This article has me frustrated, and I’m going to try to figure out why here…
- I want to accuse it of lazily repeating myths about the millennial generation, but it slides around directly accusing young folks of the general stereotypes (self-obsessed, pampered, screen-addicted) and sort of foists those critiques off onto colleges and universities. Higher ed certainly is not innocent of believing (and acting upon) these same stereotypes as well, but what this strategy does is enable Flanagan to not directly indict students.
- She also idealizes stand-up, something I get. As she notes here
And in the comedians’ desperate attempts to grasp the realpolitik of the college market—and to somehow reverse engineer an act catered to it—you could see why stand-up is such a singular form: it is mercilessly ineffective as agitprop.
and I agree – at its best, stand-up is agitprop – Bruce, Carlin, Pryor, and Rock are the most famous, but there are a lot of lesser-known comedians who have done some essential rhetorical bomb throwing as well…
- Her critiques of the university are useful, especially when she accuses them of simply wanting to entertain students, but she doesn’t mention some of the larger systemic issues that result in this – too many universities, too much of the employment scene devoted to this four years of what she calls ‘resort’ living, too much accumulated debt that results in the need to justify these expenses in terms of gains in marketable skills.
- Holy shit, though, this comment made me chuckle and want to spew for its truthiness:
During the day, “educational sessions” on topics of inexpressible tedium—“Wave Goodbye to Low Volunteer Retention”—droned on, testament (as are the educational sessions of a hundred other conferences) to the fact that the growth field in higher education is not Elizabethan literature or organic chemistry but mid-level administration.
Translating the need for studying Elizabethan literature might be a tough sell, but I can’t imagine why better understanding organic chemistry is, and this wholehearted rush to add administrators at a high level in universities seems less about the hypothetical soul of the institution and more about a desire to not tackle tough visionary questions with any sort of thoroughness or clarity.
- Her accusation that universities are no longer living the glory days of the 60s (“We knew who the enemy was then,” although Pogo might have been a good read for them) is a misread of campus environments. Yes, free speech is great until it’s abused, but what students are trying to do is to create an atmosphere that is not harmful. Even as I write this the slippery slope leading to an absolute yawning chasm looms, but the students who are trying to be careful shepherds of the dollars they spend are at least aware of how a university paying a comic to say stuff is some sort of endorsement.
- She ends with a nod to the essential humanity that drives the student activities folks to choose this style of comedy, but wonders at the cost. Not a surprise ending, but I think she also misses that while student activities folks are perhaps shy about offending in and of themselves, they also know that they will not be in these positions if they choose comedians who the institution does not approve of. Whether or not that sort of caution is one that will irredeemably shape them is something that none of us know…