Thursday, October 05, 2006


My department is hosting one of them there academic celebrity speakers this month. Not really news, 'tis the way of the university, I guess. This event comes complete with a reception that is "open to all faculty and graduate students in my department" in a completely command performance sort of way. Fine, wouldn't want the celebrity to be without a fan base.

Here's the dilemma: I find this person thoroughly odious. And I don't use that term lightly at all. Academic Celebrity of the Month is not delightfully challenging, or mildly vexing, or even deeply unpleasant. We're talking odious, here, folks. Think of what would result from a baby-eating troll mating with Satan, then classify the resulting being as deeply unpleasant and you start to get an idea of the level of ick factor I'm dealing with. I'm afraid I'll be engaged against my will in a conversation with the Stah, darling, and feel a sudden urge to commit felonious assault. Now, I've felt that urge before, and suppressed it enough to transfer my rage to a mere verbal smackdown. I know I have the power to be merely sardonic when I see blood. However, stars of the odious variety tend to dislike being thought of as less than stellar. Also, my superiors in the department have no sense of humor when they're busy being charming hosts. So I'm compelled to attend, but I know no good will come of attending.

Anybody know of a nice, 24-48 hour malady I can claim to have?

[Update: OK. I've decided to be an adult and go to the scheduled event with an open mind. I may hate everything Academic Stah stands for, but I may also learn something from her talk. Even if it's just "avoid logical leaps like these," it's worth it. I can't guarantee that I'll ignore egregious factual misrepresentations, but then as far as I'm concerned it's the job of even the most junior academics to say "I'm not convinced of your argument because..." or even "what do you make of X's article, wherein she proves you completely wrong?"]


Dr. Richard Scott Nokes said...

Nah, don't get sick; just go. From my experience, many (most?) Academic Stahs tend to be odious (including some you've praised in this space). The good news is that your department will have enough suck-ups that you won't have to deal with Professor Stah at all, since they'll all be pushing to the front to gladhand and get noticed.

Academic survival note: Sycophants may be annoying, but they can also make convenient human shields.

You can safely attend, allow your presence to be noted by whatever authority commanded you to be there, quietly slip out, then meet at a bar with your friends to make snarky comments.

Chris said...

Two possibilities:

1.) Lots of vallium. Trying getting pissed at anything after a heavy dose of that shit.

2.) When you do engage her (and seriously, if you don't, I will be disappointed, just as I'll be disappointed if you don't get it on tape), do so on stricly intellectual grounds. Don't just make her feel inferior, show her that her ideas are too.

Dr. Richard Scott Nokes said...

By the way, I've just figured out who the Stah is (I'm slow), and you are right, it is one of the most repellant people I have ever met in my life.

Now that I know who it is, I have to disagree with Chris, who writes, "Don't just make her feel inferior, show her that her ideas are too." So far as I could tell from my various interactions with her, she's without shame. You would just be wasting your time.

medieval woman said...

I agree with Dr. N about using suck-ups as human shields - if she penetrates that line of defense (or if you get shoved forth by some misguided prof expecting you to "shmooze") just shove a bunch of cheese cubes in your mouth and chew...nodding sagely from time to time.

Bardiac said...

If you have to go, go; eat some free food and let those who want to chat him/her up. (I must be the only clueless one around, alas.)

Is there anything to be gained by confronting or challenging her?

If not, I'm guessing there's much to be lost, at least in terms of the powers that be in your department.

Maybe think of it as practice for getting along with the odious colleague you'll inevitably have at some future point.

HeoCwaeth said...

Chris knows who Academic Stah is because I told him. I have no idea how Dr. Nokes figured it out, and it weirds me out more than a little that he did. I didn't even use gendered pronouns. Unless she's the only female academic celebrity speaking in the northeastern quarter of the U.S. this month, I may have to think about better pseudonymity practices.

The problem is that I have a congenital social illness that I got from my mother's side; I have about four parts bravery(stupidity?) for every part of intellect.* That whole "have integrity, but be diplomatic" thing doesn't run in my family. I mean, I can pull off diplomatic speech very well as long as I have a minute to think it over, but on the spot? I've never managed that one.

*Evidence: I've been told 5th-generation stories about my family-members' escapades from people who don't know me or them. Some of the better/more audacious escapades have made it into comedians' acts. I'm not kidding.

Example 1: In one week of her then-young life my Mother went nose-to-nose with the then-POTUS and a Mafia boss. They let her live because they thought it was cute. Again, I shit thee not.

Example 2: 2 1/2 y/o niece, diagnosed with cancer, in the hospital for her first round of chemo. The girl threw the doctor out of her room because she didn't like his attitude, and she did it in so imperious a manner that he actually left. It was my "give momma a chance to shower shift" at the hospital that day, and I had to escort him back in when I got back from the ladies' room.

lalouve said...

Food poisoning or stomach flu. Passes in a day or two, keeps you out of the office and very socially unacceptable, and leaves no distinguishing marks.

Ancrene Wiseass said...

Sycophants may be annoying, but they can also make convenient human shields.

Just wanted to announce that I'm still laughing at that comment after five minutes. It's so true.

I hope attending the talk is at least less painful than a root canal, Heo.