I will never, ever forget the professor I had for my critical theory class my last year before transferring to Pace.
Theory classes are the worst part of being an English major. Actually, there are a lot of bad parts about studying English in college – writing papers about books and authors I simply do not give a crap about and trying to decode Middle English are highlights. As much as I hate it, I can spit out a paper of just about any length in an hour or two, just because writing comes naturally to me. I won’t enjoy it but I can get it done. But please don’t make me try and understand what the hell Foucault was trying to say and what he would think about this completely unrelated book we’re reading. And really, really don’t make me try and explain anything to you.
My theory professor was pretty much the scariest woman I have ever met. She was intimidating from the very first day. She had very clear opinions and most of them had to do with the fact that she was better than all of us. She spent a lot of time bragging about the world traveling she’d done and the expensive artwork that hung in her house.
And she played favorites. And by playing favorites, I mean she willy nilly decided if she liked you or not depending on how smart you looked. I guess I did not look very intelligent based on the fact that I came to class in floral dresses and oversized bows, so she did not like me from day one. Within the first couple of weeks of class, she made a few of us leave the room in tears in the middle of class and didn’t even bat an eye.
And on top of that, she strolled in at least fifteen minutes late every single class period, because apparently we all worked on her time and it’s not like we were paying to be there or anything. She took the material way too seriously, and made it sound like a life or death situation if we did not understand John Locke better than John Locke’s mother understood John Locke.
Slow down, lady. You teach at a college that accepts almost everyone who applies. This ain’t Harvard. I’m not here in pursuit of scholastic greatness. I have no thirst for knowledge to speak of. I have a thirst for a Dr. Pepper and maybe getting out of class a little early. I’m here because college is one of the many useless hoops I have to jump through in order to get what I want out of life, and most of you professor types don’t care if I am ignoring what you say in favor of whatever is going on on my Twitter feed.
College, for me, has always been about renting a chair in a few different rooms each semester to use my computer in. That’s all. Very expensive butt placement services.
The final exam in her class shook me to my very core. On the last day of class, everyone had to individually go up to the front of the room and answer ONE question of her choosing out loud in front of the entire class. Your answer had to fill five minutes, you had no idea of what the question could possibly be, and did I mention you had to answer the question in front of the entire class? I spent probably the entire month before the exam waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat over this final. Since I am not awesome at speaking in front of a group of people who are older than five years old even when I am prepared, you can imagine this did not go well. I left in tears and ended up with a C in the class, something that does not happen to me often.
A few weeks later, I was at the mall in line at Planet Smoothie and I saw her with her husband and kid, coming out of PacSun, and it kind of threw me for a loop. I learned two things about her that day: one, that her son was trying really, really hard to be Ryan Sheckler, and two, that she was an actual real person with an actual family.
Which was weird, because I had no idea how she had managed to go about procuring a family by being a hideous human being possessing absolutely zero type of empathy for other humans.
One day she really pissed me off in class when during a class discussion, she mentioned that she refused to let her son watch Disney movies as a child, especially the princess movies. Disney princesses, she said, make it impossible for little girls to learn how to think for themselves and instead instills in them a need for male approval.
Okay, wait, hold on. A childhood without Disney movies? You would actively need to keep the movies away from your kid to prevent him from seeing any, and then what? How would the discussion go with his therapist when he is singled out at school and no one wants to be his friend because he is unable to interact with his peers because he has no idea who Simba is? Eventually, he’s going to hear the word on the street: there are animated toys out there who come alive when Andy is asleep, and they have their own love lives, goals, and feelings.
Son, I found the DVD under your pillow. We need to talk. Sorry, Mom! I know you think it’s inappropriate, but I just HAD to know if toys really worry about whether or not they come with you when you move or if Tommy was lying. No, sweetie, I do NOT want you getting joy out of a plastic cowboy’s adversity turned lifelong friendship with a plastic astronaut. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are known for making snuff films. I won’t have that filth in my house. Maybe when you’re older.
This was obviously the biggest load of crap I had ever heard, and I normally don’t speak out loud at all in class (or in life when strangers could hear me) but I did this time. I raised my hand and brought up the fact that most of the time, the Disney princesses save their male counterpart from whatever mess they got themselves into, so isn’t that pretty progressive? That was all it took to seal my fate in her class: anything I would say or do from that point forward would be wrong, even if I read my answers out loud directly from the textbook.
On the way out of class that day, she stopped me and pointed to the Little Mermaid locket I wore every day. “Are you going to be like Ariel and keep your mouth shut so that a boy will fall in love with you?”
I didn’t even answer her. I just walked out and went home and blasted my Disney playlist through my open windows the whole drive home.
But that wasn’t even the worst thing she ever said to me. The worst thing was when she called me on the phone to discuss the midterm paper I turned in. Our papers could be on any topic, anything we wanted, as long as we viewed it through a critical and theoretical lens. So I analyzed reality tv shows and what the philosophers we studied would have had to say about them. Writing about what boring old guys like Baudrillard and Kant would have thought about Snooki and Lauren Conrad actually gave me a way better understanding of the material, and it was kind of fun. Which, you know, any professor would agree is the goal of writing papers to begin with.
After reading my paper, she called me up to talk about it and told me it was insulting to the field that I brought popular culture into this, and who actually cares about celebrities? We are studying critical theory, she told me, not drunken messes. Then she asked me why I wrote the paper the way I did, and I explained to her I wanted to be an entertainment journalist, and my niche is television. She told me I was wasting my writing skill and should write something people would actually care to read.
I really avoid the telephone. I don’t even feel comfortable ordering a pizza, much less picking up the phone for an hour of being chastised by a middle aged woman who had a vendetta against me because I was fond of animated mermaids and fabricated MTV drama between otherwise boring people. She had a lot more to say, but I can’t remember. I’ve probably blocked it from my memory as a coping mechanism, that’s how traumatic the experience was for me. If I wasn’t completely dedicated to being a writer, this lady might have been the one to break me of that idea.
The point is, there are a lot of people who think they are better than you and smarter than you. They have a lot of practice in making themselves sound like they are so important and so intelligent that their opinion is actually fact and they cannot possibly be wrong. But they are actually wrong more often than people who are open to the idea that there are more than one right answer to every question.
The bottom line is this: do what you love, even though someone will always be there to tell you what you love doesn’t matter.