Sunday, August 14, 2005

Your Tuition Money At Work

I'm an academic at heart --- an academic of modest standing with a respectable-but-not-stellar publication record relative to teaching university standards, but an academic nonetheless. This isn't good, and it isn't bad; it is merely what is.

And, let me be the first to say that I'm no great intellectual. I'm more of a bookworm that plods through various topics until he reaches a level of satisfaction. Mathematics and statistics and probability didn't come to me overnight, and my book and papers have taken substantial amounts of time, both in writing such things and in dealing with referees. I've been fortunate to have a great thesis advisor with whom I still work, as well as co-authors who have been able to come up with good ideas on which a grinder like me applies himself.

So, one can hopefully excuse me when social science inanities --- inanities that have the intellectual content of popping bubble wrap --- are put on the same platform as the sciences. One can also sympathize with my eyerolling when political ideology or polysyllabic drivel is considered material worthy of academic repute.

Here's a case in point, taken from this link. From this link, let us observe one course offering that the university considers as part of the quest to broaden one's intellectuality:

POLS 300, History of Political Philosophy: Political Theory in Star Trek
This course examines the grand narratives of western political thought through the vehicle of Star Trek. We look at the "important dead white guys" who have come to be included as central thinkers in this intellectual tradition: Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Mill, Hegel, Marx and Nietzsche. This is a huge range of people and ideas, so we only get a glimpse of each; further, each of these thinkers is complex and can be interpreted in many different ways. Our goal is to put together a coherent frame for an initial encounter with the history of western political thought. We briefly situate each philosopher in his place and time, look at the public issues he confronted, and articulate (our version of) the political analysis for which he has become famous. We try to grasp the center of his vision, the concerns which most energized his thinking, the assumptions from which he worked, the values he advanced. We ask about the implications of his thought for our world today.

We are also concerned with how these political arguments get made, with the rhetorical strategies that shape and limit arguments. Political theorists use language not only to describe, but also to make their world. Their metaphors and images call up certain kinds of meanings and displace others. We look not just for what is said, but for what is not said, for silence as well as for speech.

We also use these thinkers to examine the whole idea of "the tradition" or "the cannon" of western political thought. How come these guys get to be the important ones? Where are the women? The non-Europeans? The people from marginal classes and colors? How does this political narrative come to be, and how is it contested?

Star Trek serves as a textual site for examining, evaluating and critiquing the ideas of these political theorists. We look at some episodes that exemplify the ideas of a political thinker, and at other episodes that can be critiqued from the point of view of a particular political philosopher. Star Trek will serve as a narrative site where political stories are told, stories that often reflect and utilize the ideas of political philosophers. Political theory, ultimately, is everywhere; it is the way we put things together. It is embedded in the stories we tell, and in the stories that tell us.

Ah yes, the "important dead white guys" on one side, and the poor oppressed women and people of color on the other side. Where have I heard this chic sort of comparison before?

If one wants to understand a philosopher, I always thought you tried to read his writings. That's what my philosophy and humanities courses [the second of my two undergrad majors] stated. However, our distinguished intellectual states that "Star Trek serves as a textual site for examining, evaluating and critiquing the ideas of these political theorists."

Now the original 60's Star Trek is tied with The Prisoner for the entirely subjective title of "Favorite Show Of All Time," and I'll talk Prisoner and Star Trek with anybody. However, these are TV shows and pleasant diversions, not deep artistic statements.

(i) Star Trek was Gunsmoke and Bonanza [two other shows that make the Great TV list] done in space; Star Trek was a "Space Western."

(ii) The Prisoner is basically a "take" on Kafka's The Trial.

To elevate this material to a university course is unintentionally humorous, for it speaks volumes of the dilettantism by which people in these silly fields attempt to speak as authorities and lecture us about social norms, social constructs, oppression, etc.

I wonder if the feminists will like Captain Kirk's inability to settle down. He smacked around a few babes and wreaked havoc on a few others. Perhaps they'll urge Kirk's various paramours to go to the local "Health Clinic" in Starbase Gamma-Delta-8 and exercise their "reproductive rights" should any consequences arise. On the other hand, maybe the feminists will be lusting after the green alien chick more than Mr Shatner, whose artistic profunditycontains more depth, I contend, than the entire corpus of critical theory. I suppose that, given the shallow narcissism and fashionable nonsense of critical theory and victim studies and such, perhaps Star Trek is the maximal amount of substance such students can handle. Perhaps, if they watch Star Trek: The Next Generation, they can devote the full resources of their intellectual prowess to explain the power relationship that exists between the lusciously-figured Counselor Troi and Commander Riker in terms of race/sex/gender while accounting for the fact that Riker has been known to have marital relations with not only female aliens, but aliens belonging to a single-sex species. [Don't criticize this, or you'll be called speciocentric.] There are probably a lot of meaningful papers in such studies.

Steve notified me of this article in the WSJ by James Taranto, which is where I found the link. For more humor that is, alas, somewhat depressing as well, read the first part of the article, titled "Academentia Watch."


Blogger centuri0n said...

The first season of the Prisoner and the last episode (2 parts) are the highest moments of BBC TV, topping event the Jon Pertwee "Doctor Who" episodes.

All the rest is fiddle-faddle. "Many Happy Returns" is such a classic shell game on the viewer that one can not watch it too many times.

Be seeing you. :-)

Sunday, August 14, 2005 8:49:00 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Moorhead said...

PP, I like your stuff and would link you, but Frank told me not to.

Sunday, August 14, 2005 9:18:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Frank Turk is UNMUTUAL! Frank Turk is UNMUTUAL!

Frank --- See, I disagree. I thought the final two-part episode of The Prisoner ["Degree Absolute"] made thoroughly no sense whatsoever.

I liked "A, B, and C" and the episode where #2 tries to convince The Prisoner that he is actually somebody working for The Village to crack a phony #6.

Ah, 60's tv. Twilight Zone, Outer Limits...a man can still dream.

Jonathan: PP blog material has a half-life of some 40,000 years, so if you link to me, be sure to line the link with lead, and dispose of the posts properly.

But Frank told you not to link. And, given the holy aura emanating from his Transfiguration-like mug shot, plus the fact that the Centuri0n Van is fully armed and operational, it is wise to heed his advice!

Sunday, August 14, 2005 9:54:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Frank, I need a blogger pic like yours, btw. I just have to have one.

Monday, August 15, 2005 12:19:00 AM  
Blogger centuri0n said...

Because your readership is so miniscule, I'll post this offer here:

Anyone e-mailing me an actual photo of himself or herself, minimum size 400x400, can have a halo added IF AND ONLY IF they will link to my blog. carm_centuri0n at yahoo dot com is the e-mail addy.

Note to Jonathan: go ahead an link to PP. I picked up 2 links over the weekend, and your link to this blog will not effect my standing in the BOG. Even if it did, at this point PP has exposed himself as an intellectual shlumper because he didn't "get" the finale of The Prisoner, and his traffic is boudn to decline when people realize he is not culturally relevent.

Monday, August 15, 2005 8:00:00 AM  
Blogger steve said...

It's been a while since I've seen the Prisoner, which I firsit saw when it originally came out, but I thought the final episode was a pseudo-profound anticlimax and let down--we have seen the enemy and he is us.

Gee, that's deep, man. Oh-so Freudian.

A dud at the end of a long fiery fuse.

However, the series as a whole was, indeed, one of the highpoints of BBC TV.

BTW, notice that the Turkoman has added an arched Spockian eyebrow to his ensemble. What's next--love-beads?

Monday, August 15, 2005 8:30:00 AM  
Blogger centuri0n said...

steve: jealousy of my photoshop skills is ugly on you.

Monday, August 15, 2005 2:42:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

El Franko Guapo:

I just might take you up on your offer. I should flash my mug to the world sooner or later anyway, despite the fact that it may very well scare off many readers who think they've mistakenly stumbled onto a horror site!

Monday, August 15, 2005 2:55:00 PM  

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