A Welcome and a Definition

Culture Vulture: "A person with a strong, sometimes obsessive, interest in the arts." Culture Vultures spend a lot of time observing the world. This is where those observations come out.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

In Defense of the Liberal Arts

I was reading an article online about student loan debt and the pitfalls of private loans. They quoted one recent graduate who was complaining about debt loan post-college. She said something to the effect of: "Well, I wish I had at least got a more practical degree, instead of a English degree."

I hear comments like this more and more, especially with our recent recession. Frankly, comments like that always make my blood boil. I have a BA in English and a Master of Liberal Studies, two liberal arts degrees, neither which on the surface seem "practical." I have also decided to make education my career, and often talk to students about classes, majors, etc.

There's one thing I wish every college in the US would say to their students during their orientation: College is not on-the-job-training!

Many students seem to feel that coming to college is some sort of training, where the student gets manufactured and molded and he/she pops out on the other end as a cog, only to get placed into a perfect machine i.e. the job he/she has been training for for four years. Unfortunately, business schools often perpetuate that myth.

Why on earth would you want to be trained to be a cog, to fulfill one function in society? What happens in 5 or 10 years when you burn out? Or the job you have been doing is no longer viable? Look at the American car industry. Many of those people losing their jobs at GM or Chevrolet have parents who worked for 40 years and retired at those same companies. Times change quickly.

Students who do study the liberal arts show that they can change and adapt. Because as a student you are being exposed to a wide breadth of subjects, it shows that you are flexible. For instance, with a English degree, there's a myriad of things I could have done and may still do: teacher, writer, lawyer, journalist and editor are the most direct professions. If I got a degree in accounting, I would be qualified to be an accountant.

Don't get me wrong: a student who just graduated with an English degree and nothing else can't just show up with no experience and expect to get the 50K job, especially not lately. College is a goods step to gainful employment but it should not be the only step. You still have to do the internship, take the education classes, or get into law school. Any degree, even a business degree, is impractical without credentials and experience backing it. And unlike a business degree, if I wanted to leave education and become a technical writer or anything else, I could easily make my skills and degree translate into a different career, as long as I also got some experience in either part time work or as an intern.

With the deep economic downturn, it's not as easy to find a job as an accountant or an IT specialist as it was just three years ago. Many times, recent graduates will find they have no job opportunities after spending four years studying something they disliked.

I will agree, colleges need to emphasize these points more, especially about finding a major and a career, and that the two are not interchangeable. However, I also think students need to be more realistic in their goals and not expect that to be treated like golden children just because they have a college degree. As I always joked, on Graduation Day you're a graduate, but the next day you're just unemployed.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I just about finished reading Jasper Fforde's latest novel Shades of Grey. Fforde is rather well-known in the UK but is woefully under-read here in the US. This really is a shame, for he really should have a JK Rowling/Stephanie Meyer-type following.
Shades of Grey is the first book in his third series. The basis of Shades is a dystopia far in the future, where a caste society exists. Everyone is somewhat colorblind, so your social standing is based solely on what color a person can see. There's a group of people called the Greys, who can't see any color. They are the lowest caste and do all the grunt work of the society. The highest caste are the Purples. The hero, Edward Russet, is part of the lowly Red Caste. (Primary colors are considered lower than secondary colors because a secondary color can see two colors.)

In the book, there are rules for everything, and many rules that have no rhyme or reason. For instance, there's a law against manufacturing spoons. Therefore, all spoons are considered extremely valuable.

I have read all of Fforde's novels and always considered him a genius. His other books are very witty, light, but still poignant. However, Shades showed a new side of Fforde's genius. The book is a little darker, and many times, he seems to be commenting on our world today (something good sci-fi should do.) For instance, the many rules were put in place when Something Bad Happened; however, no one knows exactly what happened. He begins each chapter with a different rule. My fav: Every town must stage a musical yearly.

Anything by Fforde is worth a read: I recommend starting out with either one of the Nursery Crimes books to get a good feel of the worlds Fforde creates. Move on to Shades or The Eyre Affair, the first of the Thursday Next series from there.

The professor who introduced me to blogging as an undergrad always ended his blogs with what media he was currently consuming. I thought this was appropriate for this, and I will do it on and off:

Reading: Shades of Grey

Watching: Rupaul's Drag Race

Listening: Glee Soundtrack, Vol 1 & 2

Monday, February 22, 2010

That's not funny...

Right out of the gate, I will say it: I don't like most comedians. I think one reason why I don't like many comedians is that comedy is still mostly dominated by straight men. Most of those comedians stand-up can usually be summed up into three categories: 1) Women: "I have a girlfriend/wife, and man does she drive me nuts...." 2) Children (usually if he's older) "Man, my child says the weirdest sh**! 3) Los Angeles/Showbiz "Man, LA is so phony. And my agent is an idiot..." *yawn* A lot of comedy is being able to relate, and honestly, I can't.

Like many other things in my life, my tastes in comedy skews pretty gay with a few exceptions (Joel McHale. Jon Stewart. Hal Sparks.) However, many of my favorite comedians are lesbian women. Despite the old adage that women aren't funny, I actually think women are by far funnier than men. If I'm flipping the channels and flip on a comedy showcase, I usually stop for a woman. Some of my favorite comedians are Kathy Griffin, Karen Williams, Suzanne Westenhoefer, Coco Peru, and Daniel Leary.

Probably the best movie I ever saw that gave you insight on comedy was Jerry Seinfeld's documentary Comedian. The movie came out post-sitcom, and followed him trying to revive his stand-up career. Seinfeld wanted to do small venues again, so he would perform at open mics nights around NYC. He discovered his process as a comedian, as he recaptured his process prior to becoming famous. Conversely, the doc also followed the career of an upcoming comedian named Orny Adams (Yes, that was his name!). Adams had a very different method from Seinfeld and very different ideas for his career. He greatly contrasted Seinfeld, and strangely, Seinfeld came off as the hopeful one. I always fascinated by docs that portray a subculture, or world that I know nothing about. Worthwhile add to your Netflix queue.


I have never really had a desire to be famous. It always seemed to me more of a hassle than anything else. Besides, every famous person is eventually forgotten. However, if I could be famous, the fame I want is actually one that doesn't really exist anymore.

The fame I would want is somewhat similar to writers' fame, but I guess it's more intellectual fame. Back before cable when there was little TV but many talk shows, writers would appear on TV and make witty observations about life, art and pop culture. The two best examples are also my heroes: Truman Capote and Gore Vidal. Their styles were definitely different: Capote tended to talk about whoever was in the news, often making snide comments. Vidal tended comment on numerous subjects, and would even discuss politics. Capote was more the bitchy gossip; Vidal, the haughty intellectual. It's pretty easy to find political debate on TV, but it's hard to find real cultural debate.

Don't get me wrong, this blog will not just be about theater events and whatever documentary was on PBS last night. I appreciate "low" culture as well, and that will be evident here. While I abhor the idea living on a diet of VH1 dating shows and American Idol, I find it equally weird that some people only enjoy the musings of the radio permanently set to NPR. I am definitely not a critic, but I may critique now and again. I hope you will enjoy reading this as much as I will enjoy writing this.