think it is helpful to create an ironic understanding of their intellectual and journalistic posturing. That is, they are “Ironic Intellectuals”: their authority stems from the very disavowal of any serious authority. Their humor and absurdity are precisely what give them a sobering sincerity so badly needed.
It is also what enables us to understand their straddling of journalist/comedian. They can be both and we can understand them as both. I’ll be playing with this idea more in the coming months as comprehensive exams and dissertations loom on the horizon. In the meantime watch Stewart’s speech and offer some thoughts on the matter.
Everyone I know is moving this summer, myself included. I’m finally settled in at my new place, which is great, but it has killed my productivity the past week, which is not so great.
I’ve been housesitting in Hyde Park all summer for a professor in my department, where all the houses look like this. Living rent free in one of the best neighborhoods in Austin has definitely been a lifesaver and somewhat of a Summer routine for myself. For the most part it’s been good, if a little solitary at times. Like having your own ranch. People have been asking me what it was like living by myself on nearly an acre of land in Hyde Park. I’ve decided to give you all my Top 5 “Highlights” of my summer Housesitting with the College Professor’s Wife (more on that soon).
1. Battling Raccoons
The most important part of housesitting usually involves making sure any pets stay alive. This was no different. The two cats placed in my care, Bella and Jasper, were pretty easy going if a little needy at times. Like a typical male cat Jasper loved hanging out with me, while Bella had the look of “who the hell are you” etched into her face for nearly two months.
What was different was the third “houseguest” to come through the cat door at night. On the list of things I didn’t think I’d ever cross off a list, coming face to face with a raccoon in a kitchen, on multiple occasions, is definitely near the top. It was like camping in the backwoods, only it was inside a house, in a major U.S. city.
2. Healing Sessions
Usually, when you housesit for people they tend to not be there. Such is not the case in Hyde Park Hollow, where I essentially had a roommate on the other end of the house for the first two weeks. Vickie is really sweet, really nice, and really interesting. Also she is Dr. Browning’s wife. Here is an email I got from my roommate regarding her spiritual prowess.
I will be doing an energy healing at the house today from 4:40 – 6:40PM, and Friday from 4-6PM. I have decided not to use the regular healing room, which is on my side of the house – the sun porch room, because it is too hot, and the air conditioning doesn’t reach it.
I will be using the living room. I will leave the back door unlocked, so you could enter through the kitchen. There might be the sounds of drumming and gongs and rattles during the session. Thank you so much in advance for being flexible!!!!
I think this can stand alone.
3. Becoming one with ALL of Austin’s Bugs
4. Playing landlord
Needless to say the Professor and his wife are very smart financially, owning and renting out several properties all over Austin. But someone’s gotta deposit those rent checks on the first of the month and that person was me. It was quite the experience to take a half-dozen checks from strangers each month and deposit them into another stranger’s checking account. No Questions Asked. And they say we are in a financial crisis!
5. Not having a single party (in case anyone of note is reading this).
Let me just say again, I did not have any parties at the house. I also did not tell anyone I was going to have a party, nor did I brag about how epic a party would have been. There was NO secret Evite or Facebook event that went out and that tree falling through the roof of the side room was definitely not caused by anything no one at the house was not doing during this party I did not have. Not really.
Note to everyone: Always take the opportunity to house sit for a professor. Their houses are usually baller, and this was no exception. They really hooked me up this summer.
Earlier this week The New York Times did something today that you don’t often see: An Op-Ed piece agreeing with Pat Buchanan.
Writing about underserved white kids in ivy league schools columnist Ross Douthat points out that, SURPRISE!, poor people have a hard time getting in to Ivy League schools. And it’s apparently even worse when those poor people are white. The crux of the argument is quoted below
Last year, two Princeton sociologists, Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford, published a book-length study of admissions and affirmative action at eight highly selective colleges and universities. Unsurprisingly, they found that the admissions process seemed to favor black and Hispanic applicants, while whites and Asians needed higher grades and SAT scores to get in. But what was striking, as Russell K. Nieli pointed out last week on the conservative Web site Minding the Campus, was which whites were most disadvantaged by the process: the downscale, the rural and the working-class.
Ok so that is less of a surprise. But what remains surprising is why we still judge the quality of our admissions processes as a whole by who is getting in to Ivy League schools. Rich people still have no trouble getting in. Underserved minorities have benefitted from significant efforts to open more educational doors to those who are more likely to have not come from wealthy backgrounds. But to say now that the fact that working class white kids are not being given the same opportunities to attend Ivy League schools presupposes one major argument:
That it should be cheaper and easier to attend HARVARD.
This is where Douthat’s analysis starts to go a little off the rails. Here is his response to the aforementioned study
This provides statistical confirmation for what alumni of highly selective universities already know. The most underrepresented groups on elite campuses often aren’t racial minorities; they’re working-class whites (and white Christians in particular) from conservative states and regions. Inevitably, the same underrepresentation persists in the elite professional ranks these campuses feed into: in law and philanthropy, finance and academia, the media and the arts.
This breeds paranoia, among elite and non-elites alike.
Right, THAT’S why there are so many “liberal elites” in our universities! Poorer, conservative kids want to be college professors, charity workers, community organizers and performing artists but are not given the chance to do so. Quick, someone alert David Horowitz!
I think what is really at play here is a bunch of people complaining about having to go to a safety school.
Newsflash: Not everyone gets to go to private school!
Second Newsflash: those aren’t the only good schools in the country!
Sure, it is probably true that due to increased focus on expanding access to America’s most elite universites some people are feeling left out of the conversation. But why do we still insist on judging the relative health of our access to higher education on how many white people are being excluded from Ivy Leagues on the (false) premise that those spots are now going to minorities who weren’t as deserving? Why does that have to be the argument? Why do you HAVE to go to Harvard? Shit, I went to community college for 2 years out of high school and, last I checked, am currently working on a PhD from the University of Texas, regarded as a “public Ivy.” Which means that I am receiving largely the same education as my friends at Columbia for a lot less of the cost. Also, did you know that there are schools like this all over the country, not just in New England? I know, I was shocked too. We never really mention these things when highlighting the elite status of America’s universities.
Am I extremely lucky to even be in my position? Duh! But as someone who was made to feel less than adequate by my fellow AP classmates in highschool because I couldn’t afford to go to UCLA I don’t really think my white working class parents have hindered my educational success. Though I imagine constantly whining about not getting in to Harvard might.
Bottom line: access to colleges and universities should be made available to all who want the opportunity. But that opportunity does not reside squarely on the shoulders of Harvard administrators. Besides all those movies about Ivy League schools are filmed at UCLA anyway.
So I finally did it. After a year and a half photoshopping images, writing cover letters, and tracking down addresses, I finally sent off my thesis to The Colbert Report today. Actually it’s kind of embarrassing it took me to find that last part, seeing as I ended up settling for the fan mail address.
Either way I’m pretty excited about it, and proud of myself for actually going through it. As I mentioned in Part 1 this was always part of the plan when I originally wrote the thing. The cover letter my former speech coach and I included, yes- a cover letter, this is a professional operation, we hope Colbert’s staff won’t react in the same way as my graduate committee.
Much to the horrified surprise of my thesis committee, I am sending this project to you and your staff as what I hope is not the oddest tribute you’ve received.
I still think I’m in the running for odd tributes with the photos we made. I showed some of them in the last post but really went for it on others. This is the one I actually fastened to the envelope.
Man I love Photoshop (And So Can You)!
If it gets in the right hands it would be only the 6th copy ever distributed. If you yourself are intrigued, and still reading at this point, you can see a version of the thesis in the Arizona State University Hayden Library, or when I figure out how to upload them here.
These should arrive in New York sometime early next week. Then it is your move Colbert. Please don’t throw it out.
I just finished a summer session class on rhetoric and film.
I was quite intrigued with Jean-Louis Baudry’s paradox of forgetting in film. Basically, the real magic of movies is that the film’s production ultimately hides the fact that it is a movie at all. Sitting in a movie theater, presumably, is also meant to trick our minds into forgetting that what we are really doing is watching a bunch of images projected on a screen with sounds synced up.
Seemed like a perfect opportunity to write about Ocean’s Eleven.
I picked this movie for my final paper for two reasons:
1. Because I can.
2. The whole thing is an elaborate inside joke for the actors onscreen.
When the 1960 classic Rat Pack version was in production, the actors filmed on location in Las Vegas during the day so as not to interrupt their actual stage show at the Sands hotel. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joey Bishop starred in little more than a vehicle for celebrating movie stars onscreen. Much like their stage show movie audiences were essentially paying for the privilege of watching the legendary Rat Pack have a party.
Forty-one years later the 2001 remake , starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt, attempts to capture much of the same essence. With a twist. While there is plenty of movie star sophistication reminiscent of a bygone era, the film carries out like a movie within a movie with the bulk of the plot devoted to the execution of the heist.
My Big Ol’ Thesis: The real heist of the film is not the one onscreen but in its own production. Audience enjoyment stems from witnessing that the movie, much like the characters within it, is getting away with something.
Here’s a few examples to show what I mean.
Check it out man. George Clooney and Brad Pitt are teaching young hollywood how to play poker onscreen. And then they hustle them. And then they walk out of the club barely noticed by the adoring fans outside. The genius of the scene is that it is almost unnoticeable.
And then every great movie wouldn’t be complete without an inspirational monologue.
Pitt asks if Clooney had been rehearsing his lines because the movie is about making a movie. I mean in order to pull off the heist in the film they have to build their own set in order to stage it. The casino can’t even be robbed unless they pretend it is. Theater!
Here’s another fun revelation: The heist successfully completed the cast joins up at the fountain in front of Las Vegas’s Bellagio hotel. One by one they go their separate ways, commemorating a job well done. It’s a visual unfolding of the credits within the film, listing off the names of those who made the “production” possible.
Ocean’s Eleven is, literally, an onscreen heist carried out by the actors.
At least that’s what I think is going on. In watching the film, viewers are secretly reminded of the film’s production. Audiences get to become part of an elaborate inside joke that the actors knew all along: the exhilaration of getting away with something while everyone watches.
You too can get advanced degrees for writing stuff like this.
From day one I treated graduate school as a joke. Before I even arrived in the Arizona desert to begin my Master’s program at ASU I knew I wanted to write my thesis on The Colbert Report. I spent the next year and a half figuring out what it would look like. As I put the final touches and prepared to graduate I also knew I wanted to send it to him. I actually told my graduate committee that my ultimate plan for this 120 page masterpiece was not to get it published but to get on the show. It was definitely quite a thing to say during my defense, “sorry to break it to you all but this was just an elaborate plan to get on TV.”
A thesis about a comedy show, especially one that rhetorically analyzes it, should have some jokes in for good measure. I had to take the writing somewhat seriously on account of the whole “they are going to give me a graduate degree for this” and all. So I opted to save it for the dedication page. Which reads as such:
This thesis is dedicated to Stephen Colbert, an American hero who truthily “gets it.” Thanks for agreeing to have me on your show.
This project has now been in the making longer than my Master’s program. In the two years since my thesis defense my friends and I have come with some great ideas. I’ve got the cover letter ready and a series of photoshopped images of Colbert reading my thesis, as I am sure he is dying to do. The one at the right is one of my faves.
Too good to pass up right?
Obviously I’ve already run into a few roadblocks, namely that I can’t get anyone at Comedy Central to return my emails. Minor details. I think the next step is to clearly send it anyway and see what happens. Maybe if I tape one of the images to the outside of the package they’ll have to take it. I mean look at the craftsmanship on that Photoshop!
When I first started getting this going my friend Lydia suggested I write about the process of sending my thesis to The Colbert Report. So this is my initial chronicling of a journey that I am certain will only end with immense fame and fortune. Or a thank you note. I’d take that too.
What this all boils down to is this: The only thing read by less people than my thesis is this blog. I’m hoping to change both of those.
I am pretty sure I am in a quarterlife crisis. And I am even surer that the term even sounds ridiculous. A quarter life crisis? Seriously? What could one possibly be in a crisis about? Ugh, my internship ran out and my job is only entry level.
And how does one get out of a quarterlife crisis? Dating women half your age? I’m 26. That’s gonna make for, at the very least, an awkward conversation behind my back.
Is Joe a pedophile?
No, he just finished graduate school and his student loans are due.
Admittedly, when not crying myself to sleep with my life choice I have been seeking out every available piece of print on this quarterlife crisis. The blogosphere is all up in the quarterlife’s business but I’ll let you search that on your own. Except for this one which gives a pretty good run down of the general symptoms many in this situation feel (cut to the list and read the rest only if you’ve got boatloads of time). Here is another good one.
This New York Times piece sums it up pretty well. People are taking longer to get going on “real life”. Some of the biggest points made
People between 20 and 34 are taking longer to finish their educations, establish themselves in careers, marry, have children and become financially independent, said Frank F. Furstenberg, who leads the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood, a team of scholars who have been studying this transformation.
Admittedly there are a few issues with some of these milestones. A close friend of mine in the American Studies department here at the University of Texas took issue with equating adulthood with decisions of marriage and childbearing. That’s fair. The article does spend considerable time focusing on the delayed choices made by women to marry and have children, with nary a mention of men who do the same. That is definitely a problem. And with that I still think the point is well taken that while we are given more educational and career opportunities than ever before those choices have consequences that our generation is struggling to deal with:
The stretched-out walk to independence is rooted in social and economic shifts that started in the 1970s, including a change from a manufacturing to a service-based economy that sent many more people to college, and the women’s movement, which opened up educational and professional opportunities.
Economic freedom doesn’t necessarily mean independence. I know that’s right. I’ve got two college degrees. That is two more than my parents, combined. As I work on my third I realize I may be receiving more support from my parents than ever. And while I am extremely fortunate to have that (let’s be real this is entire post is borderline elitist. Ok extremely elitist) it doesn’t make the the psychological implications any less real. Not everyone takes this route in our age group, which can make for some interesting comparisons. My brother, who is 3 years younger than me at 23, has been working in real estate since he was 19 and is far more financially established than I am. Not bad for someone who didn’t really do the college thing but it seems as if that is becoming the exception rather than the norm, at least among most people I know. Plus now we have another competition to fight over at Thanksgiving.
“I have a house!”
“Well I’m gonna be a Dr… of Philosophy”
Where neither of us is winning right now is in the relationship department, perhaps one of the most significant features of this new adulthood. Frustrations of my friend aside the “M” word seems to create one of the largest anxieties. Generally by the time one hits their mid to late twenties they will probably have had at least one significant long term relationship under their belt. Among my friends, almost every person who is currently single was linked to a significant other who is now “the first person they were going to marry.” The Times article alludes to this as well,
Laura Tisdel, 28, who grew up in Detroit, said, “I figured I’d either get married in college or right after and basically be a smart mother.”
Instead Ms. Tisdel ended up getting a job offer in publishing in New York City. She said she came close to marrying when she was 23, but then realized, “I wasn’t only not ready to get married to this guy, but I wasn’t ready to get married at all.”
As someone who has gone through the former and not quite yet the latter I think these experiences are major parts of the “new adulthood,” even if they are painful. The average age of people getting married has gone up significantly, an obvious function of this newfound freedom. It’s now something like 27 for dudes and 26 for ladies on average. While that is still pretty young it also redefines these relationships from the very start. This isn’t a bad thing really, but it is something that brings with it significant ambiguity and uncertainty. In the struggle to gain more freedom from traditional norms we are now working through to figure out exactly what those freedoms entail and at what cost.
I guess what I am trying to say is: Ladies I’m single, still in college, and on my parents’ health insurance. Just like everyone else my age.
For the very few who wonder what it must be like to be either a professional student or an amateur comic, let alone both; allow me to share one of my favorite lines told onstage.
Being a grad student is a lot like being a comedian. Now I have two jobs that don’t really pay anything.
Having the day job to support one’s comedy habit is akin to the common refrain budding PhD student’s face from their families, “so what ARE you going to do with that?”
After four years of graduate school and stand up comedy I still have no idea. One advances while the other stagnates and vice versa. The key is to find a job that allows for a bit of both. And at least for right now I think I’ve found it. Christopher Beam over at Slate offers a glimpse .
Also it would be nice if using humor was part of the job description as well. By this point it is commonplace to assume that Jon Stewart occupies not only the coolest job but also one of the most important cultural positions today. We here in the departments of communication studies, media studies, and journalism have been writing ad nauseum of the existence and impact of this position but suffice it to say that Stewart is the dominant satirist of our time. And this is a position to be venerated. Stewart is the H. L. Mencken or Mark Twain of our generation , a sentiment echoed not only by various academics but also by the likes of Kurt Vonnegut whose praise of Stewart strikes me as perhaps the utmost compliment anyone can bestow on a humorist.
I’m not saying I want to be the next Jon Stewart. I’m not so naive as to think I have even an ounce of his talent and charisma. In fact I don’t think we should have more people like him and Stephen Colbert. We should just bask in the brilliance they create. But I do think those of us who have been fans since the beginning and have gone to great lengths to illustrate the significance of what is going on at Comedy Central should be able to take their lead and find newer and more interesting ways to offer our ideas to the world. In many ways Jon Stewart does not do anything different than many academics interested in the current state of the world. It’s just that his method is, and it’s working.
Which is why, as a longtime fan of the show, as well as a practicing humorist, I was inspired by the Slate article previously mentioned. Commentary on current events, in a public format, with small doses of reasoned criticism gleaned from one’s academic training of choice, with some jokes thrown in, is something that I really think I could do. In fact it IS what I do. Can someone start posting those jobs on Monster? And then tell me about it on LinkedIn? And then show me how to use Monster and LinkedIn?