“I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22,” sings Taylor Swift on her most recent album, and I think it’s a line that’s indicative of the situation I find myself in as my time at Duke begins to end. It also might be indicative of my general attitudes that in a column that is supposed to encapsulate my views on satire, the Swift I chose to quote was Taylor, not Jonathan.
But first, to the formalities: I am, or at least was, the Grumpy Trustee. I figured I should say that explicitly, in case you were confused as to what this column is about, and why there’s a new guy on the opinion pages this Monday. Also, congrats Stewart: You got it right that one night at Sati’s.
Normally, this column takes the form of a grand defense of the offensive tools one uses to create satire, but because my targets were perhaps a little too direct, and because the offensive things I said were couched in old-timey prose that probably bored most into apathy, I don’t think that defense needs to be made.
For that reason, I’m going to try a different tack, and make an argument about what I was bemoaning in all of the non-political columns I wrote this semester (for the obvious reason that my political satire was so effective that it doesn’t need a defense. I’m pretty sure I single-handedly won Barack re-election). In short, the message is this: Duke is changing, and I’m not sure it’s for the better.
Philosophically, the University has recently taken the tack that being “academic,” inquisitive and invested in the fundamental problems of society, is diametrically opposed to “fun,” represented by all the dumb college-y things we engage in on a regular basis.
It is not an unreasonable point: If you spend time engaging in one type of activity, it may become difficult to engage in the other. It’s also easy to see the largest excesses of “fun,” when it leads to dozens of EMS calls (or worse), and to question whether the University should allow such behavior.
So, should a school that fancies its students the leaders of tomorrow support those same students dressing up like squirrels on weekends, and looking like sophomoric idiots? I would respond by simply saying, “absolutely.” At a certain point, the ideological pursuit of perfection becomes self-defeating and ignores all the delightful messiness that occurs on the sides of life.
I loved my classes at Duke. Choosing to be an English major for no “practical” (a crushing word if there ever was one) reason was the best decision I made in college, and I’ve actively savored every class I’ve taken in that department. I’ll remember professor Ferraro’s “Billy Budd”-related double entendres and the actual method to Melville’s madness, as well as anything else in college.
Even though I enjoy academia, I still spend a lot of time wondering whether if, in the school’s attempts to emphasize academic pursuits, we’re drifting toward better inquiry, or simply trendier inquiry. No amount of “humanities labs” can substitute for the simple virtue of a well-taught seminar. Programs like DukeEngage can often be great, but it still stuns me how many people return from them convinced of the utter hopelessness of civic service. Increasingly, it seems to me that the greatest enemies of academia aren’t drunk college bros, but academics themselves, more invested in appearing innovative instead of doing the legwork to be truly innovative.
But I’m not here to provide solutions. I really just want to encourage everyone to savor the stupid stuff, the fun side of Duke, because the chances to be young and foolish vanish slowly as college ends. Going to a Christmas party in Cookie Monster pajamas and singing “Semi-Charmed Life” loudly in my fraternity’s common room didn’t prevent me from enjoying my classes. It shouldn’t prevent anyone else.
College is fun. It’s also, in various parts, heartbreaking, hilarious, stupid, brilliant and everything in between. You’ll have unbelievable relationships develop, break and solve themselves in the long run. You’ll never be more embarrassed about the things you did, but you’ll never laugh more about the same things. You should do everything the clichés tell you to. Major in what you love (or, more practically, second major in it). Dive into awkwardness. Experience everything. Make friends you never thought you would.
And above all, remember this: These four years are but a brief bit of your life, and you’re a fool if you don’t take advantage of every goddamn second.
Harry Liberman is a Trinity senior, who clearly has gotten afflicted with second-semester senior nostalgia a little earlier than most. Also, yes, this column is wildly unfocused. Come at me if that’s a problem.