Most children figure out how to get a rise out of people with shock value by the age of about three. We learn that when we scream as loud as possible all of the nearby adults will pay attention to us, or that when we say "poop" or take off our clothes everyone will laugh. Unsurprisingly, as we get older and/or mature we begin to understand this as a cheap, lazy way to get a response. Yes, a comedian can get on stage and talk about masturbation for five minutes and get some cheap laughs, or an artist can dunk a crucifix in urine and become a household name when everyone predictably flips out. It's a fine line, however, because many things we consider to be important or artistically valuable have some element of shock value. This includes countless films, books like Tropic of Cancer or A Clockwork Orange, and artworks as diverse as Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon or Duchamp's "Fountain", all of which were banned at some point and debuted to considerable controversy. So there is a relevant distinction between things of intellectual or artistic value that are shocking and things that have nothing to offer except shock value.
I am increasingly annoyed by the extent to which no-name hack writers and peripheral media personalities have taken to relying on shock value to draw attention to themselves and advance their careers to some level beyond complete obscurity. We see the anonymous guests on Fox News trying to say the most ridiculously outlandish things they can imagine – "Maybe I'll be the next Glenn Beck!" – and legions of fourth-rate Free Republic commenters filling blogs with as much vitriol as possible to attract attention. Basically anyone who can figure out how to use Blogger is trying to one-up the herd. There are Regnery book deals to be had, after all. And the situation is only exacerbated by highly trafficked, even mainstream media outlets giving a platform to these voices due to the same need to stand out and get attention.
That, in not-so-short, is how the Chronicle of Higher Education and some nobody named Naomi Schaefer Riley teamed up to subject the public discourse to a mound of dreck entitled "The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations."
As the title portends, Riley uses the laziest, cheapest technique for taking potshots at Them Ivery Tower Libruls. Academic writing is loaded with buzzwords, jargon, and pretentious phrasing, and it often covers subjects of almost comical obscurity. So for AM Radio hacks and semi-literate bloggers there's nothing easier than looking at the names of courses or the titles of papers and working themselves into a diabetic frenzy deriding the material without knowing anything about it. Riley does not disappoint. Her MO is to list some dissertation titles from the Northwestern Black Studies program and then laugh about how stupid she thinks they sound.
If ever there were a case for eliminating the discipline, the sidebar explaining some of the dissertations being offered by the best and the brightest of black-studies graduate students has made it. What a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap. The best that can be said of these topics is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them.
That’s what I would say about Ruth Hayes’ dissertation, "'So I Could Be Easeful': Black Women's Authoritative Knowledge on Childbirth." It began because she "noticed that nonwhite women's experiences were largely absent from natural-birth literature, which led me to look into historical black midwifery." How could we overlook the nonwhite experience in "natural birth literature," whatever the heck that is? It's scandalous and clearly a sign that racism is alive and well in America, not to mention academia.
Then there is Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of "Race for Profit: Black Housing and the Urban Crisis of the 1970s." Ms. Taylor believes there was apparently some kind of conspiracy in the federal government's promotion of single family homes in black neighborhoods after the unrest of the 1960s. Single family homes! The audacity! But Ms. Taylor sees that her issue is still relevant today. (Not much of a surprise since the entirety of black studies today seems to rest on the premise that nothing much has changed in this country in the past half century when it comes to race. Shhhh. Don't tell them about the black president!) She explains that "The subprime lending crisis, if it did nothing else, highlighted the profitability of racism in the housing market." The subprime lending crisis was about the profitability of racism? Those millions of white people who went into foreclosure were just collateral damage, I guess.
What could possess the Chronicle to give this the time of day, especially given that the author has zero academic credentials to suggest that her opinion on this topic might be relevant? Well, it has been a few weeks since anything in that publication has attracted widespread notice, and they like to keep things exciting. So why not toss out something that will cause its academia-centric audience will flip its lid? Look at all those site visits! Who cares if she made zero effort to engage this work on any remotely serious level. Them titles are funny!
There are two ways to make it as a writer, and one of them – having some combination of talent, creativity, or intellectual merit – is unavailable to this author. So she does what every other unknown, unaccomplished hack toiling away in obscurity realizes is his or her only chance to be noticed. She sits down and basically writes a 500 word version of "HAHAHA NI***RS AMIRITE? LOL!" and waits for the call to appear as a guest on O'Reilly. Maybe she'll even get booted from the Chronicle and become the latest right wing martyr to get a speaking tour and book deal. "I was ostracized by the Liberal Establishment!"
I am going to puke blood the next time I have to watch, listen to, or read these blatant attempts by failures to throw a bunch of red meat into the public sphere and kick back and wait for that call from Fox or the Daily Caller. In truth she and her drivel are hardly worth our attention – and the Chronicle goddamn well knows it – yet here we are. Congratulations, Naomi. You've got our attention now. Too bad writers like you (i.e., shitty ones) are a dime a dozen, or else your plan might have worked.