Monday, February 22, 2010

Stupid Contamination, and Snooki at JMU

In a little over a week, a low-profile celebrity from the show "Jersey Shore" known as "Snooki" will visit James Madison University, the university from which I'm on the verge of graduating. The reaction has been vast--many students, fans of the show, embrace her arrival while others, including myself, loathe it.

We've all got different reasons, though. A lot of people, including this article from the Breeze, moan about the "moral depravity" she represents. I could careless. She or anyone else of legal age can do whatever she likes with her body; it's none of my goddamn business. That's between her, her fellow depravers, and her doctor.

It's not what happens inside her that I care about. It's what happens outside--the stupid. I've never watched the Jersey Shore. I'd be embarrassed to sit through an episode.

Nor do I even need to. These shows have been done before; this edition has salami. The episode summaries posted on MTV's website remind me of all the reality shows I've ever witnessed--a homogeneous mixture of petty drama and stupidity. In fact, the descriptions feature situations similar to those found on mySpace, the dominion of middle and high schoolers, filled with notes about how "I CANT BELEVE CHARLIE CHEEDED ON ME W/ SUZIE OMFG!>!!>!>!>!>!" Beyond the surface tension, there's nothing. Petty desires and ignorance leading to no resolution but more nothing, except--perhaps--what the editors desperately attempt to salvage in post-production, giving some "moral meaning" to the whole fiasco, strung into place with virtually scripted interviews and sappy exposes.

I really don't have anything, in itself, against stupid media like this. I avoid it, but there's a place where the line must be drawn. My university has invited a cast member of this show to come here and hold a public event.

When my university endorses this magnitude of stupid, it reflects upon the student body, faculty, and administration. By bringing any thing, person, object from that show, or anything else that cherishes irrationality onto my campus in an official capacity, it contaminates this university with stupidity. Even if the stupidity already present here merely gravitated this ignorance towards us, it reveals to the public how stupid we actually are. Perhaps some of us are not stupid, but outsiders will not be able to observe that, having been drowned out by the much louder, much more prevalent, stupid.

Sure, plenty of intelligent people enjoy getting hammered sometimes, but who's stupid enough to post it on YouTube?

Maybe it's already too late. Maybe the magnitude of stupid has passed a critical threshold, and it's no longer possible to salvage JMU. There's plenty of great faculty here, but having great sailors on a sinking ship doesn't save the ship.

In fact, those sailors were virtually given the finger last year. The University complained about not having enough money, so they gave none of the faculty raises. Meanwhile, they proceeded to start a high speed construction project where, in two years, they would completely revitalize the football stadium.

The whole gesture is under the misguided belief that somehow having a larger football program makes a school more... recognized? I'm honestly not sure what they're shooting for. There are few JMU football fans in the local area, and therefore there is little potential for revenue. The locals loathe the university, ironically enough, for students behaving in the way that Snooki represents.

Since revenue is impossible, the only remaining rationale for the football project is some kind of cargo cult school development. "Cargo cults" refer to islanders in the Pacific who, during World War II, witnessed American and Japanese soldiers marching and planes landing. In an attempt to obtain the same cargo--weaponry, planes, etc.--they performed the same rituals: marching, standing in bamboo control towers with bamboo headsets, waiting for the cargo to arrive.

It's as if JMU thinks making a football program great makes the school great. It's the other way around, if there's any connection at all. For example, you don't hear much about MIT football, and Harvard and Yale were major institutions before they had football programs.

The football and tweaking entertainment to the lowest common denominator--it's as if the university's growing into an entertainment venue for those looking to delay entering the workforce. The degree has little worth now--academic inflation has made it so that you aren't really guaranteed a job with a college degree. Graduation rates are more important than graduation quality.

The Bittersweetness of Futurology

Futurology is a goofy word that stands for the study of the future. It's the rigorous effort to predict future trends--not what the stockmarket is going to do tomorrow, but whether we'll be on the moon in 30 years, what will science and engineering have produced, by when a woman ought to have become president--things that revolve around probabilities and general trends in the long term.

This is an old interview with Carl Sagan on the Tonight Show. He was presenting some of the results from the Viking lander as well as mentioning prospective results from the Voyager probes:

Watching this, I feel sorrow. Sagan and Denver discuss the launch of Enterprise--the test run of the Space Shuttle, the fleet of ships recently shut down and sold for 20 million dollars each. Denver talks about riding on the shuttle someday, something that never happened. In fact, the shuttle never took passengers for fun. Space tourism remains out of reach of all but a few who were willing to pay millions of dollars to the Russians to fly them up.

There's also a bit of hope. Sagan mentions theories about Io. The reality--that Io is covered in giant volcanoes--is far more exciting. Voyager showed us that the solar system was far more thrilling than the child of speculation.

At the time, the future was in space. Now, in that future, our lives revolve around something the speculation failed to mention--the Internet. It's something that we're all apart of, not a just a few hundred explorers as space exploration, at best, would have been. The Internet appeals to our vanity, something to which everyone can contribute.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

RIAA Terror in Brief: Short Edition

Way back when, I used to regular updates on the RIAA lawsuits. I still get the RIAA alert e-mails from Google News, and this article caught my eye. Really, it's a very good synopsis--with a few typos--of the RIAA lawsuits and their causes. Perhaps a similar argument backed by credible sources could give the record companies a kick in their teeth.