Alert reader Dan Shea drew Via Meadia‘s attention to an unusually depressing article in the Boston Globe. It is one of those fluffy and airheaded “lifestyle” pieces, the print equivalent of empty calorie junk food and like many such articles it provides a horrifying glimpse into the vacuous nature of the modern American mind. In this particular case, the reporter, who hopefully is affecting rather than spontaneously producing prose redolent of relentless stupidity, shares her view of 10 “awesome” classes at Boston area colleges that she thinks her readers would like to take.A couple of them, we hasten to observe, look both useful and good. The MIT course taking first year mechanical engineering students through the entire process of toy design seems a bit out of place on this list. And we also note that the actual classes may have more substance than our chipper journalist reports. But some “awesome” courses look like the kind of academic malpractice that help so many American kids emerge from four years of “education” with massive debt loads, major attitude problems, and no marketable skills. Consider:
“Staging American Women: The Culture of Burlesque”. Burlesque is a complex and alluring underground culture — and sexy, too, of course. Think about tassels for a moment — are you blushing? Then you might want to skip out on a course that involves discussing pin-ups and early sexploitation films. Your loss.
It is hard to know which is more disturbing, here: that a college can accept student loan money for a course like this without being charged with financial fraud or the vapid thinking and limp prose that Globe editors evidently think belongs in their newspaper. Or consider this piece of awesomeness from the same college (Emerson, where tuition and fees run to more than $30,000 a year, and almost half of those who apply are admitted):
“Puppetry”. “The course culminates in the construction of puppets for in-class presentations,” which is really all you need to know. Plus, puppets are pretty popular right now. I’ll be the first to say it: This class will make you a hit with the ladies.
Or there is our fatuous writer’s top suggestion, a useful course on the history of surfing:
“Surfing and American Culture“. As a Massachusetts native, I have a bit of trouble picturing the impact surfing has had on American culture beyond that Beach Boys song and Point Break. This class will take the uninitiated through the history of surfing up to the present day, as well as examine its role as a major economic force. And include field trips? Just a suggestion.
(Again, one wonders when the Globe decided that soggy, tasteless mush like this was publishable content. Either the writer or the editor of this piece and quite possibly both clearly spent much too much time in college taking classes like the ones being praised here.)As Via Meadia looked at these course descriptions, and reflected that all over America students are borrowing tens of thousands of dollars a year to attend expensive schools and then blowing the money on glittering fripperies like these, we were reminded of a book title we came across in our long vanished youth: How to Make Yourself Miserable. It occurs to us that there is an infallible recipe for making yourself miserable, and that many young people in this country are following it — some, perhaps, without knowing that that is what they are doing.So, inspired by this list of awesome courses, here is a sure-fire way to make yourself miserably unhappy in your twenties.First, enroll in a college that you cannot afford, and rely on large student loans to make up the difference.Second, spend the next four years having as good a time as possible: hang out, hook up, and above all, take plenty of “awesome” courses.Third, find teachers and role models who will encourage you to develop an attitude of enlightened contempt for ordinary American middle class life, the world of business, and such bourgeois virtues as self-reliance, thrift, accountability and self-discipline. Specialize in sarcasm and snark.Fourth, avoid all courses with tough requirements, taking only the minimum required number of classes in science, math and foreign languages.Fifth, never think about acquiring marketable skills.Sixth, when you graduate and discover that you have to repay the loans and cannot get a job that pays enough to live comfortably while servicing your debts, be surprised. Blame society. Demand that the government or your parents or evil corporations bail you out.Seventh, expect anyone (except for other clueless losers who’ve been as stupid and wasteful as you) to sympathize with your plight, or to treat you with anything but an infuriating mixture of sorrow, pity and contempt.If you follow this recipe faithfully, Via Meadia promises that you will achieve all the unhappiness you want. And don’t worry; anytime you feel sad and blue, just read some “lifestyle” journalism in the Boston Globe. It will be sure to cheer you up.