The Reluctant English Major

August 2, 2010
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In every writing class at every college around the country, there exist a few stock characters. You can invariably count on a gaunt young man with a scraggly beard who will condescendingly name-drop obscure Russian authors and modern, avant-garde painters that he studied in AP English and his one-semester Art History class.  He’ll be sure to write pieces ten pages over the recommended length to make your peer-editing job infinitely more annoying. If he directly quotes Noam Chomsky, just stick a cigarette in his mouth and give him beret with the word “douchebag” carefully stitched across the front. Tell him it’s French for “existentialism”…he’ll wear it.

Then there’s the prototypical hipster girl, who dyes her hair blonde for the irony, intentionally wears too much mascara, and refuses to follow any writing prompts because they “stifle” her. In between classes she’ll smoke her French cigarettes and complain that the teacher doesn’t get her revolutionary style of writing. You’ll want to punch her, but you quickly realize she would break like a frail, hipster twig if you did. When editing her work, do not, under any circumstances, tell her what you think of her trite, overplayed attempts at originality and edginess. You run the risk of being berated for stifling the female artistic vision, being called a misogynist, and being verbally destroyed the next time you submit your piece to the class.

And, of course, what college course could exist without housing the “brooding philosopher.” He is almost exactly like the first young man we talked about, except his facial hair is fuller, and has given him a false sense of masculinity. For most of the class he will remain quiet, only opening his bearded mouth to nitpick a vague statement or disagree with a character’s motivations, even though the author who wrote the character is directly telling him otherwise. All his stories will be conversations he has had with people much wiser then himself, but be conspicuously devoid of the “story” aspect.

These are just three of the people that I could count on to see almost every day as I earned my B.A. in English. I shuddered with fear that when I got out of school I’d have to share a cubicle with one of them. Luckily, the economy shit the bed right before I graduated, and an English degree became the academic equivalent of an 8th grade graduation.

At first, this dismayed me. I was down in the dumps, and then a family friend gave me some reassuring advice:

“You think you need a job because you’ve internalized expectations form your family, friends, and yourself. If there were jobs to be had, you’d get one, and work at it. This economic clusterfuck is probably one of the best things that could have happened to you. Now you can do what you want, instead of what people expect you to do.”

This is what I want to do. Enlighten, entertain, and engage in some interesting discussion. This will be one of many posts, and all of them will be as nonpretentious as I can make them. Although my inner pretension might show through from time to time, I swear I’m trying my hardest; I even shaved my beard for good measure.

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3 Responses to “ The Reluctant English Major ”

  1. Jackie Jardine on August 3, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    This character study really brings me back. So many obvious socially “subversive” roles shoved in an academic setting. It’s sick. It really is.

    I think these collegiate English archetypes are a mandatory requirement or something.

    What always amazes me is the obvious attempt to look like they’re NOT trying…not trying too look/sound/act with the level of damn-the-man snobbery reserved for someone who smokes clove cigarettes and makes obscure references to shit they probably dont know the first thing about.

    Sigh…

    Almost makes me miss college life.

    Almost.

  2. Dude McBrah on August 3, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    Don’t worry, English majors couldn’t get jobs during a good economy either. And what’s wrong with Russian authors, avant-garde paintings, and stories without a story?

  3. Matt Erickson on August 4, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    I like how people pay thousands of dollars to centuries-old institutions to be revolutionaries. I guess growing a beard is all you can do to salvage a unique identity.

    Welcome to the world of the unpaid, where you only have to answer to yourself. Pretension is great – even revolutionary – when it belongs to you.

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