January 20, 2011

News to Notice

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After watching four seasons of Dexter and 16 hours of people eating household objects on My Strange Addiction, I’m about ready to graduate from nonsensical Winter Break entertainment to Serious Academic Inquiry. And as an English major, S.A.I. generally entails reading the first few paragraphs of a short story, using the phrase “unreliable narrator” a lot in class and generally making shit up — a far cry from spending the past month improving from “average” to “decent” in FIFA 11.

But my break wasn’t entirely an abyss of bad TV and addicting videogames. A few news stories made me take notice and pine for the days when I could columnize my rage for your reading pleasure. Here they are, in gimmicky listed fashion:

• As with anyone who gets paid to say crazy shit, one would expect Glenn Beck to drop the occasional racial slur or incite an act of violence here or there. But last week Beck reestablished his position ahead of Ann Coulter as the preeminent Guy Who Says Things He Doesn’t Believe For Money by declaring that it is dangerous to walk around Center City, Philadelphia at 6 p.m. “Philadelphia sucks,” he added. The rant can be explained by two simple reasons, 1) his radio show got pulled from the airwaves in Philly and New York the day before, and 2) Beck probably last visited the Illadelph in his addict days and was too busy drunk, high and pissing on himself to realize that the area he described as “killing streets” are actually some of the nicest streets of the city.

• In her groundbreaking memoir, Battle Hymn of the Mother Tiger, Amy Chua reveals that Asian parents and American parents employ different parenting styles, with Asians generally stricter than their American counterparts. Wait, how is that groundbreaking again? The most notable part of the book and its intense backlash isn’t the discovery that Asian parents pressure their kids to get good grades, it’s that people are so surprised by this. Anyone who has an Asian friend or even stood behind an Asian person at Starbucks knows that their parents are generally stricter than American ones. What’s Chua going to unveil next? That children who are raised in Nebraska are 60 times more likely to become farmers than children raised in the Bronx? That a vast majority of preachers teach their children to believe in God? I’m confused.

• Prof. Emeritus Daryl Bem, psychology, proved that ESP is real over break. Well he didn’t prove that ESP is real, but he did publish a paper detailing a study wherein Cornell students were able to correctly identify with greater than the expected 50-percent accuracy the location of … blah blah … smart stuff … blah blah … all Cornell students have supernatural powers. Regardless of whether or not Bem’s paper is legit or not, it’s still humbling to know that we attend an academic institution with enough esteem and resources to waste piles and piles of money on all sorts of nonsense. Let’s just hope Bem’s research advances more quickly than the earth sciences professor who has been trying to prove that sexy women can whip up tornadoes on-demand à la Halle Berry’s character in X-Men.

• NewSouth Books’ announcement that it will publish a version of Huckleberry Finn with all 219 uses of the “n” word replaced by “slave” was met with outrage from smart, writery sorts of creatures. Despite the fact that I identify with these sorts of creatures, I couldn’t get myself too worked up over the whole thing. In the end, I found myself agreeing with Lorrie Moore’s New York Times essay, in which she argued that Huck Finn isn’t really high-school-level literature anyway. Thinking about it, I’m not sure if any of the overly-long, boring 19th-century “Great Works” I was forced to read in 11th grade were appropriate for high school. Three books I can remember from high school: Ethan Frome, Return of the Native, Of Human Bondage. Not exactly the most engaging literature. I get that these are “Great Works” and all, but you don’t introduce teenagers to the world of serious literature by demanding that they understand and appreciate old novels that they don’t yet have the tools to understand and appreciate. It’s like ordering someone who has never had sushi before a live scallop instead of a California roll — it’s just backwards and counterproductive.

That’s it. Only four stories made me momentarily break out of my Winter Break stupor. I’m sure more will come as the semester rolls along, but for now, let’s just enjoy our last weekend of mindless escapism.

Tony Manfred is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be contacted at tmanfred@cornellsun.com. The Absurdity Exhibition appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Tony Manfred