About Me

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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Obsessions, Take Two

This one is NOT about veganism or the environment. (Do I hear a collective sigh of relief?) It's also not about PETA, the Sea Shepherd, or questionable tactics. It IS about what counts as a "valid" obsession, and about the tension I live with in terms of being an academic with "trendy" or "common" interests, or at least, interests not generally shared with other academics.

My husband (an academic) has a bit of a thing for the New York Yankees. To be an academic and sports fan is not *that* unusual; he has several colleagues who are also similarly-obsessed (though not necessarily with the same team). He's a major fan. How major a fan, you might ask? Well, once when he was in Geneva, Switzerland, he somehow ended up jogging onto some embassy grounds (without ID on him, of course), and the guards didn't believe he was American until he named the entire lineup of the New York Yankees. Then they believed him. (To explain briefly, they didn't think he "looked" American. He has very dark eyes and back then, very dark thick hair -- in this mideast-suspicious climate we lived in then and now, they thought he might be middle eastern. Oh, scary!)

My husband thinks that my interest in CSI and CSI stars/writers is weird. He actually called me a "stalker" -- a term that deeply offends me -- simply because I keep track of what CSI people are doing. I countered that knowing all the stats of baseball players and being able to ENDLESSLY discuss various games and having to watch the game, the analysis, and then the reanalysis in the same day might just count as being equally obsessive. He didn't buy it. He thinks such behavior is "normal," whereas checking out reviews of plays that William Petersen is currently starring in is not.

(The husband also went into a bit of a fit about my "choosing" people to admire who aren't super-big, only semi-super-big -- would it be more acceptable, for instance, if I were a Brad Pitt fan? I didn't really get his point, and since I don't want to make him look too bad, I'm leaving that part of this experience out of this blog.)

This causes my muse to go into overdrive. It also recalls a conversation held in my kitchen earlier this year with some academic friends. They were discussing their favorite "low-brow" activities and started making fun of (non-academic) people they know that read fan fiction. Well, I do that. Then they started making fun of people who blog. Hmmm...I do that too. They they wondered out loud who in their right mind would bother Twittering. Three for three. Then they wondered who spent time on Facebook or MySpace. Well, I don't have a MySpace account, but I do love Facebook. Finally, I blurted out, "Well, I have a professional email, a personal email, a Facebook account, a Twitter account, a blog and I read fanfiction." Dead silence. Finally, one of them said, "Wow, you are very competitive in low-brow activities." Laughter followed, but I didn't join in.

I find myself stuck between two very different worlds: the academic one and, for lack of a more descriptive term, the rest of the world. *Most* academics claim to both revile and distrust the blogging/twittering/facebooking/fan fiction-reading world. They have some pretty solid reasons: there are, indeed, a lot of people writing CRAP out there, as well as those spreading rumors and lies. You would, indeed, be a fool to believe a lot of it. And I'm the first to admit it takes some time to filter out who is worthy of following and who is not. I do understand the claim that some people just don't have the time for all this. Since I'm only working part-time, I do. Though, predictably, my academic friends and husband not-so-kindly remind me that I might get more "real work done" if I didn't do this.

I suspect the fact that blogging and tweeting makes writing less elitist might just make some of my academic friends a little uncomfortable. There are two ways to think about blogging and tweeting: it cheapens writing, or it democratizes it. Maybe they're both true, but either way, it's threatening to academics, who have been raised to believe that with their credentials, people should be reading THEM, not some blogger without a Ph.D. (For the record, I highly doubt that my possession of a Ph.D. makes people more likely to read me. If only that were so....)

Academics, traditionally, choose interests that go against the grain, or that somehow raise them up above the (uneducated) masses. Some academics undoubtedly will chafe at that description, but it seems honest to me. Their interests in politics, for instance, tend to be limited to liberal politics, conspiracy theories, and whatever the NYT has written.

In case you don't know, most academics consider the NYT the BIBLE. If you haven't read it, you're hopelessly backward and uninformed. If you read something else and thought it was legitimate, well you are sadly misled. (There may be a small window of acceptability for the LA or Chicago papers, and for the WSJ.) For the record, I like the NYT a lot, but I don't read it every day, nor do I think that's really a problem.

Academics also like music and literature; in general, the rarer, the more obtuse, the least trendy, the more classical. And maybe a little Madonna, because that's a "guilty pleasure." (Notice the word "guilty;" why should anyone feel guilty for liking what they like?) Oh, they also like whatever was reviewed positively by the NYT. You won't be surprised to know that I don't like feeling as if I need to refer to my American Idol interest as a "guilty pleasure."

They also like food. (Who doesn't?) Academics I know are particularly passionate about organic, locally grown, and unusual. On this score, I'm generally with them. Though I think I stand out among them for occasionally darkening the door of a McDonalds or a Taco Bell. I'm the devil in disguise, or not sufficiently socialized as an academic. I don't know which is more true. Perhaps both.

Academics also love to talk about their own fields (which often have limited audiences). I have sat through more dinners than I care to remember, listening to discussions of political interest groups, turn-of-the century immigrant laws, conspiracy theories of ALL kinds, election analyses, the eternal middle eastern mess, department pathologies, noisome students, and plagiarism cases. I grant you, it is all interesting. But sometimes I'd rather discuss a movie or last night's episode of Weeds, or hell, a funny blog I just wrote or read. I've learned that if you're with a group of academics, don't expect that. Instead expect to be put on the spot with one of the following: "Did you read the NYT article on....today?" or "What project are you currently working on?" (It's not acceptable to answer, "my blog.")

I love academics. They're generally interesting people, thought-provoking and knowledgeable. Most of the time, I'm glad to count myself among them. However, I *hate* feeling as though I have to apologize for what interests me, and I *hate* that some interests/obsessions are counted as legitimate in this crowd while others are labeled "low-brow." Honestly, what is the substantive difference between following a tv show or following a sports team? Chew on that, my friends!


  1. I would submit that academics don't just follow any type of sport. Baseball is very safe ... everyone from John Updike to George Will to Stephen Jay Gould has waxed on eloquently on baseball. In fact, I would submit that baseball is the quinessential sport for academics. In contrast, you probably won't find many scholars whooping it up at a World Federation Wrestling match or screaming at their TVs during a UFC brawl. That would be low-brow.

    So there is a substantive difference between following just any TV show and just any sport. Baseball is the PBS of sports. And, for fun, you can even through in a few Yogi Berra quotes. :-)

  2. All my favorite "celebrity academics" have a Facebook. A good number of the professors at my school (Swarthmore College) have Facebook acounts as well, and although they of course have their esoteric interests and obsessive relationships with the NYT, they often reference popular shows (Big Love, Desperate Housewives, True Blood etc etc) in class. Maybe you're hanging with the wrong academic circles. :X

  3. The difference between sports fans and "TV fans" is gender. If men follow it, it's cool if women follow it, it's stupid. Welcome to the world of academics!
    Although I have to say most of my colleagues have facebook pages and like TV shows like Dexter. Maybe that is because I'm at a research university. I don't know.
    I definately don't "friend" students or even colleagues. I like having this private, fun stuff that is separate from work and just for my amusement.

  4. I am a professor at a fairly elite university with a large circle of academic friends all over the country and this description doesn't sound like me or any of the other academics I hang out with. It sounds like a stereotype of what people think academics are like.

    Pretty much all my academic friends use Facebook (and we do "friend" colleagues, and we already did when this blog was posted in 2009). Collectively we read all kinds of different things (including every kind of fiction), watch all kinds of different tv shows and movies, listen to a huge variety of music, and follow all kinds of different sports, or none at all. Everyone knows I like to watch Law and Order, most of my friends read mysteries, several have blogs. I've never heard any of these activities referred to as "low brow."

    Academics aren't from Mars. We all live in the actual world like everyone else. And no academic I know has time to read the NYT every day. Admittedly, most do prefer it to Fox News -- is it possible that there's a valid reason for that?


Politeness is always appreciated.