Saturday, May 20, 2006

Pompous and Circumstantial

Much could be said about yesterday’s commencement ceremony at IVC. Rebel Girl will leave most of that to her colleague Chunk, except to point out that such displays of public rhetoric as occurred yesterday are perhaps particularly painful to professors of English.

England’s famous University of “Suckit”? Apparently not famous enough!

“A special thank you to all whom [sic] made this commencement ceremony possible”? Ouch.

So please forgive Her Rebelliousness for what follows. Or at least understand where, as the young folks like to say, she is “coming from”—that familiar place of disappointment, magnified by sunstroke and dehydration.

In years past, Rebel Girl has watched, amused, as those on the dais waiting to bloviate are forced to adjust (or, as they choose, to not adjust) their speeches as the quotable quotes they themselves had chosen to inflict on their fellow “taxpayers” are instead inflicted upon the multitude by those who arrive at the podium before them. The falling of these oratorical chestnuts inspires mad scribbling in the speaker’s bullpen, and one imagines the passing around of a worn paperback copy of Bartlett’s (Too) Familiar Quotations even as the speeches proceed, Thelma and Louise-style, toward their inevitable leap into Cliché Canyon.

This year’s orations were striking for the absence of the usual marathon recitation of humanity’s most quotable quotations, however totally irrelevant to occasion, theme or audience. Instead, the ceremony seemed to have been unduly influenced by the recent pop cultural phenomenon of reality television.

Rebel Girl, who resides in a nearly off-the-grid Luddite barn in OC’s hinterlands, is not intimately familiar with this art form, but the NY Times, daily delivered by a team of oxen, keeps her reasonably informed re the latest geist of the zeit, allowing her to easily identify in Commencement at IVC the cultural trend toward narcissism (Me! Me! Me! It’s all about me!) as exemplified in these dreadful shows, as well as a requirement to improvise at the expense of say, writing out a speech or say, script (and, in the case of the industry, avoid paying union wages to those pesky writers).

The result out on the hot, humid lawn this Friday evening? Sans the nominal post-production editing that goes into shaping such entertainments as Real Housewives of OC, the Amazing Race, and Fear Factor, IVC’s 2006 Commencement was like watching the garden hose water the driveway all by itself.

We here at Dissent like the Socratic method. So, a few questions:

Does the Commencement committee ask, politely of course, any of the speakers what they are going to say?

Does the committee suggest some guidelines on how they say it?

Rebel Girl is not requesting censorship here, just a bit of management or say, awareness of production values and the importance of considering the audience. —Perhaps simply a bit of rehearsal. Or forethought. Or preparation. Or focus!

Maybe ask the speakers to read a famous commencement address.

Reb recommends Rebecca Solnit’s recent offering to the students of the Department of English at Cal Berkeley, “Welcome to the Impossible World”.

I know, I know. Apparently some in yesterday’s audience found charming the parade of bloopers and egotism that was lost on me.

Could be. Maybe. I know staff members wearing sandwich boards were hawking the official video version of the ceremony to an eager crowd. But in the parking lot, out of the trunks of their cars, business was booming for those quick-thinking entrepreneurs offering a specially priced bootleg “Commencement 2006 Outtakes: Bloopers.”

Sure, picking the wings off of a fly is fun, but for how long? Reb cannot linger long in a world where delusion and malapropism pass for charming hobbies, though that may be where she is doomed to live out her days (and, more discouragingly, in a nation whose red half similarly perceives as charming the buffoonery of the current occupant of the White House. Nook-ya-ler!).

Often, during yesterday's record-breaking six hour event, speakers told graduates “who they were.” Guess what? They were “young!” They were “old!” They were “diverse!”

How diverse were they? Well, golly, some of them, many of them, were from, yes, “other countries”! Some spoke “other languages”! Some were “women”! And a few were even “men”!

All the “major religions” were present! (Not that you could tell by the prayer that was uttered, but that’s to be expected, right? I mean, we don’t really believe all this diversity appreciation, do we? How do you spell lip service? A-m-e-n!)

August dignitaries—mostly complete strangers to the students—told graduates what they already knew about themselves, over and over again.

Class of 2006, the glass is either half empty or it is half full. Perhaps what disappointed Reb the most was what wasn’t said about the graduating class.

The real successes of the college are seldom spotlighted. Reb doesn’t claim to know them all, but—despite her complaints, she does see success—if she didn’t, she’d be somewhere else.

Hey, Commencement speakers and Trustees! Why not talk about the students who came to IVC struggling, some at risk of failure and who, in a matter of semesters, vaulted themselves into the academic big leagues? Reb herself knows students accepted at Berkeley; one is the son of a longtime IVC staff person, a single mother who struggled herself to raise her son. A former WR 201 student is going to the Sorbonne in the fall, another to the University of Denver, another to UCLA. One will enter UCI’s new and already renowned program in Literary Journalism. Two former students of Reb’s will enter UCI’s sociology program; both are recent transplants to California and one is an older, single parent. Another has been awarded generous support to attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s architecture program, he a student whose immigrant parents still work in the fields. Another graduate is an Iraq War veteran who first enrolled before the war, served two tours of duty and came back to finish up.

Aren’t these stories suitable for commencement? Material the public relations office could send out to the local papers? Inspiring tales that might improve the school’s image and stop the decline in enrollment? Nah. Let’s keep it to ourselves.

And what about the award-winning IVC Wind Ensemble? “Pomp and Circumstance” doesn’t sound quite the same when played by a five person ensemble. A march like that requires a certain musical muscle toward delivering the appropriate punch. No offense meant to the musicians hired for the occasion—the Van Houten Brass Ensemble did its best under the circumstances, especially with Bach’s “Fugue in G Minor” that featured, inexplicably, the VPI standing at the podium as if some kind of de-facto conductor.

Next year: a musical tribute to the Ramones with faculty accompaniment on kazoos!

Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go
I wanna be sedated
Nothin' to do and no where to go-o-oh
I wanna be sedated
Just get me to the airport put me on a plane
Hurry hurry hurry before I go insane
I can't control my fingers I can't control my brain
Oh no no no no no


Anonymous said...

What do you want Rebel Girl?

Anonymous said...

I work at IVC.

What do I want? I want what we used to have--competence and an awareness of academic values.

What do we get? Almost total incompetence, at the administrative level, and an administrative culture that is anti-intellectual. We get people that recognize was passes for excellence in, say, baseball, but that do not recognize the real achievement in learning that goes on all the time in classrooms and instructors' offices.

Frankly, the latter deficit is even worse than the former.

Aunt Bea said...

SIX HOURS???!!!? Oh, Reb Girl, how could you stand it? That any faculty would endure that marathon of inanity attests to your dedication to your students. Too bad that dedication doesn't filter up to the hideous powers whom (just kidding!) run the place.

In "an FBI zone"

     Got home late last night. There were two messages on my phone answering machine.       One was from the FBI. On the recording, a ...