RED MEAT

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.

41 thoughts on “RED MEAT”

  • What really got me about that piece was just how fusty it was. It could have appeared in a 1991 issue of th Darthmouth Review. It's not even attention-grabbing shock junk, it's attention-grabbing shock-junk that's over two decades old. Eagerly awaiting followup articles from the same author, wondering why there isn't a White Entertainment Television or a White History Month or a White Studies Program.

  • One of the commenters on her follow-up piece wrote, "Naomi is a "journalist" in the way that Snookie is an actress." That pretty much sums it up.

  • HoosierPoli says:

    The good old argument from personal incredulity: I can't believe this could be important, therefore it isn't.

  • Funkhauser says:

    What a waste of a Harvard education.

    Her undergraduate thesis title: To have and to hold : a comparison of the virtues necessary to acquire and maintain rule in Shakespeare's plays

    Haha! Let's all point and laugh!

  • On this one I'll stick w your analysis, as I'd fear that my clicking will increase her hit score. Which would inadvertently encourage more of her "claptrap".

    Weren't there more important themes for the day, like the Greater Hootenany County Snail Races? People like this should be treated like fire. Starve them of oxygen (attention), and they'll just die of their own accord. Keep an eye on 'em, but don't lift the lid.

    Besides Goober Pyle and MCA both died over the weekend. So who contributed more to our cultural understanding?

  • To be fair, "Piss Christ" is a beautiful photograph and far superior as art to a lot of stuff out there that is wholly or partially played for shock value. Art can be shocking and conceptually awesome at the same time – for instance Manzoni's "Artist's Shit" or, on the same general topic "Cloaca" by Delvoye. Sometimes shit is just shit, but there are times when it's art. "Cloaca" is without a doubt superior to the entire Kinkade oeuvre.

    Re: Riley, did you see her follow-up? Doubling down and outright admitting that she was just making shit up based on the titles: "Finally, since this is a blog about academia and not journalism, I

  • grumpygradstudent says:

    I was about to engage substantively with the bullshit about racism in the housing market being bullshit, but then I realized that I would be playing into her bullshit, which is what this post is telling me not to do.

  • ladiesbane says:

    I was hoping Riley would at least provide some trivial or obscurantist or ridiculous thesis titles, but the examples she chose seem typical and valid. Rather than undermine the validity of multicultural or gender studies generally, she focused on Black studies, and assumed the purpose of scholarship in this area is to "find solutions to the problems of blacks in America. Solutions that don’t begin and end with blame the white man."

    Wow. Yes, that's the entire purpose of a paper on non-white women's experiences in natural birth. She even accuses the authors of leaving their calendars in 1963, as if studying recent history is a pointless way to approach current problems. And, of course, finding "solutions to the problems of blacks in America" is the only reason to pursue Black studies. Resolving current social issues is certainly why I took courses in archaeology and semantics. WHAT!

    The best part is her rebuttal to the people who booed this column, in which she asserts that her qualifications to blog on this topic are that she has been blogging for 15 years now. Fuck up long enough and they call you "experienced." Even better, she says she doesn't have to read dissertations to criticize and comment on them. Defending the indefensible, one idiotic remark at a time.

    Judging from her other articles, Riley purpose in life is to tongue Conservative arse and scold anyone who doesn't care to join in. The real issue here is the Chronicle's decision to run her.

  • The intent of "Piss Christ" was a statement to the Catholic Church's treatment of Latinos and Hispanics. Being by far the greater bulk of Catholics, throughout the Americas, yet are "pissed on" by the Church. See the Church's attitude towards the conflicts throughout CA, poverty, inequality and human rights abuses, and the Church was either silent or saying, "Be Good Catholics and you'll get your reward in Heaven." This mixed with the attitude of the Church in the States towards illegals and other social issues. Whatever has been happening in the US Church certainly isn't healthy when prominent Catholics consider Rand an informative and influential writer. And Jesus wasn't? Ok, Jesus isn't remembered as a writer, but an orator (and healer, and dissident, and Son of God…)

    So no the message of "Piss Christ" is extremely important, which is, "By pissing on us, you're pissing on Christ."

    Now if you want a childish, attention seeking, douche then look no further than Hirst. Watching the doco when he filmed an abortion, and his thoughts on it sealed the deal on his douchery.

  • Acting the Philistine, in the realm of comedy, cultural crit or punditry, is the mark of an amateur playing to the bloodthirsty. The shock-jockery of American culture proceeds apace: "Did you HEAR what (insert drive-time douche's name here) SAID today ?!?" That's an actual ad seen on a passing bus quite few years ago at this point.

  • Jaime – it also seems to induce some skin-hardening. I find these days that, instead of swallowing the bait, my favorite responses are:

    Who cares.
    So what.
    Who told you that?
    And you believed it?

  • "I am increasingly annoyed by the extent to which no-name hack writers . . . have taken to relying on shock value to draw attention to themselves"

    I know man I hate Bret Easton Ellis too.

    The previous comments about Piss Christ are spot on. It's aesthetically pleasing and thematically resonant, what more could you want.

    NSR's senior thesis content is hilarious, because she did a CSPAN interview about her book recently ("Tenure is what's causing tuition increases!") and the very first sentence out of her mouth is "Well, look, there were 300 academic books about Shakespeare published last year. I like the bard as much as the next person, but after four hundred years, we've said all we can say, haven't we?"

    Nice work, Harvard.

  • Rick Massimo says:

    "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."

    I thought it was a wingnut article of faith that the federal government caused urban poverty because of the nuclear-family disincentives in welfare, and that that all happened because Democrats are the real racists.

    I guess for a paycheck and some notoriety for 500 words of "HAHAHA NIGGERS AMIRITE? LOL!," they'll even sell themselves out.

  • What is the over/under on when Idiocracy comes true? I mean, she did talk a little "faggy."

  • But she'll be Fox News' new "education correspondent" so, ya know, there's that. She won't be going away, and if she's mildly attractive I'm sure she'll be on every Fox News show (and Bill Maher, who seems to like these Republican FemBots who can only regurgitate Luntz-approved talking points) SO … get used to it! Because our discourse is stupid, the internet killed journalism, time for a blogger ethics panel, etc. etc. etc.

  • superking says:

    What did you mean by this:

    "and working themselves into a diabetic frenzy deriding the material without knowing anything about it."

    What the hell is a diabetic frenzy? Do diabetics go into berserk states? And can they get there through some sort of meditation or self-exploitation?

    I know this is nit picky and no one else cares.

  • Sifu Snafu says:

    Chimpanzees have the strength of 5 men…and when in frenzy, diabetics have the strength of 5 chimpanzees. That's a fact.

  • I was hoping Riley would at least provide some trivial or obscurantist or ridiculous thesis titles, but the examples she chose seem typical and valid.

    This.

    NSR's senior thesis content is hilarious, because she did a CSPAN interview about her book recently ("Tenure is what's causing tuition increases!") and the very first sentence out of her mouth is "Well, look, there were 300 academic books about Shakespeare published last year. I like the bard as much as the next person, but after four hundred years, we've said all we can say, haven't we?"

    I do remember, as a hungover second year (sophomore?) undergrad, standing in the stacks trying to find something that would give me a not completely hackneyed title for an essay on Paradise Lost. I came across a book entitled Milton's Punctuation and had a flash of insight as to just how well-worn was the path I was treading.

  • Desargues says:

    @ Southern Beale:

    The market for fascist plastic-ey Rent-A-Blonde is pretty crowded, so homegirl's kinda late to that game. You think she can edge out C-Cup, Dana Louche, Mëgg¥ñ Ke££y and all the other 5-dollar interchangeables slobbering all over Ailes' wrinkly little… um… pen. Yes, pen.

    Maybe little Harvard over there hasn't realized that the logic of the game she just joined is, you gotta step it up until you're looking at only three strategies to stay in it: you go full retard, you go Klansman (do they allow Vagina-Americans in the Klan?) or they film you bleating "Beeee-haaaaaave yourself!!!!," like Breitbard did until he popped a vein. Does dainty miss Ivy League have the girl balls to play ball with the big girls in the Toxic League?

  • The Culture Warrior Fallacy: I don't get it. Therefore, it's useless crap. Now with extra racism!

  • Glad you posted this if for no other reason that I'm going to seek out and read the dissertation on Black Women's Authoritative Knowledge on Childbirth. It turns out that mainstream American medicine doesn't know all there is to know about childbirth, so I bet there's some medically useful information in that dissertation.

    Wait. A dissertation that might advance our general knowledge about a topic of importance to humanity? Ridiculous!! Burn it!!!

  • Desargues says:

    Man, this country really has it in for over-educated, under-intelligent, affluent white twits. A revolution might be needed to redress all the cruel injustice that's been inflicted upon them by all these brown people. I bet poor Naomi has a dream……

  • Seems like the Chronicle should have fired it's editor, not Ms Riley. She wrote a stupid piece. But the editor made the editorial decision to publish it. Unless Ms Riley is the editor, in which case it's a situation like Dick Cheney's nomination for Veep.

  • In the firing announcement the Chronicle states:

    "Brainstorm writers were able to post independently; Ms. Riley’s post was not reviewed until after it was posted."

    Again, a crappy editorial policy is at fault, not, per se, Ms Riley's crappy writing or thinking. Too bad an academic venue is so clueless. That too just fuels the right wing stupid. Also, "Ms" does not require the period, as it's not a contraction (see, e.g., "Milton's Punctuation," above).

  • Desargues says:

    So, Bill, if "Ms" is not a contraction, what does it stand for? How is it different, in meaning, from "Miss"?

  • Both of her blog posts on this topic are worth reading just to read the savage take-downs that follow in the comments section.

  • Also, "Ms" does not require the period, as it's not a contraction.

    "Ms" is a contraction of "Mistress", just like "Mrs" and "Miss". Its meaning seems somewhat fluid, but to me it's the female honorific that doesn't suggest one marital status or another. (Perceptions on this vary hugely: some people think Ms is a fig-leaf to hide the shame of not being married (!) while others prefer lifelong "Miss"-ness as a sign they've deliberately never become complicit in patriarchal, bourgeois marriage.) Other countries are somewhat jumping on board with the single female honorific. France's public sector has just dispensed with "Mademoiselle", making all women "Madame".

    I've never noticed this on the cover of the magazine, but apparently American English has a dot after it, so "Ms." is correct in the US. In UK English, there's no dot.

  • Halloween Jack says:

    What a waste of a Harvard education.

    Riley's basic shtick seems to be using her Harvard education to lend her some veneer of credibility when she tells bible college audiences that non-religious academia sucks.

  • I quote:

    "Mrs., Mr., Ms., Prof., Dr., Gen., Rep., Sen., St. (for Saint)

    Notice that Miss is not an abbreviation, so we don't put a period after it. Ms. is not an abbreviation, either, but we do use a period after it — probably to keep it consistent with Mr. and Mrs." From http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/abbreviations.htm

    Back when I was editing books, the argument for Ms went the other way, e.g., it was like Miss. We still don't use the period after Miss. This argument for consistency strikes me as dubious from a grammatical point of view, and certainly is inconsistent when taken generally.

    Just sayin'. What makes "Miss" an exception to this alleged rule concerning the period after such contractions, if "Miss" just as much as "Ms" is not a contraction? Indeed, one could argue that the period added after "Ms" is an alteration in meaning–an attempt by chauvinists to reduce "Ms" to "Miss," the latter being rather like "Master": only used for boys in knickers. Ms Friedan objects, and correctly imho.

  • @Fiddlin Bill: As a fiddly punctuator myself, I must commend you on your capable defense of essentially arbitrary, and yet still quite correct, rules of punctuation.

    [Apparently the apostrophe after your username triggers the infamous comment cutoff thing?]

  • @Fiddlin' Bill

    I am sure that you're correct on current uses of punctuation in US English, and clearly (some of) the matter rests on whether or not 'Ms' is short for something.

    Some views on this, from the OED and a US newspaper or two, can be found here.

  • Only copy editors care about punctuation to this degree–I must be talking to fellow alumni here? I'd say that the decision to put the period after Ms is primarily an aesthetic one–visually it seems called for. As a person who's old enough to remember when Ms arrived, I remember that it had a political context, and that people advocating for its use did not want it to be conflated with either Mrs. or Miss. Personally, I don't use the period after Ms to honor that political context. However, re the initial snark I instigated here, I think Elle is right that at least many copy editors do now use the period after Ms in American copy editing style. I learned my chops (such as they are) from the Chicago Manual of Style, '70s edition. This was long, long ago.

  • Only copy editors care about punctuation to this degree–I must be talking to fellow alumni here?

    If only. My pedantry is strictly an amateur performance.

  • This is one place where we, South of the Mason-Dixon were always up to speed.

    We have always had Ms, but we spelled it (in dialect) and pronounced it the same way.

    "Miz Claudia stopped by to see you while you were in town, darlin'."

    Said Claudia could be either married or single – no difference.

    //bb

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