"BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ORANGUTAN?"
February 7, 2018 9:27 AM   Subscribe

there’s something endlessly hilarious to me about the phrase “hotly debated” in an academic context.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (35 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
heh, this reminds me of the racism question* that has to be quickly got around on every Lovecraft panel at a convention before chaos descends and the Old Ones return from their tombs.

*"Was Lovecraft just normally racist for his time or extra-racist?"
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:38 AM on February 7 [15 favorites]


At least one illustrator veered a bit into that territory, unless the artist had no access to pictures of an actual orangutan.
posted by King Sky Prawn at 9:40 AM on February 7


"Was Lovecraft just normally racist for his time or extra-racist?" - more like sideways-racist. Don't ask me to define that, just seems to be phrase that describes his peculiar variation, tinged with nostalgia for pre-revolutionary New England.
posted by King Sky Prawn at 9:44 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


I was thinking more coy glances, a finger sliding a pair of glasses slowly down the nose, some lying lazily on a divan with a few buttons left dangling in mid-air and stacks of books with just hundreds of those brightly colored page tabs, heavily panting out various terms from some theory-based shibboleth...
posted by runt at 9:47 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


because it’s academia, though, this is limited to poorly concealed passive aggression and forceful tones of inside voice.

Heh. Forceful tones of inside voice. On the button.

(Are people who can't or won't master forceful tones of inside voice steered away from academia even if they'd make good academics, I wonder?)
posted by clawsoon at 9:49 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


You could also say this of Clint Eastwood's early career.
posted by Quindar Beep at 9:58 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


This was way better than I imagined it would be, but I am disappointed that no one got punched.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:59 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


so the place goes dead fucking silent as every giant ass poe stan in the room is immediately thrust into a series of war flashbacks: the orangutan argument, violently carried out over seminar tables, in literary journals, at graduate student house parties, the spittle flying, the wine and coffee spilled, the friendships torn—the red faces and bulging veins—curses thrown and teaching posts abandoned—panels just like this one fallen into chaos—distant sirens, skies falling, the dog-eared norton critical editions slicing through the air like sabres—the textual support! o, the quotes!
This was sooo good!
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:01 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]


But not the hippopotamus. Discuss.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:03 AM on February 7 [5 favorites]


I mean...clearly, on the Lovecraft question, the answer is "b) extra-racist". I don't see how it's possible in good faith to argue otherwise, except from a position of ignorance.

Poe, now: that's a little more interesting. It's been a long time since I read his work, and I don't recall much in the way of overt racism. Admittedly, that was back when I was young enough not to grasp how prevalent racism is in America, so it would've had to have been pretty goddamn overt to make an impression on me.

I DO think the story reveals something kind of silly about academia. I mean, you pose a potentially interesting question like "Poe: racist, or what?" You're not an amateur, so you're able to make a fair estimate of the odds by doing what the author of this piece did, i.e. you consider the biography of the author and the social forces that generally drive the genre he was working in, and based on that, you can probably safely wager that you'll find some white-supremacist assumptions embedded in Poe's work.

But no. That's not enough for the scholarly set, even as a starting point. You must get more specific. They need to debate whether it was a literal orangutan or not. So often, and so stridently, and so extensively that a taboo develops against bringing it up.

I love that combination of tunnel vision and the impulse towards perfectly comprehensive critical analysis. Which is to say, that's what drove me away from university as soon as the first opportunity to make money came my way.
posted by Ipsifendus at 10:04 AM on February 7 [5 favorites]


The entire rest of my day will be a letdown after this story. Nothing else today will be as perfect.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:10 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


My dad, when he was cautioning me to think really deeply about deciding to go to graduate school, told me the story that his mentor told him as he was trying to decide whether or not to go to graduate school. Katie was a lecturer in math at Wellesley, and had just finished her PhD at MIT, and so my dad trekked out to visit her in her tiny windowless office, crammed full of books and boxes and papers. As he tried to find a place to put the as-yet-ungraded exams and sit down, Katie gave a Vanna White smile and flourish and gestured to all of it, and said, "Don't you want all this?"

He was unswayed and went on to get a PhD but then ran far far away for industry.

I was unswayed by all of their stories.

And now, here I am, with literal orangutans.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:24 AM on February 7 [28 favorites]


Still sounds like a pleasant cup of tea compared to the average sports debate (and now I'm trying to picture the alternate reality where instead of sports talk radio we have academic talk radio where Sal from Rockport calls in to spout off about Poe's racism-or-not).
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:25 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]


there is a branch of edgar allen poe scholarship that specifically looks for coded messages based on the number of words per line and letters per word poe uses.

May I humbly suggest that "scholarship" isn't really the word for something like that, unless we're prepared to broaden the tent so much that, say, Timecube could fit under it.
posted by Naberius at 10:26 AM on February 7 [9 favorites]


Not to go full Debbie Downer on you guys, but... it's kind of not-great to laugh at folks who are seriously interested in an area of scholarship, even if that area is arcane. Maniacal Poe devotion is no weirder than any other hobby. And the author's professor did something MetaFilter hates: walked into a lively conversation about something contentious, failed to read the room and learn the backstory, and dropped a turd in the punch bowl. It's the equivalent of someone traipsing into a #metoo thread and opening the conversation with "But what about reverse racism?"
posted by Mayor West at 10:27 AM on February 7 [7 favorites]


MetaFilter: full Debbie Downer
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:29 AM on February 7 [7 favorites]


I would wager that most of the people laughing at this story are doing so because they identify with the scholars. Also, I wouldn't characterize the orangutan question as a 'turd in the punchbowl moment'; it seemed more of a "touching the third rail" kind of thing.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:31 AM on February 7 [16 favorites]


May I humbly suggest that "scholarship" isn't really the word for something like that, unless we're prepared to broaden the tent so much that, say, Timecube could fit under it.

Poe was at least an amateur cryptographer. It's not that far out there.
posted by figurant at 10:36 AM on February 7 [7 favorites]


Also, as much as I love my own arcane corner of the scholarly world, I am able to recognize the difference in import between, say, a conversation about sexual assault or racism, and a conversation about the finer points of orangutan taxonomy. I've actually been called out for being too aggressive in a conversation about orangutan taxonomy, so I understand how it gets heated. But being uninformed in a scholarly conversation and being uninformed in a conversation about sexual assault have very different outcomes.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:43 AM on February 7 [9 favorites]


I don't think it's necessarily Debbie Downer. The joy of the story (which I would note is secondhand, reported by a professor and thus styled for entertainment value) is how it creates a cartoonish version of reality. Academics are not "really" like this any more than the characters on The Office are like real office workers -- which is not to say there isn't some resemblance. I wonder if people are primed by stereotypes of crazy liberal arts professors to see stories like this as less fictional than they actually are... as an academic I can't tell.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 10:58 AM on February 7


I am 100% in favor of scholarship. I think we should pay the people who make it their life's work a hell of a lot better than we do, and likewise in regards to the public funding of the institutions where they conduct that work. I think more people should be encouraged to go into academia, and funding for research, both scientific and otherwise, should be decoupled from its anticipated practical benefits. The culture of academia should support lively argument and debate on a wide variety of topics, and neither "too big" or "too trivial" should be an obstacle to something become the subject of that kind of argument.

All of that is completely true, and none it of makes me less inclined to make fart noises at being chastised for laughing at some of the more comically overblown debates. Especially when the only reason I'm given is that it's in some sense "not great", and drawing false equivalencies to racist or sexist trolling.
posted by Ipsifendus at 11:00 AM on February 7 [8 favorites]


I recommend Mat Johnson's Pym for a great satirical look at Poe's racism and the question of "was he racist racist tho?".
posted by tofu_crouton at 11:36 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


Are people who can't or won't master forceful tones of inside voice steered away from academia even if they'd make good academics, I wonder?

In my case, yes. I recall the first faculty luncheon I was invited to - the next day I was ready to drop out.
posted by Ashwagandha at 12:18 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


I thought this was fabulous. I was all on the "of course it's racist" bandwagon until she brought up the anti-colonialism argument, and then I was all, hmm, interesting. I would be interested in hearing both sides argued, without the hair-pulling and bitch-slapping.
posted by ceejaytee at 12:52 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Too Aggressive About Orangutan Taxonomy would be a cool name for a Culture ship.
posted by BeeDo at 12:55 PM on February 7 [6 favorites]


It's the equivalent of someone traipsing into a #metoo thread and opening the conversation with "But what about reverse racism?"

I would say it's not. Claims about reverse racism are usually trolling or extremely ignorant with racist undertones. Bringing it up in a #metoo thread is definitely trolling. This was more about bringing up a legitimately related topic that is "hotly debated" with merits on both sides but ultimately there's such disagreement and outrage that it shouldn't have been brought up in the first place.

I would say an equivalence would be walking into any Mefi thread about toilets and asking "BUT WHAT ABOUT WIPING WHILE STANDING?"
posted by numaner at 1:34 PM on February 7 [13 favorites]


WE! DO NOT! TALK ABOUT! THE POSTURE!
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:58 PM on February 7 [7 favorites]


THERES A STANDING VS SITTING DEBATE??!!!
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 3:09 PM on February 7


Don't be disingenuous Slarty Bartfast, we're on metafilter.
posted by evilDoug at 4:16 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]


THERES A STANDING VS SITTING DEBATE??!!!

hhgggnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnmuustttnooootstaaaartt
posted by numaner at 5:19 PM on February 7


I actually recently switched postures.

I won’t tell you which way.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:36 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


You're living life in the fast lane now?
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:38 PM on February 7


Yeah, I thought the fact that the professor/protagonist so clearly stepped in it, well, thatsthejoke.jpg, right? It's so funny and relatable because it's really well told, and most of us can probably identify either with the Poe academics or the professor or both. Just that experience of someone who knows enough to get themselves in trouble but not enough to stay away from trouble.
posted by lunasol at 11:07 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


lunasol: Just that experience of someone who knows enough to get themselves in trouble but not enough to stay away from trouble.

Metafilter equivalent: Stumbling into a politics megathread with, "BUT WHAT ABOUT BERNIE SANDERS?"
posted by clawsoon at 4:08 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


I like the story, but I despise the author's too-cool-to-take-anything-seriously-lol-scholars-arent-they-a-bunch-of-nerdy-stans-modern-internet-teeny-bopper tone (see Mayor West above).
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:57 PM on February 9


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