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I'm growing to despise academics(38 posts)

I'm growing to despise academicsSpoiler
Sep 5, 2003 8:37 AM
OK, so I took a course in Japanese popular culture. It sounded cool. I wanted to learn about another culture. After reading a few good articles, I was assigned to read some article by Isolde Standish PhD, from King Alfred's College in Winchester. Here's the opening lines of the article.

"Contemporary urban style is empowering to the subordinate for it aserts their right to manipulate the signifiers of the dominant ideology in a way that frees them from that ideological practice and opens them up to the subcultural and oppositional uses."

I have no idea what she's babbling about, but she put a lot thought and effort into the babbling. The whole article goes on like this for pages and pages.

Why do all these articles sound the same? Is it a language they truly need to use to get their ideas across, or is it just a language they adopt to fit in, like shaving legs? Shouldn't the burdon of clarity and ease of understanding be put on the writer, rather than force the reader to consult a dictionary for every line he reads?

Because of this, I will try to never correct or bash someone for a simple spelling or grammar error. As long as I clearly understand what they're trying to say, and they are writing to be understood rather than writing to impresss, their communicating more effectively than lots of PhD's.
I kept running across the work "postmodern." It seemed to pop up in about every sentence. I didn't know what it meant, so I looked it up. I found a nice site that made me feel a whole lot better about the babble.
re: I'm growing to despise academicsMJ
Sep 5, 2003 8:54 AM
I don't think the goal of academic papers is to communicate to the average guy - that sentence makes sense but it's written for a target audience

jargon excludes those outside the field

it's difficult to write well and communicate effectively in plain English when addressing about complex themes/subjects - it's easier to slip into jargon etc.

still you're the guy who decided it'd be fun to do an academic course on Japanese popular culture - when I was in university I had a friend in a German class with me who detested the academic side - he picked up all his German from prostitutes on a student exchange in Hamburg = there's more than one way to learn about something - book that ticket and buy those condoms...
It's a mix of both.dr hoo
Sep 5, 2003 9:07 AM
Technical language, and obfuscation.

What looks like crap can be carrying a lot of information for the informed reader, and do so in a relatively efficient way. When you are writing for a source that allows only 30 manuscript pages, every word has to do lots of work.

Of course, it might just be crap too. With lots of big words that are there to keep people from understanding the writer (and thus critiquing the writer)!

As for that passage:

"Contemporary urban style ": what kids are wearing, the cool stuff

"is empowering to the subordinate" : give satisfaction and a positive sense of identity to those who have little power in society (urban youth)

"for it aserts their right to manipulate the signifiers of the dominant ideology": They take symbols that mean one thing to "mainstream" society and change the meaning. Thus "bad" means good.

"in a way that frees them from that ideological practice" : by making this change and taking control of what they are being fed by the mass media, they can begin to see the influence OF that mass media, and thus....

"and opens them up to the subcultural and oppositional uses": they can gain power in subcultures and countercultures that use such changed symbols and styles against mainstream culture. They can start to "subvert the dominant paradigm" to use a bumper sticker phrase.

The thing to keep in mind is that this type of article, at its best, is joining in a conversation that has been going on for years. There is a requirement to deal with what has gone before, and so that language tends to get used in the way that assumes people know what is going on.

Take for example the term "postmodernism". I can give you a simple definition "the denial of any metanarrative", but unless you know a bit of literary theory you won't know what that means.

What it really means is that you should avoid postmodernists at all costs. I have to deal with them, but would prefer if they all disappeared in a puff of smoke.

POMOs are the worst with this kind of language. But even if you read some highly technical, rigorous quantitative study, you will find the same thing. Each sentence is complicated, and assumes a lot of knowledge by the reader. On rare occasion you can find a well written article, but even these are hard work to read. Even for people that read that kind of stuff all the time.
Thanks for the clarification.Spoiler
Sep 5, 2003 9:49 AM
The professor who assigned us to read this is at fault in my opinion. When he addressed the class the first day, he emphasised that we didn't need any prior knowlege of Japan or any other special social science knowlege. It's a 200-level course. I can wade through it, but not without a lot of help. I'm kind of lazy, so I tend to cop an attitude when I have to struggle.
Another assigned article states that one prominant theme in Japanese pop culture is work, and how work gives meaning to life.
Another theme is the struggle to succeed in the face of adversity with particular emphasis on mental or spiritual strength, patience, focus, and pureness of intention. I'll need to apply these to my school work.
seems pretty heavy for a 200dr hoo
Sep 6, 2003 4:03 AM
at least to me, for a sophomore level course. Maybe a few articles like that to fly the flag (so to speak), but mixed in with more accessable readings. A steady diet of that kind of stuff is graduate level reading, imo.

If you ask an A student in the usa why they get A's, they will most likely say "because I am smart". Ask a japanese A student why they get A's, and they will answer "because I work very hard".

There is a lot to admire in the japanese culture. But then again, they used to sell used schoolgirl panties from vending machines, so it kind of balances out.
"Just don't take any course where they make you read Beowulf"ColnagoFE
Sep 5, 2003 9:51 AM
--good advice frmo Woody Allen in Annie Hall.
Too lateSpoiler
Sep 5, 2003 12:04 PM
I took a class in medieval literature. Previous to reading Beowulf, I read Grendel. I found myself rooting for Grendel even though he was a momma's boy.
yeah me too..though Chaucer was actually pretty entertaining-nmColnagoFE
Sep 5, 2003 1:13 PM
if you think that's bad study derrida or deconstructionismColnagoFE
Sep 5, 2003 9:44 AM
someone needs to give these eggheads a copy of strunk and white. basically i think that the para you quoted above says modern style is great because it allows a nobody to find new uses for old stuff.
Disagree with the premise of the paragraphContinental
Sep 5, 2003 10:47 AM
Show that you understand the paragraph, and then illustrate that it is wrong.

The subordinates (urban low lifes from the point of view the dominants) can change the meaning of symbols used by the dominant ideology (the establishment, the rich and powerful). An example of this in the US is the Christian cross. Non-Christian urban subordinates wear the big golden crosses as fashion. The cross as a fashion accessory has become accepted by a large part of the establishment. This is hardly empowering. From the point of view of the dominants, the subordinates who started the fashion trend are still poor, powerless urban lowlifes. They have not improved their status. Furthermore, the dominants have commericialized the fashion statement to gain additional wealth and power at the expense of the urban subordinates.

You can conclude that this phenomenone is not unique to Japanese society, and the premise that this is empowering is clearly bullshit.
Disagree with your conclusion.czardonic
Sep 5, 2003 11:03 AM
I don't see elevation of status as a relevant measure of success in this case. Rather, I see self-determination as the goal. Whether or not it is "bullshit" that this is empowering is a matter of personal priorities, i.e. are you a status seeking materialist or a free spirit?

And while it is true that new fashions are quickly commercialized and thus assimilated into the "dominant ideology", "subordinates" are just as quick to move on to new "oppositional uses".

True, this phenomenon is certainly not unique to Japanese society. But Japanese society has an enduring tradition of very narrow and conformist ideologies. IMO, this this makes cultural rebellion among Japanese urban youth more significant.
Go ask the Japanese youthContinental
Sep 5, 2003 11:22 AM
Do you feel empowered by your ability to manipulate the signifiers of the dominant ideology? Is it your intent to use those signifiers in the development a subculture in opposition to the dominant ideology? Or would you rather just have a good job, money, and a nice place to live?
You don't need to go to Japan. . .czardonic
Sep 5, 2003 11:31 AM
. . .to figure out that some people are focused on the staid goals that you seem to value, and some are not.

Keep in mind that this paragraph, and I am assuming the article in general, is attempting to characterize all young people in Japan. It is merely examining a subset that at least one person (two, because I tend to agree) finds noteworthy.
Also, what's the cause and what's the effect?Continental
Sep 5, 2003 12:27 PM
The thesis of the paragraph is that the rebellious youth cause the dominant culture to change. I would argue that changes within the dominant culture allow the youth to have their petty rebellions. The urban youth subculture only has the power that the liberalized dominant culture allows.
Is that the thesis of the paragraph?czardonic
Sep 5, 2003 12:45 PM
I don't see where it says that the emergence of subculture changes the dominant culture. The thesis is that youth may rebel by repurposing the trappings of a dominant culture.

Your response assumes that the dominant culture quickly commercializes and thus assimilates the product of that rebellious subculture, which I agree with. However, I disagree that this signifies the assimilation of the subculture itself.
Another try at the thesisContinental
Sep 5, 2003 1:20 PM
I don't think I got it right, but I don't think you did either. The thesis is not that urban style changes the dominant culture, and it's also not that youth may rebel by repurposing the trappings of the dominant culture. The thesis is that urban style is empowering. I still contend that the liberalization of the dominant culture allows iconoclastic style statements and it is not an empowering of the subculture. Of course I'm predisposed to disagree with anything written by a liberal arts PhD, and it's Friday at work.
I think rebellion is empowering by its very nature.czardonic
Sep 5, 2003 1:47 PM
I also think that what seems to be your interpretation of power (status and influence over others) is not definitive.

The paragraph defines empowerment as the assertion of rights. Almost by definition a right is "allowed" by the dominant culture, but that does not mean that excercising it is easy. Here in the United States, the First Amendment notwithstanding, I think certain speech still requires courage and excercising that courage can empower the speaker.
Is protest by taking a dump on the American flag empowering?Continental
Sep 5, 2003 5:49 PM
If someone protested the Iraq war by taking a dump on the American flag, would this empower the protester, in your opinion? I think it would degrade the protester and be counter-productive to his stated aim. I do think that self-empowerment is a valid concept, but I think that it requires influencing your own life in a positive manner by finding abiilties that you didn't know you had. Maybe you could stretch that definition to include iconoclastic fashion statements, but it would be a very long stretch, and not one worthy of serious scholarship, in my opinion.
This suggests to me that you are still missing the point.czardonic
Sep 5, 2003 6:22 PM
Whether or not a particular act influences the opinions of others is immaterial. Your scatalogical protestor may not win your respect or sympathy, but do you deny that he has at least freed himself from the bonds of convention? The freedom to do as you please, right or wrong: is that not the essence of empowerment?

As far as stretching iconoclastic fashion statements into "serious scholarship", I doubt that this single paragraph represents the breadth of the writer's thesis. My opinion is that he has a valid point, and that point is reflected by many other aspects of Japan's history and contemporary culture (and that of many other countries).
It's a sentence, not a paragraph.dr hoo
Sep 6, 2003 3:52 AM
No academic would ever write such a short paragraph!

Y'all are reading an awful lot into a single sentence. A quick look at this person's career shows a handful of publications, which are clearly film based. I also found some presentation titles from her (or his) affiliated organizations. These have titles like this book chapter from 1998:

"Benshi/Katsuben: 'Photo-interpreters' or Mediators of Modernity"

Lit crit pomo all the way.

* courtesy link on katsuben and the role of benshi in it:


I know some film academics, and while they are a great group to party with, they take themselves and the importance of films way too seriously.

Synopsis of Standish's book "Myth and Masculinity in the Japanese Cinema: Towards a Political Reading of the "Tragic Hero"":

"This study argues that in Japanese popular cinema the "tragic hero" narrative is an archetypal plot-structure upon which male genres, such as the war-retro and yakuza films are based. Two central questions in relation to these post-war Japanese film genres and historical consciousness are addressed: what is the relationship between history, myth and memory? And how are individual subjectivities defined in relation to the past? The book examines the role of the "tragic hero" narrative as a figurative structure through which the Japanese people could interpret the events of World War II and defeat. This narrative became part of a wider discourse which developed as a backlash against the criminalization of Japan through the conviction of her war-time leaders. The author analyzes the construction of the "tragic heroes" of film and their relationship to the popular interpretation of historical events. Also considered is the fantasy world of the nagare-mono (drifter) or yakuzu film. "

THERE is a paragraph, knock yourselves out.

dr. (now that i know what a benshi is, i want to read that chapter) hoo
I Love the Clarica Commercials.Jon Billheimer
Sep 5, 2003 11:05 AM
A little clarity goes a long way. Academic jargon is just that: jargon. In my opinion it's no more content-dense than ordinary, good language. That the meaning is clear to "educated" or "informed" academics is far from clear, a point that Continental makes with great simplicity.

When I was a sociology major many, many moons ago the point was often made that social scientists--and others--use such arcane, convoluted language to try to convince themselves and others that 1)they're smart, and 2)everyone else should take them seriously. After all, it's worked like a damn for philosophers, theologians, and lawyers!:)- I remember having to read Talcott Parsons at the time. He was supposed to be "the" top-of-the-roost social scientist. About all I could ever figure out was that he was trying to impress everyone that he was from Harvard and sooo smart that absolutely no one could understand him--except himself. I'll bet he got the idea from reading Kant and Hegel.
There is certainly more than a grain of truth to that but. . .czardonic
Sep 5, 2003 11:36 AM
. . .at the same time, "jargon" can serve a purpose. Within a field, language that seems tedious or opaque to an outsider may denote important nuances in meaning to the target audience.
True...Jon Billheimer
Sep 5, 2003 11:49 AM
...but it can be and is overdone. The reference prose for this thread is a good example.
Agree. (nm)czardonic
Sep 5, 2003 11:52 AM
Speak of the DevilsSpoiler
Sep 5, 2003 11:55 AM
I have a feeling the worse is yet to come. I'm also taking a Philosophy of History course. Again, the teacher emphasized that no prior knowlege the subject is needed although it's a 400-level course.
Our reading includes Kant, Hengel, Patrick Gardiner, Neitzsche's The Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life, Michael Allen Gillespie, Berel Lang, and LOTS of German philosophers.
The problems is that philosophy teachers are easily distracted in class. Innocent questions I ask send them off on tangents. I guess that's the very nature of their work. I find the tangents really interesting, but the topic at hand gets lost.
You Are a Glutton for PunishmentJon Billheimer
Sep 5, 2003 12:12 PM
Do you also like your women wearing leather and carrying great big whips??:)- The whole value of your course will lie in your prof's ability to explain to all you uninitiated rubes what Kant and the boys are actually trying to tell you:)- Actually, sounds like an interesting course. You're going to become extremely familiar with the term "teleology". Yahoo, intellectual porn!
You Are a Glutton for PunishmentSpoiler
Sep 5, 2003 1:25 PM
Actually, my course-choice-experience-metaphor would more closely resemble accidentally picking up a tranny on a dark night. I know what I INTENDED to get myself into, but once the class starts, I'm the victim of false advertising.
I just ordered "A World of Ideas: The Dictionary of Important Ideas and Thinkers" along with "A History of Knowledge: Past, Present and Future" for use as little guides. They were cheaper than other philosophy dictionaries.
One problem is that the class contains philosophy majors who know the drill as well as newbies like me. The teacher will enjoy talking shop with fellow philosophy buffs while not losing the rest of us.
Man, student loans came in this week. Along with bike stuff (wind jacket, new 16t fixie cog, new Campy sprocket, new tires, Craft undershirt and socks, Shimano 52t ring, stock of tubes, supplements) and school books, I've just about blown through the whole wad. Better than crack and lotto tickets I guess.
I'll have to remain car-free for another semester.
and that Nietzche didn't have a high opinion of women ;) (nm)ColnagoFE
Sep 5, 2003 1:32 PM
Hitting the nail on the head...Thank you Mr. Billheimer.spankdoggie
Sep 5, 2003 11:07 PM
Mr. Billheimer, you hit the nail on the head. There are just as many jackasses in the professor world, as there are in any other world.

You don't find a bunch of gardeners calling people idiots because they do not understand their particular "language" in the field they live in...

All those "educated" bastards piss me off. I ran through college with a 3.92 GPA or something like that. I got a B in African American history. I was the only white guy in the class (true story), and the teacher was a black guy too... So obviously, how can I get an A if I am a honkey-cracker-peckerwood? There were dumb bastards showing up in full camouflage(?), rappers with ho's in tow... they got A's...

I had no fear in that class.
I was the most outspoken one.
Black kids need to get over their inferiority complex; the little bastards.

Hey, I have a black friend who is 62 years old (we play raquetball together, and other activities) I have sipped fine scotch in his mansion, while his beautiful black wife, a lady, tells me how I need to improve myself... I cry, and she chastises(?) me over good scotch. My dear black male friend has been vice-president of several banks in his life, and he chose me to be his friend.

I am honored. I really am.
He hates dumb black people. That is not my statement; that is his. He says they need to take responsibility for their actions and make themselves better.

I will give academic culture no quarter; you can quote me on that...

The majority are jackasses.

Been there, done that,

Troll, ignore.Leonnard
Sep 5, 2003 11:31 PM
I think so too.Spoke Wrench
Sep 6, 2003 5:03 AM
I used to live in a university town and had many professor/friends. After a few discussions with them I formed the opinion that all of the ones who truely understand their subject are able to explain it in simple terms.

I have a bio-chemist daughter who does medical research. She's able to explain what she's working on to me so that I can understand it and I have next to no chemistry or biology background what-so-ever.

I think that the fakes try to intimidate you with a lot of multi syllable words and jargon in order to force you to seek other sources of information on the topic. That's because they are embarassed by their inability to answer simply phrased questions regarding their field.
I think so too.Spoiler
Sep 6, 2003 9:57 AM
I agree. People who truly love their field of study and want to share it with the world make the effort to do so. I suspect that some professionals have an ego, and want to create an image of their work as inaccessable to the "cattle".
One theoretical physicist, Alan Sokal submitting a total BS paper filled with jargon to a well-known journal. The journal accepted the piece and published it as a serious work. It turned into a kind of "The emperor wears no clothes" kind of situation. The hoax became legendary.

The New York Times published several editorials both celebrating and condemning the hoax. Here's one editorial that says the academic world has the opportunity to learn important lessons from it.
that's a good testdr hoo
Sep 7, 2003 4:23 AM
I think the chances are good that the author of this article would pass that test. Certainly there is a lot of material for good stories in japanese film and culture!

Spoken, simple explainations are also a pretty good test of their teaching ability.

However, when the primary audience is a couple hundred people world wide, I think dense jargon laden language is allowed.
I absolutely disagree!Spoke Wrench
Sep 7, 2003 2:17 PM
The idea that unclear writing is acceptable in order to demonstrate the intelligence if either the writer or the reader is just plain wrong. Smart people are able to express themselves clearly.
It was clear to me.dr hoo
Sep 7, 2003 3:39 PM
The meaning of the sentence was crystal clear to me upon a first reading. But then I am a member of the intended audience.

Some smart people can express themselves well verbally. Some in written form. Some not at all. I've met some freaky geniuses in my time whose only elegant output was some mathematical equations. Other than that, spaz all the way.
I agree with spoke...spankdoggie
Sep 7, 2003 6:19 PM
There is a difference between using jargon known to the intended audience, and just being a jackass...
Sep 8, 2003 10:31 AM
thoughts there.
re: I'm growing to despise academicsDuane Gran
Sep 8, 2003 7:15 AM
It aggravates me too, but then I've been accused of using obtuse language a few times. I think the problem is that the target audience isn't college students, but rather college professors. The professors ask you to read it to be brought into the discourse field of academic language and, to a lesser extent, jargon. I think it is forgivable, given the target audience, but I despise it when someone is intentionally confounding the topic with seldom used terminology. It takes more effort to simplify something than to leave it complex.