Good God, Now ‘Just Shut Up’ is a Thing: An Open Letter to Paige Ambroziak & Co.

It’s sort of bad enough that Just Don’t Go is a thing—despite my active and continuous participation therein. Because like the vast majority if PhDon’ters, I wish that the academic labor market were different, and that I had not unwittingly become the curse-spewing voice of the disaffected literature job marketer (and I realize that I do not speak for all of you, or even most of you—but to that I say, speak the fuck up then).

But I do this because I cannot stand by while self-professed Marxists behave like feudal lords/Ayn Rand fans at the top of their “meritocracy,” equal parts breaking down their progeny and coddling them into believing that “there are always jobs for good people.” Although, of course, “there are no guarantees,” but the important thing about the Life of the Mind is that you, in the words of my #1 Fan, FULLPROF Jonathan Mayhew of the University of Kansas, “believe in your ideas,” that you recognize the dire importance of your treatises on the subaltern and atavism in The Adventures of Simplicissimus (a seriously bananas picaresque novel that is truly amazing in its weirdness), that you love what you do.

I’ve talked about love before. As have I called out mid-indoctrination grad students who have never been on the job market for not knowing what the fuck they’re talking about. I thought I didn’t have anything new to say on either of those topics, but then my very own sometime employer, the Chronicle of Higher Education (see samples of my august work mhyeah, mhyeah and myheah), published this today, wherein an ABD who has never been on the job market, Paige Ambroziak, decided to tell me, and William Pannapacker, and other people who actually care very deeply about her and what is going to happen to her in a few years, to STFU, because don’t I know that just having the PhD degree doesn’t entitle me to a job? And professional hockey players? AND JOHN GALT HOWARD ROARK BOOTSTRAPS?

I will admit that what I want to say to her, and to anyone who finds her rebuttal to the Just Don’t Gouevre compelling is FUCK. YOU. But that’s immature and obscene, so I’ll leave it implied, and instead just put it this way:

ATTENTION ALL MID-INDOCTRINATION GRAD STUDENTS. It may seem like a very good idea to publish sycophantic, denialist op-eds for wide audiences that endear you to your advisers and their cohort. And indeed, it may help you get a few interviews, and you’ll look like a good little servile Life-of-the-Minder in a few years’ time when it matters. I can’t say it’s really a bad career move, because that would be disingenuous. But here’s the trouble:

Paige Ambroziak, Nicholas Barber, Freddie DeBoer, Amy Pistone…you keep raving about a movie that you haven’t seen to the end. A story whose last chapter you haven’t read. I read your full-throated endorsements of academia, and this is what it looks like to me:

“I’ve read forty pages of The Great Gatsby and I love how positive it is about the might of wealth. And NOTHING YOU CAN SAY will change how I feel, so shut up!”

“Keyzer Soze? We may never know who he is. I declare this the most unsolvable enigma of ALL TIME.”

“I don’t care what your opinion is about ‘sad’ or ‘tear-jerker’ or whatever—I’m 45 minutes through Old Yeller, and it’s an adorable movie about a cute dog.”

I’m not saying that everyone’s academic movie will end in the kind of carnage mine did. All I’m saying is that while in graduate school, if you are a favored student, you are being embraced very warmly in what seems like the loving arms of the greatest profession ever—I mean, to spend all day reading and learning is pretty spectacular. It is.  And because graduate school is your only experience of academia, you have no reason to believe that you won’t always be in the club, that you won’t always “love” that life as much as you now do, with little to no teaching responsibility and a seminar paper or diss chapter that doesn’t have to pass peer review. But the part of the movie you’re in now is the “we’re flying high” montage in Act II—you’re puttering through Central Park on a bicycle built for two, feeding each other Mister Softees, coming up with witty comebacks to “salon” hucksters on the street who ask, “Who does your hair?” (In my version of your movie, it takes place in Woody-Allen-heyday-era Manhattan—you’re welcome).

But you haven’t seen the third act yet. You don’t know what challenges await you on the job market, or in what will almost certainly be a perilously unstable “temporary” VAP or adjunct gig after you finish.

So I’ll make all you motherfuckers a deal: maybe adjunct for $7000 a semester while spending your “spare time” kowtowing to scathing “revise and resubmit” peer reviews and forking out $1000 you don’t have to spend Christmas away from your loved ones begging for the same 25 jobs as 500 of your best friends, and being treated, suddenly, like a second-class citizen in a department that isn’t even as good as the one that graduated you (the horror! don’t they know you BELIEVE IN YOUR IDEAS?).

Maybe see how the movie ends before you publish that rave review.