Academic Spoofs in Pamela tribute, Mr. B Speaks!

Mr. B Speaks! is partly a spoof. Mr. B has to defend his marriage to Pamela against a group of academics, and I used their objections/conversation to spoof a number of silly academic ideas I've encountered as both a student and an instructor.

My primary spoof is of "just call me Gary" Gary. Gary is the type of professor who thinks he is edgy and contemporary and prides himself for climbing on the latest political bandwagon. Unfortunately, Gary is not a complete construct (an image of pompous academe rather than a representative of actual academic members). I've met Gary. The following passage from Mr. B Speaks! summarizes Gary's attitudes:
"The whole novel is nothing but trite and shallow pandering,” Gary declaimed. “What about death, disease, poverty, slavery, racism—all the terrible issues of the eighteenth century? Hmm? I mean women couldn’t even vote! But no, we’re fixated on watching an inconsequential couple tie the knot. People hid their heads in the sand. Just like they do today.”
Deborah said, “That sounds like the end of a lecture,” and Gary reddened.
Dorothy is Gary's nemesis. She is a young reviewer of romance novels, and she mirrors the attitude of a number of my young female students. They are completely blithe about their place/role in society. They don't feel put-upon. They take for granted that a woman can do whatever she wants in terms of a career/future. They don't feel the need to back "women's" issues or vote to support only female politicians.

From my point of view, the Dorothys of the world are what feminism is all about! However, someone like Gary--a chauvinist who thinks he isn't because he adopted the right "feminist" attitudes back in the 60's--the Dorothys of the world are a massive, scary threat.
Gary was trying to reprimand the young, romantic girl, Deborah. Personally, Mr. B would try flirting with her, but the man just blathered on about himself.
“So,” Mr. B heard the ridiculous man say, “I guess you’re one of those young ladies who adores authors like Jane Austen.”
“Sure,” Deborah said.
“I will grant, she is an important female writer.”
“Walter Scott believed no author matched Jane Austen at describing ordinary life and personalities.”
“Yes. Well. But won’t you admit that, despite her ability and her importance to women’s literature, Austen was mired in middle class values?”
Mr. Shorter, Mr. B's solicitor, leaned over to Mr. B and said, “What kind of gallantry is that man employing?”
“He isn’t,” Mr. B said, rubbing his temples. “He’s Polonius.”
“I like middle class values,” Deborah said.
“Of course you would say that,” the professor said in an irritated voice. Apparently, the professor didn’t like being contradicted.
And Mr. B was against female free-thinkers?
The professor said snippily, “I bet you wish you were Elizabeth, hmm, being chased by that handsome Darcy?”
“Not really,” Deborah said. “A lot of women do read books that way. And men too. Sort of what would I do? But I like to explore the author’s characterizations. Like Mr. B is way more of a homebody than most people picture him. Of course, he served in Parliament, but I think that was just out of a sense of obligation.”
Mr. Shorter snorted, but Mr. B couldn’t disagree. Except that a home without Pamela wasn’t much of a home.
“I’m sure Mr. B is quite conservative in his politics,” the professor said disdainfully.
“You could ask him,” Deborah said.
There was a short silence. Mr. B smiled to himself. The professor was a coward. He probably gravitated to female scholars because they were less trained in rhetoric and therefore easier to bully.
Deborah said, “Or Leslie Quinn. She might know.”
Some female scholars, that is. Mr. B laughed out loud. He glanced over his shoulder.
The professor was crimson. He didn’t look at Mr. B but hunched his shoulders and glared at Deborah, who was trying not to giggle. “I suppose progressive thinking is too much to ask from computer-obsessed students.”
Mr. Shorter muttered, “These Literary Fairness folks aren’t the most tolerant people.”
The "I'm pro-woman--how dare a woman contradict me with her conservative ideas!" attitude is, I'm sorry to say, real (though fading).

Leslie Quinn and Dr. Matchel (another member of the Committee for Literary Fairness) represent the two sides of Women's Studies, Dr. Matchel representing the negative or more narrow side. I'm actually kinder to her than I am to Gary because, like many disenchanted feminists, I believe that Women Studies started out with good intentions. I even believe there are decent Women Studies scholars. But the need to have an agenda/political purpose hurt more than helped that discipline.

Dr. Matchel, for example, is the kind of feminist who will support a CAUSE, no matter how very faulty, simply because it is pro-women. Thus her attitude towards Deborah--
Dr. Matchel cried, “These romance novels have done more to undermine women’s rights than any other type of literature.”
“Oh, that’s old-school,” Deborah said. “Like people who think women should only have supported Hillary in 2008.”
Again, Dr. Matchel is quite real. The above exchange is based on an actual exchange I saw on PBS during the 2008 Democratic convention.

Dr. Matchel is off-set by Leslie Quinn, who has the right academic credentials but writes for the popular rather than academic press (i.e. she actually makes money at her writing). Dr. Matchel and Gary's contempt for "popular" writers is, unfortunately, also quite real as is their discomfort with people who haven't jumped through all the right academic hoops (just recently, I've been placed in the uncomfortable position of having to defend my teaching credentials--my expertise of over five years teaching at multiple institutions--against people who automatically devalue adjuncts due to our supposed lack of education classes; yeah, that makes sense).

In the courtroom, there is also a gruff judge (who prefers murder mysteries and is only sitting in judgment on an eighteenth-century novel because so many eighteenth-century novels are under attack), a therapist (member of the Committee for Literary Fairness who wants to personalize everything), and Lonquist, a librarian. Lonquist is a member of Readers for Authorial Intent. His job is to pose (my) objections to literary revisionism. In the following exchange, the Committee for Literary Fairness wants contemporary--that is, their--standards applied to Pamela.
Gary said sullenly, “I would think some contemporary standards would be accepted as givens—in a civilized courtroom, at least.”
“Which contemporary standards?” Lonquist said. “Based on twenty-first-century Western culture, Mr. B can hardly be faulted for wanting no-strings-attached sex.”
The judge barked, “We will use the standard of customs as established in the eighteenth century. Was lesbianism a discussed topic in the literature of the day?”
Dr. Matchel said, “It was a forbidden topic that nevertheless underscored most women’s writings.”
Leslie Quinn said, “No.”
Dr. Matchel bridled. “Of course, popular non-fiction ignores such crucial subtexts.”
Leslie Quinn said good-humoredly, “Oh, I’m not saying that homosexuality wasn’t an aspect of eighteenth-century England or that people never discussed it. I just don’t think eighteenth-century literature is imbued with hidden messages about the love that dare not speak its name. People do write about other things, you know.”
“They were prejudiced,” Gary said.
“So you’ll use eighteenth-century culture to promote your position, then attack it to defend your position?”
The Committee for Literary Fairness glared at Lonquist.
The judge waved a hand, “I’m not concerned with critical theory relativism. I want to know how Mr. B behaved. Please continue, Mr. B.”
The emboldened lines (my emphasis of, um, my text) summarize my problem with most academic silliness. Dr. Matchel and "just call me Gary" Gary are less about reading--letting the characters speak--and more about promoting a particular agenda; less about falling in love with characters, lines, plots, authors, and more about promoting a particular theory which can be applied to current events. They are less about valuing interesting thoughts and ideas and more about categorizing those thoughts and ideas into appropriate, non-appropriate, acceptable, non-acceptable, profound-according-to-us, too-too reactionary categories.

Silly academics is, in other words, about anything but actual books and words.

Not every college/university in infected by this attitude and even within departments that are infected, there are always a few hold-outs. But unfortunately, the attitudes are still there to be spoofed.

I'll leave you to guess what happens to Mr. B (taking into account that I am a romantic).

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