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August 16, 2010 | by  | in Features |
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White Middle Class and Male; a Platonic Dialogue

Uther Dean is a fourth-year theatre student. Josh Cleary studies film. If they were Transformers, they’d combine to form Snoreatorn—which is neither a reference they’d appreciate, or indeed, understand. But what they do understand and appreciate is the sound of each other’s voices, as they exhault their infinite whiteness in some stuff that appears to be a thing. They call it a “platonic dialogue”. To the average punter, it is called academic wankery.

UD: Well honestly I prefer to think of it along the lines of Brecht’s Messingkauf dialogues, which are more of a dialectic materialism than a Hegelian dialectic.

JC: I think the fact that both of us understand what that means is indicative of the root problem here, Uther.

UD: What root problem, Josh?

JC: The inherent superiority complex that arises from an eclecticism of education that is part and parcel of the modern BA.

UD: Are you saying, Josh, that the endemic lack of competition and absence of non-abstract benchmarks has made the BA an achievable dream for people who would otherwise struggle in other, more rigorously assessed degrees?

JC: Yes Uther. Yes I am.

UD: How so?

JC: BAs fundamentally enable the hobbyists to justify their lack of provable skill and measurable achievement.

UD: But not all people with BAs are deluded hippies whiling away their hours on weaving animal-scaled tea cosies. Many successful artists start with BAs. Look at me.

JC: I am, Uther. Believe me, I am.

UD: The real problem seems to be that BAs lack the clear developmental path into a real-world career that other degrees like an LLB and a BCA do. People aren’t taught to survive with a BA.

JC: Do you feel that this has something to do with the lack of concise focus within the degree itself? For example, I am majoring in Film, but this semester I am taking papers in Philosophy, Science and Language Studies.

UD: I think it’s partly that, but it’s generally quite a forgiving degree anyway. You can get through the whole thing without really finishing anything, which is a skill you really need in the real world. Especially if you want to be creative, like, I think we can safely assume, most BA students do.

JC: It does seem that the BA fosters an attitude of lethargy. It becomes far too easy to start something and then get distracted by frivolities. It occurs to me that there is a more profound problem at work here though. As White Middle Class Males we have a support network that is second to none. But we have been raised to take it for granted. Anyone getting what appears to be a better hand up than us inspires some kind of muted outcry, but realistically our greatest concern is the age-old question of Beatles or Rolling Stones.

UD: We’re trained to aspire to the future without preparing for the present. With that comes a great sense of entitlement and an almost Fascistic sense of what is right and wrong. We’re more concerned about how badly we don’t want to sell out than with the actual facts of the work we want to make.

JC: I think that the greatest challenge we face is the inability to instill a sense of discipline in BA students. Oft we are told that as adults we are responsible for our own self-discipline, but the reality is that in the modern work force there is an exercised regimen of control that keeps us on deadlines assigned by others. Rarely do we actually have the opportunity to decide our own timelines. But within the BA framework there is little to no backlash for not sticking to an arbitrary set of guidelines. This encourages us to focus on devising arguments for getting out of handing in assignments than it does on getting them finished in good time.

UD: That’s all well and good and I think we can all agree that there needs to be a greater sense of effort going towards the BA. But we have to consider what the degree symbolises as a whole. It’s the degree people take when they’re not good at anything else or misguidedly want to be famous artists. Nine out of ten BA students, even if they won’t admit to it, are in the programme in the hope that it will somehow magically lead to an easy life. To think in a right-wing way, how many artists can New Zealand society support? Is tightening up the criteria of the BA a way of stemming the tide and making life easier and fairer for the people who actually put the work into their art?

JC: Do you think that the gatekeepers of the BA are, at least, partially responsible for this?

UD: Yes and no. There is an element of “those who can’t do, teach BAs”, but at the same time there are an equal amount of lecturers who are genuinely talented practitioners of the art they lecture in. The problem becomes not one of a lack of talent on their behalf, but a lack of caring. As the funding of universities changes, I think we can agree, for the worse lecturers are forced more and more to teach things they have no interest in. So it’s easy for them to stop caring and allow mediocrity to flourish.

JC: Harsh sentiments. No less true for their callousness, but harsh nonetheless. Is there a wanton lack of regard for the real-world implications of getting a BA? We implicitly understand that as an artist the odds are that we are only going to make around $20K a year for the rest of our lives. We will never own our own homes and we will probably die destitute and alone. Under a bridge somewhere.

UD: Obviously. But, at the same time, that is what is so great about the BA. Sitting here in my honours year, staring bleakly down the barrel of my future, it is easy to be annoyed with not having done a “safer” degree. But, at the end of the day, given a time machine and a sense of purpose, I wouldn’t go back and change it. The BA has all the joys of making art, but with none of the real-world bullshit. You just have to make sure you’re ready for the real world on your own terms. Which, admittedly, the BA is not a big help with. How hard can it be, really?

JC: I don’t know Uther, I just don’t know.

UD: Hold me, Josh.

JC: No, Uther. No. And that is the end of it.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Hearty Bear says:

    “an equal amount of lecturers”
    I assume you mean ‘equal number’ – for a university publication, this is an unacceptable lapse.

  2. smackdown says:

    “Hearty Bear”

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