Johns Hopkins Magazine - April 1995 Issue


Short Circuits
By "Guido Veloce"

Three ideas in search of a column, or a film by Robert Altman or Quentin Tarantino, because they don't connect with each other or anything else, and could be read aloud by three actors simultaneously for maximum confusion. They are pulp nonfiction.

Newt and Me

The cruelest thing Newt Gingrich has done to me so far--although he has plenty of time left--is to attack the counter culture of the 1960s and therefore make me interested in it. That meant rummaging in the basement for artifacts and reading about it, because--to paraphrase a line Robin Williams probably stole from somebody else--those of us who were there don't remember it.

The results weren't pretty. The green velour bell-bottoms wouldn't fit. The deep blue granny glasses need to be reground as bifocals. Missing is the double-breasted leather jacket that once got me thrown out of the Hopkins Club.

The worst part, however, was reading what we said in the '60s. There were Mario Savio's 1964 Berkeley Free Speech Movement lines about throwing yourself on the gears and levers of the machine to bring it to a halt, attacks on a bloated University of California bureaucracy that reduced students to faceless, nameless IBM cards, and claims that student radicals were "the real conservatives" because they believed in the Constitution's protection of individual liberty. I also found a 1968 prospectus for a radical student journal with an obscenity in its title to ensure that no respectable library would carry it. Particularly striking was its hatred of the "liberal bureaucratic mentality of the academic establishment." We sounded so naive, so young, and, occasionally--horror of horrors--so much like Newt in our disdain for bureaucracy, moderation, liberalism, and compromise, as well as in our gift for translating social complexity into verbal excess.

Mickey Mouse and DSM-IV

Two unusual things happened in 1994. The Walt Disney Corporation had trouble with amusement parks and the American Psychiatric Association published the fourth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, known in the trade as DSM-IV. The answer for the Disney Corporation is not in market analysis, consultants, or Tarot Cards. It's DSM-IV.

First, let's analyze the problem. The financially impaired theme park near Paris, Euro Disney, assumed that American popular culture is exportable to the rest of the world--a safe bet except where there is real weather, alternative attractions (a perfectly genuine Eiffel Tower), or customers whose beverage of choice has a vintage.

So what's a major corporation to do? A friend suggested searching the sacred texts. Thus, the cosmic coincidence of Disney's problems and publication of DSM-IV. Why look to European culture for inspiration when a new frontier beckons? This generation has the chance finally to erase the boundary between entertainment and therapy.

Naturally, I don't want to reveal too much here, although I think one DSM-IV category, "Borderline Personality Disorder" (301.83), hints at the possibilities. Why not aim at people who are "easily bored" and troubled by chronic emptiness? Because they "may constantly seek something to do," they comprise an ideal audience. Even their rare attempts at "self-mutilation" can be remedied with a stop by the center for removable tattoos. "Borderland" might even be a catchy title for the park. Need I say more? Therapy is the ideology of the '90s, and billable hours the measure of success. It's time they became fun for the whole family.

If the Disney Corporation, or any of its competitors, would like more details, including catchy names for food products and rides ("Spaced Mountain" is a natural), I can be reached through the Johns Hopkins Magazine. Mark the envelope "confidential."

Newt and Tenured Radicals

Around 1990, a spate of books and articles attacked American academics as overpaid, underworked, and politically dangerous. One of the best-known was Roger Kimball's Tenured Radicals: How Politics Corrupted Higher Education (1990), which I read in the Hopkins Book Center. (I couldn't afford to buy it on a faculty salary.) Kimball's description of a decadent, politically engaged lifestyle fired me with ambition to be a tenured full professor and to live like that. The fact that I was one, and didn't, never got in the way of my fantasies any more than a mate with a Sumo wrestler's body and a Rott- weiler's personality ever stopped a romance-novel reader from dreaming about Fabio.

Recently, I thought again about Kimball's tenured radicals. They're my generation and, in some instances, friends and acquaintances. How dull they've become. Some have risen to positions of authority in their universities (if that's what department chairmanships and deanships are) and within professional organizations. Many bring to those jobs the same organizational skills that broke the '60s Left into itty-bitty pieces. They have enough trouble running department meetings, let alone a revolution, and they spend less time corrupting the youth of America than juggling mortgage payments and college tuition for their rap-listening, Limbaugh-admiring children.

Which brings us to the academics who either didn't get tenure or gave it up for politics. They include Lynn Cheney, former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities; William Bennett, articulator of conservative ideals; and, of course, Newt, who, but for another turn of the academic Wheel of Fortune, might be just another 50-something, gray-haired professor of history casting (in the memor- able phrase of one English don) imitation pearls before genuine swine.

Maybe, the cruelest thing to do to radicals is to give them tenure.

"Guido Veloce" is a Johns Hopkins professor.

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