Chicago, Ill.—At a 2007 Modern Language Association (MLA) “Pleasure Now!” panel discussing the dreary emotional malaise permeating many classrooms, professors called for an integration of environmental, spiritual, and pop culture references into the classroom.
The panel’s “Pleasure Now!” “manifesto for change” exhorts professors to “reassess the disciplinary habits that our generation has been so vital to articulating.” Celebrating the successes of liberal ideology, the manifesto says that “These practices have exposed structures of brutality and dehumanization; they have taught us to be critical of oppressive and exclusionary systems; they have gathered us into this profession and brought us to this moment” (emphasis added). However, the costs of this “resolute denial of pleasure” and activism has been to engender a “professional culture of cynicism and exhaustion.”
The authors of the manifesto also attribute their pedagogical angst to uniquely capitalist roots. “The corporatization of the university, escalating expectations for productivity, external monitoring of outcomes, scarcity of resources, and the structural undermining of the tenure system make us miserable,” they write. In other words, the accountability required by the marketplace is dehumanizing and tedious—core Marxist doctrines.
As a remedy for runaway pedagogical pressures, the PN! writers called the reintroduction of pleasure into the university curriculum an “antidote” which will “invigorate our scholarship, teaching, professional relationships, and… practice of daily life.”
Art History Professor Christopher Reed offered his own unique conception of pleasure in the workplace by highlighting the social virtues of homosexual references in the television sitcom Will & Grace and a YouTube video titled “Shoes.” “And we argued that a lot of fun that we had in watching [Will & Grace] came from us watching this kind of queer references which were unmarked as such” the Lake Forest College professor said. Professor Reed has also taught English and Visual Culture at Penn State University, and is on leave at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and Research Center for the 2007-2008 academic year.
After discovering his viewing peer group for Will & Grace largely consisted of 15-year-olds, Reed commented that “it was just the quality of authentism [sic], of outrageousness, that attracts our teenage cohort, who expressed a yearning to emulate their ability…to stand up for themselves in the face of social pressure to conform.”
Showing a YouTube video of “Shoes,” which had 10.9 million views and approximately 85,000 favorites as of January 7, 2008, Reed asserted that the cross-dressing protagonist Kelly’s “drag act is completely unconvincing” but that “Kelly is completely compelling.” Recounting a recent shopping trip at the mall, Professor Reed said that “there was a big shoe store next door, and I was walking through it to get back to the car, and I found myself doing “these shoes rule. These shoes s—!” just like Kelly.
The Liam Sullivan YouTube video is currently under nomination for the 2008 People’s Choice Awards, and features a cross-dressing, superficial, shoe-obsessed protagonist who roams stores looking for more and more shoes. The end refrain of the video consists of “F— You! F— You! F— You! F— You!” as Kelly brawls with a girl who ridiculed her foot size. Reed attributed the video’s phenomenal success to “that kind of compellingness [sic], that comes from the identification—whether we want to or not—with her consumerist desires, but we also [identify with] the failure to successfully inhabit or embody those desires as they are conceptually presented to us in mass culture.” For Professor Reed, “Kelly takes all of this pleasure in messing up the ideal,” the “rebellion model of youth mass culture.”
He offered this similar comedic model as a means through which to integrate the PN! message. “ …I’d like to focus that potential so we make academic practice into something that I hope would be more useful, but at least would be more pleasant,” he said.
Bethany Stotts is a Staff Writer at Accuracy in Academia.