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'Stuff Academics Like'

March 1, 2011

The blog Stuff White People Like quickly developed a strong following and turned into a book, and then a second, with a faux anthropological look at ... stuff white people like. For those not familiar with the site, it's not about all white people, but about a well-educated, urbane set -- people who take their coffee, sushi and NPR seriously, and who the site clearly believes can take a bit of ribbing.

Some of the "stuff" relates to academe, with the authors determining that white people like study abroad ("By attending school in another country, white people are technically living in another country. This is important as it gives them the opportunity to insert that fact into any sentence they please. 'When I used to live in [insert country], I would always ride the train to school. The people I’d see were inspiring.'"), or graduate school ("Returning to school is an opportunity to join an elite group of people who have a passion for learning that is so great they are willing to forgo low five-figure publishing and media jobs to follow their dreams of academic glory.").

The original blog inspired imitators (of varying degrees of taste) with stuff (fill in the blank) people like -- and it was perhaps inevitable that a site would materialize called Stuff Academics Like. Actually there was a site by that name in 2009, but it ran out of steam after explaining why academics like blogging, old clothes and President Obama. The newer site may have more staying power, as it was a private e-mail list for a while before its recent transformation into a blog -- and has moved beyond the format of Stuff White People Like.

The new blog takes it for granted that one of the things academics like (too much for their own good perhaps) is titles of papers, series and journal articles that mix jargon, scholarly wit, gerunds and punctuation to come up with easily mocked titles. So the blogger behind the site created "The Guessing Game," in which all but one or two titles are real, and readers are asked to identify the fake one(s).

Here are some of the titles of various sorts in some of his initial rounds of the games (we'll let the blogger reveal whether any of these are the fakes):

  • "Tossed Overboard: Katrina, Abandonment, and the Infrastructure of Feelings" [conference paper]
  • "Shut Your Mouth When You’re Talking to Me: Silencing the Idealist School of Critical Race Theory through a Culturalogical Turn in Jurisprudence" [conference paper]
  • "Envisioning Lyotard in Leotards: Queering the Postmodern Condition" [lecture]
  • "On Poetry and Stupidity in General" [lecture]
  • "On the Legal Consequences of Sauces: Cookbooks, Copyrights, and Creativity" [lecture]
  • "Turtle Times: The Cross-Generational Cult Text of Turtles Forever and Gendered Readings" [conference paper]
  • "The Fetish of Finance: Meta-Theoretical Reflections on the Relevance of Marx’s Epistemology to Understandings of the 2008 Crisis" [conference paper]
  • "Mo’ Dernity, Mo’ Problems" [music series]

Other entries explore conferences, papers or other topics in depth, but the "guessing" lists seem to best exemplify the blogger's self-described "ongoing celebration of the academically obscure, pretentious, and bizarre."

The site itself provides very little information about its creator. Via e-mail, the author asked to remain anonymous, but acknowledged being a Ph.D. student in history in a "top five or so" program -- and with hopes for an academic career (perhaps explaining the desire not to be publicly identified mocking various paper titles).

Given that the material comes from such poking, there is the question of whether the site encourages anti-intellectualism. The site addresses the issue this way: "Our standard disclaimer: Stuff Academics Like is not opposed to academic specialization in the humanities, nor does it condone anti-intellectualism in our society. It does assume, however, that there are people in the academy who really need to get over themselves, and that some of the work they do sounds pretty funny."

Via e-mail, the site creator elaborated.

"What I am satirizing, I think, goes beyond the influence of the 'fashionable nonsense' of postmodernism in the academy," he wrote. "I think the casualization of academic labor in the last couple decades, and the emergence of the so-called 'star system,' has had a significant effect on scholarship. Specifically, it's turned many scholars (starting in graduate school) into ambitious academic yuppies, and created a culture of celebrity in the academy (which values daring novelty, mysterious obscurity, and hot trends). Everyone wants to make a splash, make their mark, get noticed. Perhaps you could call it a response of ambitious yet frightened aspirants to the upper middle class, who are seeing the path before them narrow in the context of neoliberalism. So everyone is retooling their skills for particular niche academic markets. All this is what makes the titles of so many of these papers, conferences, and the like, so amusing. But it's what also makes them kind of pathetic, too, perhaps."

The author added that the digs at academics reflect not a lack of belief in the role of higher education, but rather concern about the importance of communicating the value of research to undergraduates and the general public, not just to fellow specialists.

The blog, its creator wrote, is an alternative to simply writing at length about how some academics are too out of touch with the rest of the world. "Maybe I should put all this up on the blog, to make my objectives more clear. But that would be boring, frankly, and it's probably already been said elsewhere, and better," the author wrote. "So I choose satire. It's true, there is a potential danger in this, specifically the use of this kind of satire by people whose motives and goals I disagree with. But if it contributes to generating more debate about these issues, inside and outside the academy, so much the better."

 

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