Academics: Still Totally Lame

And Deirdre McCloskey wins the award for most ostentatious lameness. Not that I have anything really against Deirdre McCloskey; she’s an influential economist, a gifted writer, and has a compelling personal story to boot. But still.

Here’s the thing: the Chronicle of Higher Education asked a handful of academics to divulge their guilty pleasures. Seems like a potentially amusing parlor game, no? Well, as a moment’s reflection would reveal, no. Because you see, what could they possibly say? Most academics, for better or for worse, basically conform to the stereotype. They like reading books and teaching classes, not shooting up heroin or walking around in public dressed up in gender-inappropriate undergarments. (See, I don’t even know what would count as a respectable guilty pleasure.) And if they did, they certainly wouldn’t admit it. And if they did admit it, it certainly wouldn’t be in the pages of the Chronicle.

I was one of the people they asked, and I immediately felt bad that I couldn’t come up with a more salacious, or at least quirky and eccentric, guilty pleasure. I chose going to Vegas, a very unique and daring pastime that is shared by millions of people every week. I was sure that, once the roundup appeared in print, I would be shown up as the milquetoast I truly am, my pretensions to edgy hipness once again roundly flogged for the enjoyment of others.

But no. As it turns out, compared to my colleagues I’m some sort of cross between Hunter S. Thompson and Caligula. Get a load of some of these guilty pleasures: Sudoku. Riding a bike. And then, without hint of sarcasm: Landscape restoration. Gee, I hope your Mom never finds out about that.

But the award goes to Prof. McCloskey, who in a candid examination of the dark hedonistic corners of her soul, managed to include this sentence:

Nothing pleases me more than opening a new textbook.

Arrrgh! Stuff like that sets back the cause of academic non-geekiness for centuries!

The irony is, I totally know what she means.

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65 Responses to Academics: Still Totally Lame

  1. McCLoskey sounds like she’d be incredibly dreary at a dinner party, always spouting off Italian phrases. 🙂 But in fairness to the others interviewed, you also have guilty pleasures like LOST and “yoga toes.” 🙂

  2. Mark says:

    Sunstein’s admission is by far the most guilty in an academic setting. Sure, you’re a degenerate gambler and well-known lounge-lizard, but at least you haven’t succumbed to the all-pervading evil that is television. Your colleagues can reconcile your behavior by assuming you do these things to test the mathematical poker-beating routines you’ve been working on, and to indulge your inner anthropologist. But television!? Such an admission is the academic equivalent of owning up to one’s private baby-eating hobby.

  3. William says:

    Don’t worry, you’ve won back some of your non-geek street cred by misspelling Sudoku.

  4. Sean says:

    Dammit. Fixed.

  5. Dylab says:

    You don’t deserve Feynman’s desk.

  6. Music of the Spherical Quotients says:

    Look, college teachers, like politicians, are going to get in trouble if they admit to being at all interesting. What this poll shows is just that academics need to be very careful about their public images. But we knew that already.

    There are plenty of professors who like dressing up in gender-inappropriate undergarments, using cocaine, kabbalah, shooting assault rifles, etc. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that on balance, academics have an above-average level of perversity and general weirdness. (Proof: they’re fairly imaginative people with loads of time on their hands.) But their continued employment rests on their seeming to be respectable.

  7. Rue says:

    Mental note: If, after I get tenure, someone asks me such a question, admitting to my attendance at S&M parties or my love of the WWF are probably right out….

  8. Mark says:

    Ah, but once you have tenure its all edible panties, firearms and blow.

  9. Jack says:

    “Such an admission is the academic equivalent of owning up to one’s private baby-eating hobby”

    Man, you gotta be kidding me. Sean drives a *Jaguar* for chrissakes. In this era of carbo-puritanism, eating babies is for girly-men.

  10. Moshe says:

    Kabbalah is a guilty pleasure? from my perspective that is hilarious, in my mind it’s more like the type of thing elderly people would discuss pleasantly at luncheons just after going to church, and yes Mark, also just before going home and watching TV :-).

  11. Michael says:

    I think it would have been more entertaining if the question was restricted to musical guilty pleasures. I can imagine a well-respected theorist who happens to work better with his/her MP3 player on, but when that favorite Disney track (A Whole New World? or maybe Hakuna Matata?) comes on, he/she can’t resist taking a little mental break

  12. Greg Egan says:

    Count me as a friend of Deirdre.

    What’s lame is when intellectuals (or anyone else) aspire to be “hip” and “edgy” — notions that are, rightly, wholly owned subsidiaries of the Coca Cola corporation. If algebraic geometers want to skydive nude into South American war zones on the weekends, that’s fine with me, but let’s not make it compulsory. Ninety-nine percent of worthwhile intellectual achievements are made by people who had the courage to swim against the tide of adolescent conformity that gave us fans of Hunter S. Thompson. Instead of trying to make academics fashionably interesting, it would be infinitely preferable to encourage and celebrate the independence of mind of those who don’t give a shit what anyone thinks is cool.

  13. JoAnne says:

    TV? Who watches TV? Unless you’re staying up until 3 AM watching really stupid old movies with a good bottle of wine.

  14. Zeno says:

    I’m another non-competitor in the coolness sweepstakes. But, frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. My number one pleasure is reading. Listening to music is nice, too, but reading is more engrossing. Conversations with close friends are also entertaining and a genuine pleasure. Woo hoo!

    Those inclined in that direction are welcome to demonstrate how edgy and with-it they are (do people still say “with it”?), but I hope they leave me in peace. Fortunately, most of them are too busy with their rambunctious activities to think to bother a middle-aged bachelor who neither smokes, drinks, parties, carouses, nor watches sports.

    Is it time for my nap yet?

  15. Ijon Tichy says:

    Thank you Greg Egan! Exactly what I believe, but you state it so much better than I could, so I’ll just shut up now.

  16. Josh says:

    Couldn’t it be a guilty pleasure because it reveals how embarrassingly nerdy one is?

  17. Julianne says:

    But television!? Such an admission is the academic equivalent of owning up to one’s private baby-eating hobby.

    I freely admit to having watched every season of America’s Next Top Model.

    once you have tenure it’s all edible panties, firearms and blow.

    Mark, when you get t-shirts made with this, I’m totally getting one.

  18. Harold says:

    That line by Mark made me laugh out loud to almost no end.

  19. Carl Brannen says:

    Physicists are boring. Typical guilty pleasures of engineers: Setting off dynamite in the desert. Crawling around abandoned mines. Making your own explosives. Distilling your own vodka. Shaped Charges. Shooting high caliber weapons at night. Violating the warranty on your pocket calculator. etc.

  20. Farhat says:

    If the secret is really guilty (not in the legal sense) most won’t admit it. Current academic politics simply don’t allow for admitting stuff like that unless you are in the protected class.

  21. Ghiret says:

    “Violating the warranty on your pocket calculator.”

    I think that one competes with the textbooks…

    🙂

  22. Haelfix says:

    We can be even more specific. For instance if you hail from MIT, your favorite passtime might include secret techno-anarchist meetings on IRC using your hacker pseudonym. If you live in Stanford, the passtime might include smoking pot and eating Keewee.

    If you are a big shot physicist who was born in the US, you might even be considered to be a viable candidate to advise secret military organizations like Darpa.

  23. PK says:

    I think very few academics would rate dealing with DARPA a pleasure.

  24. David Moles says:

    “I’m too cool to worry about being cool” is definitely cheating, kids.

  25. D says:

    That thing Greg Egan said.