Literally My Greatest Victory As A Journalist Ever

I have been writing higher-education columns for Slate for just under a year. In that year, I have tried more times than I am willing to admit to get in a jab at St. Ronald of the Reagan, avowed racist, geopolitical jackass, and one of the main reasons that the public higher-education system in the United States is the nearly-unfunded mess that it is. I have never, until this blessed day, been able to sneak one of those Reagan jabs in. Today, friends, is my day.

My latest article is on the furor surrounding the appointment of John Thrasher as new president of Florida State. The gimmick of the article is that I am a fat, frumpy Olivia Pope out to rehabilitate the man’s thrashed image in the wake of the dubious circumstances surrounding his hire. But I also got in quite a lot of substantive critique of university administration today, and the misguided emphasis on private fundraising as a replacement for public support (hint: it’s a terrible one). And, of course, a Reagan jab. A REAGAN JAB. THIS IS THE GREATEST DAY OF MY LIFE.

Here’s a taste (for the Reagan jab you’ll have to read the whole thing):

The private fundraising model is an unfortunate result of the consistent decrease in public funds for higher education—and it seems to fall far short of what universities actually need. Perhaps instead of capitulating to that model, the next generation of presidents should come up with an alternative. Thrasher was hired precisely becauseof his political influence and acumen. So if he really cared about the Florida state system of higher education, he would be using that acumen to persuade the legislature and the voters to return public education to the hands of the public (yes, that means taxes, egad), not to raise a comparatively paltry sum that can be (and often is) earmarked for luxurious building renovations and better skyboxes at the football stadium.

Hooray! I mean, not for the realities the piece describes, but for me getting to write about this important issue, which I am so grateful I got to do.

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Disconnected from All Humanity, Day 3: It’s Awesome

I’m not a big dweller (psych; I am a huge dweller), but last week was one of the worst weeks I have had professionally since I “took up” the profession of being a professional fuck-up. I won’t go into detail, but it was a very tough and lonely time — and what I realized, as I sat on my couch sobbing onto the shoulder of my perplexed husband one day (I had just proclaimed that I was out of cereal, which appeared to precipitate the sobs), I realized that my profound, gaping loneliness was not at all assuaged by my frenetic, near-constant presence on Facebook and Twitter. In fact, what I have come to realize for the past few weeks (months? years?) is that rather than making me feel connected to my nearest and dearest, social media — especially Facebook, and especially with its ever more aggressive algorithms — has made me feel like I live in a very ugly bubble, made up of thousands of unwanted “branding promotion opportunities” and my own egomania.

Especially during this past week, when my integrity as a writer was questioned twice (and contradictorily! Maybe they cancel each other out? That’s what I’m hoping), I felt as if there was a massive, pulsating target on my back. I felt like: Uh-oh, I am a person who has made her very, very short “career” punching up, and now people are punching me. Does this mean I am “up”? Oh, yes, yes, assured the hand-curated group of friends and friendly acquaintances on Facebook. Of course! agreed my Twitter followers, most of whom do not “hate-follow” me, but a few of whom do, which is always perplexing. I actually had a few “hatebook” friends this year too without knowing it — I naïvely assume that anyone who Friend-requests me actually wants to be my actual friend and wants me to be theirs! But I guess that’s not the case? Because I started noticing that I was being tagged in to all sorts of conversations that were at best intelligently critical of either the work I do or the causes I support, and at worst downright abusive.

So I started making some changes: I purged my Facebook rolls of anyone I didn’t actually know personally, with apologies to those who got bumped off for no reason in the dead of night (I take, or took, Unfriending pretty seriously, so I can only imagine others might as well, no matter who’s doing it). I created a professional Page, and directed all Schuman-related conversational activity, positive or negative, to that page. Because that was a rather specific and diva-ish request, many of my friends and Friends forgot about it (I can’t imagine they would willfully ignore it!), and so while I spent less of what was supposed to be my personal leisure time being tagged into conversations about academia and whatnot, there was still some, and I didn’t like it. Meanwhile, I started checking my Twitter notifications much less, and stopped responding to them entirely, unless they were from friends (or, in one case, a fairly prominent journalist who to this day remains mortally offended by an op-ed on peer review that was read exclusively by the academics it offended).

But none of that helped make me feel better, more present as a human being, or less heart-ripping-outingly lonely. So I realized that my problem with social networking wasn’t that I am now too famous to be easily accessible to strangers (I am not. Far, far more famous people than I interact far more with strangers — by which I mean actually famous people; I am not famous, I am not even approaching middling levels of Q-list fame among writers, that’s how non-famous I am). I realized that the problem was the social network model itself. It’s been such an omnipresent part of my life since I joined Facebook in 2007 that I hadn’t even noticed the extent to which spending time on there was making me feel like my veins were being pumped full of hydrochloric acid.

I used to chuckle at my friends who would use Facebook to post sanctimonious Facebook statuses about privacy, copyright or commodification. If you’re so worried about “being the product,” I thought, then go offline and be the social-networking equivalent of your own artisinal pickling company! Feh! But that doesn’t mean I didn’t notice what was going on, especially with Facebook’s notoriously manipulatable algorithm, which has sought to make people depressed on purpose for sport (sorry, “market research”) among other things. As far as I can tell, the way the algorithm works at present is to make sure that all anyone sees from their “friends” are the national brands those friends prefer, and the “viral content” those friends promote (and the other content “like” it, half of which is ads). Sometimes that “viral content” is by me. I don’t even care anymore.

Last week I screen-grabbed this from my feed and sent it to my husband via email with a set of anguished emoticons.

image001

Do you see what is going on here? It’s made to look, to a semi-attentive skimmer such as myself (and, I’m sure Zuckerberg & Co have realized, the vast majority of Facebookers) as if one of my friends proclaimed this bit of “viral content” the “story of her life.” When, in reality, that “status update” is actually just a part of the ad, written by the advertiser. This is, at this point, all Facebook is. This shit is punctuated every once in awhile by a photo of someone’s kids (which I will miss) or a sincere status update from an actual friend (which I will also miss), but by and large it is all I see on Facebook now, no matter how I try to diddle with my settings. So between that and the fact that every time I have an article come out (either by me or about me) Facebook makes me feel as if that article is the center of the universe, I just kind of got fed up.

Meanwhile, the thing with the “real names” has been happening, and because I myself have had problems with being harassed and borderline-stalked on Facebook and I myself use a fake middle name to deter requests and searches from strangers, this infuriated me, not just on behalf of trans people, drag performers and anyone else who uses a different name on Facebook, but on behalf of myself as well.

So over the weekend, I embarked on what turned out to be a many-hours-long saga of downloading photos from seven years’ worth of albums (quite a walk down memory lane — and god I used to be pretty before I got old, shit). I then deleted the albums. I then deactivated my profile (notice I said “deactivated” — I didn’t delete it completely, because I don’t have the guts).

Before I deactivated it, several of my friends and Friends bemoaned that they would now have no way to know what was going on with me. This, I believe, depressed me most of all. First of all, the real tragedy is that I might now have no way knowing what’s going on with them — although, to be fair, the “promoted content” made that pretty impossible already. I mean I guess I know a lot of them like Tide. I guess I’ll miss knowing how much they like Tide? I don’t know. But anyway, that also depressed me because if you really think that the only way you can know what’s going on with someone is to go to the A #1 Time-Wasting Humble-Bragging Blatant Brand and Content Farm and just passively wait to see what appears, then social networking has changed the fundamental fabric of what we think it means to be human. And I want to change it back. And it is already changing back.

In the three days since I’ve deactivated my profile I have gotten countless texts from actual friends, several emails that actually went into personal, one-on-one detail, and even a few phone calls. I feel more connected in my disconnectedness than I have in years — because being “connected” on Facebook wasn’t actually connecting me to anything. It was giving me the illusion of connectedness and allowing me instead to be immensely self-absorbed, antisocial and lazy. Why do I need to go to brunch with anyone? I can just see what’s going on on Facebook. It was like The Matrix meets The Circle meets Idiocracy in my house.

I am not judging you for being on Facebook. Many of you really do use it to stay connected to people you care about and I 100% understand, respect and honor that. I am not asking anyone else to do what I did, nor do I mean to be sanctimonious in any way. If I had any self-discipline whatsoever I would have kept my account open and just barely used it, like my husband does.

And, of course, this hardly means I’m off the Internet. Hardly. First of all I’ve got this blog — which predates Facebook and I hope will outlive it. Before Facebook I used to put all sorts of stuff about my life up here — including more pics — and it was fun and funny, and my friends and family and I really enjoyed it. I plan to make this blog more of a repository of all things my-life-related and less of a one-note rail against academia (though fear not, Rate My JIL and its corresponding collection of novelty coffee mugs will continue for as long as the JIL does). Look, here’s a big fat belly pic, because I walk the walk (or, at any rate, waddle the waddle):

Pushing 24 weeks, and the limits of how acceptably loud it is to breathe.

Pushing 24 weeks, and the limits of how acceptably loud one may breathe before being kicked out of one’s own bedroom.

Second of all, my professional Facebook Page is still there (I connected it to a dummy personal account that is un-searchable), and I can even get messages on it (though I can’t follow anyone who isn’t him- or herself a business, because corporations are people but not the other way around).

So, here’s me hoping to see all of you on the less-alienating parts of the Internet. As you can tell, it doesn’t mean I’ll be keeping my mouth shut in any way, shape or form.

September Surprise: An Invitation to Charles Green — now with an UPDATE!

UPDATE: So, I invited Charles Green, the Cornell writing lecturer who is the current leading scholar in Critical Schuman Studies, to print anything he wishes to right here on this blog, for pay, so as to avoid the indignity of brawling in the IHE comment section anymore. (You know what they say about wrestling a pig, etc. But what they don’t mention is that the people watching the wrestling match also have fun, and not the way you want them to.)

Anyway, Charles has responded and says thanks but no thanks (see comments below–largely thanks to an UNINVITED INTERVENTION by my DAD, which actually gave me the best idea for a meta-Tumblr ever, Dads Commenting On Blogs–any takers?).

Charles was very nice, so let’s all follow in the sincere example I’m trying to set, and thank him for being willing to come over here to unfriendly territory, and talk to me like a person! One of the things that makes me saddest is when people assume that I can’t handle it when anyone disagrees with me. Look, I write very sharply worded work that very mercilessly attacks a system that I happen to believe is toxic and rewards mediocrity (but, which, let’s face it, is currently rattling out its last gasps anyway).

Other people who, like me, have been hurt by the system (whether they’re successful in it or not), are going to be predisposed to agree with me. People for whom the system works well — or for whom they very badly want it to — are going to disagree. It is 100% fine to say that I am wrong about anything or everything. And, as my husband pointed out yesterday, a favorite way of academics to do that is to attack methodology (yet another reason peer review doesn’t work! LOL!).

However, I think a productive angle of argument going forward would be this: It is very easy to attack my tone, my lifelong tendency for hyperbole, and my negativity about academia. Which, fine. But in addition to doing that, maybe another thing to think about would be: Why is my “funhouse” version of academia so popular, even with academics (because, face it, I have as many fans as I do detractors — possibly, dare I say, more)? Instead of attacking me, let’s focus on the system that created me. My job is to hold it accountable. Your job can be to work your ass off to fix it in any way you can. Deal?

RATE MY JIL Sept. 26: A Fake-Out and an Epic Evasion

Another Fall Friday, another Pumpkin Spice Rooibus in a novelty mug. This time it’s my homage to Season 1 of “True Detective,” and of course fully a propos given the continuing dire state of the market.

2014-09-26 10.30.12

By the way, Season 2 of “True Detective” sounds like the bad idea I would make up in my head, if given the assignment to get the worst idea possible. Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughan? That is literally my answer to the question: “Which two movie stars would you least like to see on television, ever?” Fuck that show. You poked my heart.

Speaking of which, let’s rate some job ads.

1. The listing for Northern Michigan University begins with “Assistant Professor,” which is widely considered a tenure-track title. Like, advertising for a job as “Assistant Professor” and then not having it be TT is the same as advertising a position as “Project Manager,” and then in the ad you reveal that it’s actually a job as a minimum-wage, part-time telemarketer. And that’s what happens here! The ad, see, starts with “Assistant Professor” and then goes on for two more slashes: “Assistant Professor/German/Three-Year Term.”  So this is just another visiting position, advertised on the fall JIL with the big guys. To their credit, they don’t explicitly state they’ll be interviewing at MLA. Don’t, guys. Don’t. Just because you pretty much live in Canada doesn’t mean you need to be forcing a bunch of suckers to get a passport just to come interview for your NTT job.

Aaaaaaand now here’s a thing that is happening.

2. Penn. Assistant Professor. You would have to be living under a rock made of memory-erasing, radioactive sludge not to know the story behind this vacancy. But as said story involves someone who is a total badass and personal friend and hero of mine, to honor the advertisement I thought I would…

RECAP THE SEASON PREMIERE OF “NASHVILLE.” You’re welcome.

Season 3, Episode 1: Rayna is Felicity, and How the Fuck Do We Write Hayden Panettiere’s Pregnancy Into This?

Previously: Scarlett unsuccessfully attempts to handle the trappings of fame by becoming so excited/so scared; Will Lexington is gay as fuck and the secret bedroom-camera records him coming out to his idiotic child bride; Juliette schtupped Jeff Fordham and I’m still grossed out about it, so obvi so is Avery; Luke and Deacon (aka Noel and Ben) propose to Rayna on the same night. Season 2! OK.

It’s Saturday at 6:00, and Rayna is deciding between two heavy-handed symbols: Luke’s respectable seven-carat ownership-rock, and Deacon’s deceptively simple silver band, which is also weighted down with two decades of heartache, lust, disappointment, and the mild fact that he is way hotter (sorry Wheeler, but you’re a milquetoast). Meanwhile, Juliette is freaking the fuck out about something and her handlers are trying to calm her down, but all I can think as a pregnant woman is, “Boy is Hayden Panettiere pregnant, and goddamn did she carry early pregnancy better than me.” As Juliette searches for a pair of scissors to tantrum-cut her hair with, all I can see is her boobs (pregnant), her face (pregnant), and her middle (pregnant). She looks fucking gorgeous, but girl. Maybe the reason you’re having mood swings is that you’re pregnant as fuck. Also, NPR is doing something NPR-ily at the Bluebird, and the melted-butter soporific tones of the host have already put me out. Nap!

Oh wait, it’s Will, getting ready to take the stage closet-case-ily, with his preening, selfish teenage bride glowering on. Your husband just confessed something that will put his career and almost certainly his life in danger, and all you can think about is the non-transformative power of your vagina. Back to my nap.

Oh, wait, Rayna’s making a call! SHE’S COMING TONIGHT. SOMEWHERE. TO DO SOMETHING. SHE’S MADE UP HER MIND. SHOW OVER. Wait, no. Meanwhile, Juliette cuts the shit out of her hair, because Hayden Panettiere knows that if there’s one thing that makes morning sickness even worse, it’s the smell of hair extension glue. Will sings a song and Layla has a tantrum about it, because she sucks a lot.

Meanwhile, Luke shows up backstage at the Bluebird in a chauffeured SUV, and Deacon is like super nonchalant, all like, “Yeah, that’s probably for me,” and then basically just shrugs while Luke straight clocks him in the fucking Angesicht, because that is what a hot guy does. Sorry not sorry, #TeamDeacon.

FLASHBACK. We are now FLASHING BACK a day. Keep track, because there will be flashes back within this flashback. 90s hair will be involved. Gird your loins.

Luke sneaks into Rayna’s bed to have a threesome–him, Rayna and that seven-carat rock. Rayna does a pained camera-take but engages in the menage regardless. Juliette bum rushes Avery’s apartment and demands to know if he’s going to dump her just because she let Jeff Fordham put his thing in her that one time. Although to be fair, Jeff Fordham’s semen is so laced with evil that I read in a medical journal that it actually changes the DNA composition of whoever’s vagina it touches. Maybe they used a condom (semi-spoiler: I’m pretty sure they didn’t). Anyway, Avery’s not having it, and if Juliette insists on squatting in his modest abode, he’s Audi.

Scarlett’s moving, y’all, presumably back to Australia where she can use her real accent, and she wants her coffee mug (unwashed) and her pen back from Deacon. In stumbles Avery, and in case we didn’t know he was drunk, he’s carrying a fifth in a paper bag, because apparently when Jeff Fordham cuckholds people, he turns them into old-timey hobos.

Will brings Layla some coffee, and instead of her asking him about the immense amount of anguish he has been in for his entire adulthood (and, presumably, teenagehood) living in the closet, it’s all about her and her vagina. “Can you change?” she whimpers, as if he’s Marcus Bachmann. Listen, Layla, I get that it’s a bummer to find out your man is gay, but you are part of a very large club. I don’t blame her, to be honest; I blame him for choosing a petulant teenager as his beard. A progressive mid-30s music executive with a secret of her own would have been a much better choice, Will. Next time — although something tells me you’re going to be forced out of the closet soon.

Meanwhile, Teddy has yet another heart-to-heart with Maddy and Daphne, whose actresses have officially (despite being actual sisters with actual shared DNA) gone the Rudy and Vanessa Huxtable/Sasha and Malia Obama route of one sprouting up to be adult-sized, and the other remaining a tiny little pip-squeak. OMG Daphne you are such a pip-squeak I just want to eat you. I WANT TO EAT YOU YOU ARE SO CUTE. Meanwhile, two seasons of murder and intrigue have turned Teddy into the most level-headed person on the show and he just wants to talk to Maddy like the adult she now appears to be. Teen angst, #TeamDeacon, etc.

Meanwhile, Scarlett and Avery pile into the power-blue Volvo 240 and before I have time to do a mental eulogy for my own dearly departed (by which I mean sold; Volvo 240s drive literally forever), in jumps Gunnar, Britishly, getting into a two-fake-accents argument (three, if you count Avery’s — also did we mention that Avery is drunk? AVERY IS DRUNK), which ends in all three of them “gunning it” (Volvo 240 style) for the world’s most convoluted and fake-accented road trip. I feel like there’s a joke in there somewhere: What do you get when you put a British guy, an Australian lady and a guy who looks disturbingly like my worst-all-time ex-boyfriend in a Volvo? You get the OPENING CREDITS, FIFTEEN MINUTES INTO THE SHOW. Callie Khouri, do you know what opening credits are?

Juliette’s handlers break into Avery’s house where Juliette is wallowing — but she needs to get her (pregnant) butt to the Patsy Kline biopic audition STAT! NOW! THIS IS A BIG DEAL! Pep talk. Let’s go. Meanwhile, on the world’s least fair Volvo 240 cameo, Gunnar and Avery get into a fight that I literally cannot describe without using the sexist and unfair epithet of “hitting like girls.” AND THEN comes the least probable plot line in “Nashville” history, and that is saying a lot: Scarlett’s 240 breaks down. I AM SORRY, NO. No. The Volvo 240 is a lot of things: gutless, boxy, tough to park, easy to mock. But unless you severely — I’m talking criminally — neglect its basic maintenance, that car will outlive the nuclear apocalypse.

Meanwhile, Deacon and the NPR guy have another conversation and thus I take another nap, which is punctuated only by the heart-to-heart Rayna has with Luke while his poor horse collapses under the weight of the giant rock she’s wearing while she pats him. She tells Luke, from behind the safety of her aviator sunglasses, what Deacon did, and that she and Deacon have history, and I am almost as lulled to sleep as I was by the NPR guy’s voice.

Scarlett and her two ex-boyfriends and the INACCURATELY portrayed 240 wait for the tow truck. Scarlett has a parasol. I kind of love it. Why don’t I have a parasol? Juliette’s at her audition, and sings “Crazy” and breaks down crying — you might say crazily — in the middle. And thinks this means she’s done a bad job. At an audition to play the wounded, agony-soaked Patsy Kline. You know the only thing that could make such a ridiculous thought seem reasonable? Hormones, friends. Hormones.

OK, now we are having a DOUBLE FLASHBACK within the FLASHBACK and stay with me. Rayna is deliberating the age-old Noel/Ben dilemma via musical flashback. There’s the Deacon of now, with their sexy duet. But there’s also the Deacon of way back when, passed out face down in a puddle of cheap bourbon and unreliability, unable to go on with a hilarious-bordering-on-self-parody 90s-haired Rayna. AND WHO SHOULD COME TO THE RESCUE but a similarly parodically-coiffed LUKE WHEELER. Wheels up, bitches.

Aaaand the tow truck driver, who is actually named Cletus, recognizes Scarlett from her Jessie Spano moment and is rude about it, as she swipes her credit card into his product-placed iPhone credit-card gizmo. Oh look, Avery’s gone into a nearby bar, because just in case we didn’t remember, he’s drunk.

Meanwhile in the Felicity subplot, we’re back to present time (I THINK) Deacon makes his case, hotly. #TeamDeacon. “We’re in love with each other, Rayna.” You’re too good for her, man. She seems to be blowing him off, but then he grabs her into a hot, passionate embrace and invites her to come sing it out at NPR night at the Bluebird, instead of going to Luke’s big charity shindig. CLIFFHANGER!

Back to Avery at the bar, who has found the wrong chick to commiserate with. The plot turns to the Pee Wee/Simone moment of “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” as said chick’s ginormous ex chases them into the 240, which — miracle of miracles — starts. AAAAAND back in Juliette’s glam bathroom at her Melrose Place beach house (I swear, this show has throwbacks to every 90s melodrama there was), she’s cut off her weave, and she is freaking the fuck out. But listen, say her long-suffering (albeit well-paid) handlers: She got a callback! Doing Patsy Kline’s “Crazy” crazily was just the right way to do it. A-duh. And she’s happy, but she also feels sick. I WONDER WHY????????

At the Bluebird, Luke and Layla have a very annoying closet-based spat outside the stage door, which Deacon peeps with AA-style non-judgmental concern. And back Chez Rayna, the queen of country music ponders her banal choice ponderously. AND THEN back in the comfort of Will’s trailer, he and Layla decide to call off their sham marriage — which infuriates the slimy producer of their reality show, who then reveals that she knows Will’s secret, blackmail-ily. Oh eff you, lady. And, back in the 240, Avery. Is. Drunk. I suppose to the show’s credit, they didn’t have him yarf. Aaaand it turns out Scarlett’s changed her mind and she, Morrissey and my ex-boyfriend’s less-evil twin are headed back to Nashville.

At Juliette’s, she’s just had a “haircut” (i.e. written the liberation from her extensions into the plot) and a urine test, after which her concierge MD beckons her for an aside. “If this is about doctor-patient confidentiality,” she jokes, “they already know I take Xanax.” “Well,” counters the physician, ethically, “I’m not giving you any.” “And why the hell not?”

Because.

You’re.

Pregnant.

The sexy secret your boobs, face, middle and glow told us about 40 minutes ago. Except it’s not sexy, because there is a very real chance that what Juliette is now carrying is the demon spawn of Jeff Fordham. Which, bright side, might come full term in two months (as demons tend to do), and claw its way out of her in the dead of night. That’s how she’ll know it wasn’t Avery’s, bee-tee-dubs.

Aaand finally, the resolution to the least-interesting plot point in the show’s history: Rayna chooses Luke. Consolation: More Deacon for the rest of us.

Meanwhile, Penn wants everything by Nov. 10 and you have to use their stupid, time-sucky proprietary portal, so allot some extra time. Best job listing rating ever, AMIRITE?

How’s your week going? Mine’s going great.

Nothing to see here. Move along. Here’s this, aka the last I will ever have to say on the unsavory 3000-word hit piece that appeared in Inside Higher Ed the other day. And here’s some amazing art to go with it.

lebowski

And here’s a quote, which (I hope) gets to the heart of why the hell all the hyperbole in the first place. BONUS AUSTRIANS!

But yes, the piece exaggerated. Every op-ed I write does. Every sentence I say at home does! My voice has, for better or worse, basically been what it is since my first turn as a columnist at the age of 17 (I appeared bi-weekly in Eugene, Oregon’s paper of record from 1993 to 1994 — kind of a big deal, I know). But it was sharpened in graduate school in a particular vein, as I fell in love with the crotchety Austrians who would come to define my research: Robert Musil, whose over-the-top satire of a bunch of rich drifters also belies harsh truths about the decline and fall of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy; the playwright Johann Nepomunk Nestroy, whose untranslatable humor involves saying something that is a massive exaggeration and an unfortunate truth at the same time; Karl Kraus, the patron saint of pithy bile and my personal hero.

Anyway, hope everyone continues to have a great week. I KNOW I AM. I don’t believe in God, but today I spent a good portion of the day sobbing (about various things; tough week!) and praying in my own way, the following prayer:

Please dear little baby, come out healthy, and be happy…and be just like your dad. Please do not be like me. The end. Bye! From, Rebecca.