Now known as the jingle for Heineken beer in their ubiquitous television ads, the Pussy Cat Dolls (2006) best selling song “Don’t Cha” makes a strong statement in a most postmodern way about women, and sometimes men, who see themselves in the world as central players in a dramatic narrative that highlights their own victimization as happy, powerful, and glorious. 1 At the same time these players confuse identities of subject and object, and self and Other, in effect taking multiple roles.
A key refrain in the lyric is the lines:
And in the back of your mind
I know you should be home with me
Here the speaker conflates herself with her addressee or reader, already taken to be a man, particularly the man’s mind, appropriating his thinking, his role, as her own. The speaker plays on the cult assumption that women should or can read minds, such work the equivalent of emotional labor. Such conflation is a major aspect of the postmodern student, who sees himself or herself as both student and teacher, as subject and object.
While the chorus is the catchy part of the beer commercial, the middle lyrics
I know I’m on your mind
I know we’ll have a good time
I’m your friend
And I’m fine
I aint lying
Look at me, you aint blind [2x]
Sum up the understanding of the relationship that the girl singers literally or metaphorically project as their reality through the pimping of beer as an adult product. It is a construct in which the speaker is foregrounded, but the addressee is backgrounded and shaped to fit the clear desires of the speaker. The overwhelming power of the speaker controls the addressee who is pictured as a weak desiring male, as opposed to the prepossessing, owning, “fine” speaker in the same way that Gen Me students attempt to create relationships with their professors—in other words, to play off the popular 1960s book title, “I’m Ok—You Are Not” (Harris 1967).
These same constructions permeate many other messages in our culture, not just pop song lyrics and advertising. They have found their way into education, and within education higher education, and within that into online courses, and within that into discussion rooms in online courses. Here such rhetoric commonly peppers public discussion, though limited to a public within the course, with expression and meaning that formerly was reserved for such areas of communication as pop songs and beer commercials. And some of these are to be found in e-mails as well. My inbox and those of my colleagues house cyber-mountains of them. As modernist-trained interpreters of our own reality, we trade in these messages with exasperation and humorous repartee, even while fearing them when opening our daily e-mail.
Echoes of that level of self-involvement and self-projection that moves to narcissism can be found in any of these messages, but the message that has become, for me, a locus classicus is one that I received in a public discussion place on a Web course for Popular Culture. I hope my readers will forgive what may appear at first glance a terrible reduction, but I have not the space nor the inclination to engage myriad examples of what I assume to be a now ubiquitous form of communication for my colleagues throughout North America from undergraduates of all ages, both male and female. It reads
I don’t want to pick one clothing item and write a paper on it. I’m sorry but I don’t think writing 10 pages on jeans is possible or reasonable. How boring of a paper would that be? I know I don’t want to write it and I’m sure you and the rest of the class don’t want to read that. Its a lot to ask every student to not only write a 10 page paper but to read 10 page papers by 25 other people too, so the least we can do is make the papers interesting. I have changed the topic of my paper to the Barbie stereotype that has been placed on women. I see nothing wrong with that topic and I know I can get 10 pages on it. I don’t think its fair for you to make me write a long paper on an impossible and boring topic.
Here we see the confusion of public and private spaces and of authority and subject and of subjective and objective realms amid the sense of the writer’s victimization by the professor’s assignment. She positions herself as in charge of what she and others do and therefore of what I can do as the professor, making the professor just another, and perhaps lower, reader…“poor little me—and you. Let me change you for me.” At the same time she takes the position of a lazy student, insulting her fellow students and the professor who are willing to spend time and effort on the assignment as proposed, declaring their work and the assignment not worth her time and effort. The false sense of propriety, “sorry,” the use of no, “but I don’t think,” positions herself as the thinker and the Other as merely obedient. The educational values that she plays to are binary, “boring vs. entertaining.” Peremptorily, she suggests the message itself is outside of real time, that the decision has already been made, “I have changed the topic.” She presents false expertise, “I see nothing wrong.” She says she is in charge and will alert the Other only if she feels the need. She seems unaware of the possibility that in addition to the other powers that she projects that she has the right to fail. But most importantly, she positions herself as someone who needs no further information and so is not open to any other information. She is complete in herself, desirable, fun, and fine, as in the song, without having to do anything at all. She conflates herself with the other students and the professor at the same time, “So the least we can do is make the papers interesting.” She is a Pussycat Doll; the speaker/addressee is the same as in the song but perhaps more like a classic narcissist, but not so much a temptress.
The student claimed to want lots of feedback, but, as it turned out, all the feedback she wanted was positive feedback. She responded to nobody else’s paper, nor did she seem to have read them. Everything she did was focused on herself and her self-esteem. As some dictionaries define it, her narcissism, as is any, is characterized by the self-preoccupation and the lack of empathy that can be seen here. Such dictionary definitions also add that such behavior represents an unconscious deficit of self-esteem. If such unconsciousness existed it would have presented itself in some deep structures of her communication. But it does not, so the deficit of self-esteem is rather its opposite, an overabundance of self-esteem coupled with a lack of commitment to excellence as defined by others.
These sorts of conclusions are those that would align with the behavior of what many sociologists find distinctive about the generation of those born after around 1982. In The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy, William Strauss and Neil Howe (1997) say that this Millennial Generation came into being as abortion and divorce rates went down and babies were more wanted by their parents than ever before, that these children were seen, raised, and educated as “special.” Strauss and Howe see these millennial children as part of a cycle that has four parts—prophet, nomad, hero, and artist, and they judge the millennials as being in the hero cycle. This cycle is marked by harmonizing, mechanicalism, war fighting, initiating, and its institutionalizing constructive qualities, all qualities that can be found in the Old Testament hero Joshua and the hubristic hero Odysseus in Homer. Strauss and Howe say that these children are imprinted by their historical context that is marked by perestroika, increasing national debt, culture wars, and the O. J. Simpson trial. What Strauss and Howe do not say is that these are people who have been defended against the increasing fragmentation of postmodernism but who are nevertheless part of that fragmentation themselves, where everything, including them, is open, relative, and ambiguous and subjective. This posting by the student and those like it are ways of institutionalizing constructive qualities of the self that are forbidding to most professors, professors who represent the power and structure of late postindustrial society.
Professors though are part, as are students, of the education system, a system that itself has become an agent of postmodernism. We may follow the widely read theoretician of education in the United States, Ted Sizer of the Harvard School of Education, who says that education is most dependent “on whom a young person consorts and what images invade his world” quoted in “From Statesmanship to Status: The Absence of Authority in Contemporary Curriculum Studies” by William F. Pinar (2005, 6). Pinar notes that one of these images is technology, particularly media intrusion that is attached to commerce. Sizer thinks that distance learning “will further atomize and cheapen what a serious secondary education can be,“ but that can easily be extended to postsecondary education and its online learning as well, where there is greater cross power of institutional authority and commercial media already dislocating education tradition and, a modernist would say, cheapening the value of postsecondary education too now (6). Pinar in the same article attacks checklists, a key to fair grading, as an evaluative tool, believing that their use precludes the “cultivation of professional authority.” Such lists by standardizing “political conservatism, gender conformity, intellectual timidity and cultural authoritarianism” deconstruct academic classes to the cult of singular individualism featuring “self-aggrandizement, social assault, and economic exploitation rationalized politically in terms of individual opportunity in the free market” (8).
All of these forces are at work within education, particularly in online courses that cannot function without explicit written standards, to produce a decentered, marginalized professor who has less authority than whatever rules the individualized student may know of or be willing to understand, or, more importantly, agree with. “I understand but I don’t agree,” is the linch phrase of these students who are prone to criticizing and writing online in a way that they would never do in person because they do not recognize the function of the syllabus nor that the professor has the power and authority to grade. On the other hand, the particular media, Web courses, according to Henry Giroux (2003) are “a mode of technocratic rationality that undermines human freedom and development” (179). From Giroux’s position, the format of the course forces a collision of private and public consciousness that undermines coherence and hierarchies upon which instructors build their courses. Online courses, courses in conflict with their ontology, are decentered and decentering of their students, making them victims of a postmodern pastiche of cross purposes.
Issues of hierarchy are also found in other contexts. This study of Gen Me communications is related to the widely read article in the New York Times in 2006, “To: Professor@University.edu Subject: Why It’s all About Me” by Jonathan Glater. This article re-produces e-mails with messages that would rarely have been constructed before e-mail—because e-mail itself makes professors more approachable by erasing boundaries that deterred students using a phone or writing a note. E-mail has largely contributed, says Glater, to student beliefs that professorial expertise is just another service that students have purchased, thereby erasing etiquette offenses, time impositions, or poor self-presentation, mainly by students positioning themselves as customers, positioning that total quality management (TQM)-obsessed schools encourage; the professor is just another commodity that can be rejected by the customer who is always right about his or her needs and wants and whether they are being met. Were this “The Paper Chase” of the new millennium rather than that of the 1980s, the imperativeness of Professor Kingsfield would be replaced by the imperativeness of Mr. Hart.
Glater (2006) notes somewhat disingenuously that Christopher Dede of the Harvard Graduate School of Education may be right in his claim that students no longer defer to professors because professorial knowledge is easily outdated and thus potentially worthless. But this can hardly be the case at most colleges where most students have no interest in who their professor is. Their lack of interest or knowledge of person, place, or thing leaves only the subjective self as the lasting construction of their education universe, no matter how poorly constructed that may be. My favorite overheard campus remark provides an apt illustration, this by a young male student who said, “And that is where my expertise in shoe cleaning comes in.” In my modernist, class-based construct, which involves examination of symbolic language and its embedded contexts, I never would have thought of shoe cleaning and expertise in the same sentence, but in the decentered postmodern collapse of hierarchies, it obviously is just another expertise, just as mine is in American literature. If the subject is all-important, then everyone is his or her own best expert, and that expertise conveys real power and status regardless of the illusion of a postmodern level playing field.
Deborah Britzman’s (1998b) psychoanalytical ideas also apply here. She thinks that students are both conflicted by internal and external realities that are projected into both wanting and not wanting to know decisions and the behavior that they engender. Such confliction is representative of patterns of domination and submission and of love and hate, dyads that permeate student-teacher relations and to some extent structure and re-structure learning through changes of self-consciousness of both student and teacher (Britzman 1998b, 86). Rather than the illusion of a level playing field, a tilted playing field, we should instead think of a pock-marked playing field.
If we take my student’s course posting as I intend, as a metonymy of Gen Me attitudes, then besides looking at the student and immediate context, we need to look deeper at the generation itself and its contexts. A daisy chain of scholars initiate such contemplation. Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979) first made the point that a generation should be seen within its own context. Expanding that notion, Glen Elder (1984) studies how cohorts are different depending on their social generation. Jean Twenge (2006) in Generation Me expands these concepts and applies them to the millennial generation. Twenge’s book is based on meta-analysis of a number of studies, particularly those using the Marlowe Crowne desirability scale. Her data, she says, show that there are palpable differences between Gen Me students and those that came before them. A drawback to her work, however, similar to that in any time series analysis, is the lack of standardized and calibrated data. Her strong conclusion, albeit questionable, given American culture’s emphasis on individualism that derives from its Protestant ethic, is that individualism is stronger in the Gen Me generation than in any other generation. Gen Me individualism feeds on the new democratization in education with its emphasis on collaboration, freedom, group work, and facilitators, as well as the leveling of hierarchies, among them the Western canon, all resulting in the assumption of a stance of cultural relativism, that is, everything is equally valuable, though the term really means that artifacts are equal in a normative context. In schools, the exceptionalism of negative outcomes is ameliorated by “academic excuses.” Learning disabilities, different learning styles, rubrics and no rubrics, and not testing well individuate students but perversely and paradoxically simultaneously flatten hierarchies even among students themselves. Cooperative learning, or active learning, where the teacher is marginalized and the student centered in the education process has been and is the norm for these children and is a contributor just as surely as is any other factor to the high self-esteem of these “special” students. Self-esteem is unearned by performance, but given just for entering a structure that regularly confers it, trophies for being on a team that loses, trophies for showing up, the regular substitution of activity for accomplishment. Other common cultural practices are supportive of these ideas as well—the concern with informality over formality, comfort over discomfort, and deviance over conformity all lead to tolerance but also to indifference, indifference that leads to disrespect of others and irresponsibility by oneself, to a lack of self-control, resistance to the Other, and to the privileging of the self-esteemed self. Such people feel no need for discovery as they are esteemed from birth, their journey to selfhood already over, and who feel good about themselves rather than about what they do.
The performativity, in speech act theory, of the student’s posting is its strongest suit, a performativity that finds its parallel in one of that generation’s greatest and most popular movies, Heathers (1989). That movie contains this dialogue, totally applicable to the posting:
Veronica: Heather, why do you have to be such a mega-bitch?
Heather: Because I can be.
The narcissism that replaces self-control and drives this generation to seek performativity and then fame over any other values eventually leads instead to disaffection. When the performativity itself is called to account in the job world, their individualism clashes with working merely as a member of a team. In personal relationships, without which people become lonely and depressed, the Gen Me generation avoids attachment. In both the economic and the personal worlds their individualism leads to the construction of hookups of all sorts to replace relationships, just as the Pussy Cat Dolls claim in their song. Hook ups, where perversely the “me” can be known only in so far as there is an Other to speak or reply to, are the norm rather than relationships, both in their love lives and in their academic/economic lives, short intense, controlled, efficient, and temporary, very postmodern. The fear of a lack of control reflected in these behaviors leads to apathy and protests against responsibility, as the Pussy Cat Dolls say, “in the back of your mind.” A look at the e-mail about the student’s grade for the assignment gives a clear demonstration of such responses.
All education itself is an external force beyond their control that shows and almost produces their own lack of control to respond to education. At education’s end they are lonely and depressed after not investing in being a student with a teacher, because of their disinterest in growth through persuasion or conflict, and their avoidance of deep relationships and deep passion. The teacher-student relationship is not a real relationship either: just another hook up with limited involvement, one of equal points of view but with no past or future. To lessen the effects of such uncertainty, they tend to narrativize about themselves, unbidden, a practice that is supported by most curricular content, filled as they are with mixed codes of body language and written language, of individual and group communications. Disclosure temporarily and ambiguously opens up these teacher-student hook ups to caring and sharing, therefore providing limited motivation for both themselves and the professor through the piercing of social distance. To make the teacher esteem them, no matter what the narrative, becomes a reason and cause of their own presence. The Gen Me generation puts personal narrative and disclosure above a hierarchy that includes cause and effect, comparison contrast, classification and argument, thereby creating and enforcing an entirely new rhetoric, and a new paradigm of the politics of learning. All of this is readily apparent in the second major example by this student, her e-mail response to the average grade that her paper earned. Let us keep in mind that she changed the topic without consulting me, and so zero might have been appropriate.
While I have no control over what you think of my paper, I do have to correct a few mistakes you made. Most of my paper is not from Wikipedia, only the history is. I read other articles and a book too, which are listed in my Bibliography. I did not find any “smart guy” that I found worthy of using in MY paper about Barbie, I was my own “smart guy.” I was not trying to use the opinions of other people and give my view on those, I was giving my view on Barbie and her meaning with the back up of the opinions of other people. My paper was thoughtful so do not degrade it or me by saying I didn’t put that effort into it. I worked long and hard on my paper. I am sorry you did not find it interesting or entertaining but clearly other people did, judging by the comments I received from my classmates.
To begin with, here we can see that in this narrative of disclosure that there are really two parts to interpreting the Gen Me postings, the idea of the self as preeminent—over, for example, Bourdieu and Foucault, who were recommended to her as relevant theoreticians, “smart guys,” as a thinker flows from the self-esteem centered in the communication. The second idea is the idea of happiness, happiness that the paper was entertaining both to herself and to two other students. Both the self and her happiness are “degraded” by an average grade and by my factual observations of what her paper contained, which are constructed by my own training, yet challenged by the student.
The self and happiness are two separate areas of academic inquiry, both of which have profound application here. The conceptualization of the self is part of the study of identity, a foundation of modern sociology. An article by Karen Cerulo (1997) gives a history of the inquiry in identity studies. Up to the 1970s interpersonal interactions were studied as the basis of self, but later there was a change to studying the self as part of social and nationalist movements, then studies about agency and self-direction, and last a focus on new communication technologies (NCTs) that free interactions from physical co-presence. This last is the most important for e-mail, because e-mail itself is an NCT.
Looking at each of these points in turn, as they are developed by Cerulo, first we see that e-mail as a product of collective identity of the Gen Me generation, rooted in Durkheim’s collective consciousness as well as Marx’s class consciousness and Tonnie’s gemeinschaft—all of which stress the “we” ness of the group. To them, individuals’ similarities and shared attributes are natural and essential characteristics, social consequences of modernity and the process of modernization, that derive from the social experiences joining the individual to the group and the group to the individual. Second, we see its social constructivism along the lines of power, providing a better understanding of the collective self and this e-mail as part of that construction. Agents, says Cerulo, of such identities are many but include popular culture and the media “to organize and project the affective, cognitive, and behavioral data individuals use…as part of the postmodern discourse” (397).
In some ways the text unifies Gen Me thinking because, as the student constructs both the e-mail and herself, it becomes clear via her construction of social identity that the e-mail is an ethnomethodological text, one that disrupts normative behaviors, probing differences to illuminate value and belief structures. The e-mail presents insights into self and identity, the particularized individualism of the student, by its performativity as the student projects an imaged self as the controlling agent of the course and its discourse by renegotiating the linguistic exchange and social performance that come to her through the course’s symbols and norms. The course in this e-mail is not Popular Culture anymore but Popular Me. Popular Me presents the socialized self as reflecting the cultural matrix that generates the e-mail, but not Popular I as a title because Popular I would reproduce the visualized self.
The e-mail about the grade attacks just along those lines, insisting that the student is the equal not only of the professor but of established international scholars, that other students are better judges of quality entertainment than is the professor, and by the correction not of her own mistakes but of the professor’s mistakes. “I worked long and hard” says that the measure of success is not the paper itself but the applied nature of the student who wrote it. In other words, “I’m Ok, but you and Foucault are not, and neither is anyone else.”
In addition to the attempted disruption of a perceived academic hierarchy, there is also a rather superficial challenge to gender hierarchy at play here. In her Harvard Education Review article, Britzman (1998a) points out that the feminist role playing of a female student can be seen as one in opposition to the normative and actualized male professor. In the e-mail, resistance to the critical male theory is part of the feminist ideal of breaking received gender hierarchies. My reading of the e-mail, however, suggests that this challenge is less on behalf of women, or on behalf of peers, or any collectivity in the name of some form of progressive politics and more in the interests of a singular personality that narcissistically assumes her interests mirror a kind of universal norm. Again, we are presented with a multivalent communication that implies much more than it says, a cornucopia of unresolved difference.
The postmodern approach, chronologically the third approach in sociology, following premodern and modern, that may be applied to this e-mail, rejects the cataloging that identity construction necessitates and thus becomes essentialist like the kind of study it is formulated to replace. To postmodernists variations within constructivist categories are as important as the categories themselves. Influenced by postmodernist thinkers such as Baudrillard, Foucault, Lyotard, Lacan, and Bourdieu, we now are concerned with public discourse calling into question the equivalence of discourse and truth and how its opposite, the disparity between each, promotes hierarchies of power. A conscious sense of the individual as part of a collective agency for change as Cerulo says, “develops offenses and defenses, consciously insulates, differentiates, marks, cooperates, competes, persuades and coerces” (393). And, as Cerulo says quoting Martin, “collective agency is enacted in a moral space…[and] pursues the freedom to be because that which frames the collective’s identity defines their existence as right and good. Thus are created “communities of meaning” whose communications do not cross boundaries well” (393). All of this is rooted in the ideology of individualism, according to Michael Piore. Bourdieu’s theories on distinction and habitus and Foucault’s on the genealogy of epistomes can both be seen to support such interpretations. So the student’s e-mail, then, is meant not just as a personal expression but as a singularized manifesto that might or might not be agreed with. As a personal statement with personal values it does not cross the boundary well into the world of academic values. It is an e-mail that the disoriented modernist professor could never understand or agree to on his or her own terms. The thinking behind this e-mail, therefore, reverses Pink Floyd’s idea that the student is just another brick in the wall; here the professor all in all is just another brick in the wall.
Perhaps that boundaries are traversed, reversed, and erased, created, recreated, and redrawn by student e-mail should come as no surprise. Instead, boundary uncertainty and destruction should be embraced by professors who can move beyond the naiveté of such e-mail challenges. There are three theoreticians whose ideas lend some credence to this position. First, Joshua Meyrowitz writes about how new technologies “locate the self in new hybrid arenas of action; they mesh public and private, beckon new types of performance” (Cerulo 1997, 397). Second are the pair of Steven Best and Douglas Kellner (2003), who find that, even outside of media, cyber life is just one world that youth need to be able to function in, just as they must also be able to function in the “real world,” both requiring adaptation to change and transformation. Third, Sherry Turkle probes the balance between virtual selves and real selves, questioning any construction that subjugates the virtual to the real. Her work is augmented by Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass who approach communication media as objects relevant to identity building. Looking through these lenses, we can see that not only do such e-mails naively challenge media archetypes, they create new ones that must be addressed by their readers. In other words, the professor needs to make himself or herself a new self to match the self that the virtual and real online student inevitably self-generates for the e-mail media. Perhaps this professorial task falls into the work of Norbert Wiley who posits a three-part semiotic self—“I,” “you,” and “me,” a sui generis constantly in struggle and resistant to social determination, one that ultimately supports democratic principles. As that virtual and real self, the professor speaks as another student, in opposition to the students, and essentialistically, all at the same time to the Gen Me e-mailer, maybe like the Old Timer narrator in Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” with a little narrative, a little about effort, and repetition, and a few “p’ints.” And then a re-telling.
While identity studies and their application lead to one controversial position, happiness studies lead to another. Daniel Gilbert (2006), in his book Stumbling on Happiness, believes that everyone has a happiness set point to which they revert after feeling overly happy or depressed. This set point is different for everyone and is thus a default rather than a point that can be created or upgraded by self-improvement, or learned self-esteem, or even trauma. Each of us reconfigures the facts of our existence to approximate that set point, no matter how many large or small failures or triumphs we experience in our lives. In other words, just the right amount of delusion gets us through life, not so much, or in place of, subconscious Freudian drives. “Happiness is just an illusion, filled with sadness and confusion” sang Motown’s Jimmy Ruffin in 1966. Both Ruffin and Gilbert’s work speaks to the same topic as does Darrin McMahon (2006) in Happiness: A History, who argues that you have to feel you have some control over your circumstances before you can question whether you are happy. McMahon points out that the modern word for happiness is a cognate of the word for luck. Luck/happiness ideology generates an essentially tragic view of life, luck or happiness as something that happens to you if more good things happen than bad things. Neuroscience seems to support linguistic science in its life-as-tragedy hypothesis. It tells us that that right behind the eyes the frontal cortex of the brain is the site of emotion, so emotion precedes and conditions understanding that takes place later as the information processes deeper into the brain. Thus, it follows, says Jonathan Haidt (2005) in The Happiness Hypothesis, that the adaptive sense for fear precedes and overwhelms the later adaptation for happiness: that bad is stronger than good. And such sense data processing in the amygdala, where flight or fight is determined, precedes that which is done in the cerebral cortex where happiness is evaluated. All of these ideas come into play when examining the Gen Me generation’s artificially created and now pivotal self-esteem.
It seems possible that Gen Me people could be conditioned quite differently toward seeing themselves in a positive and happy frame, such that when confronted with a message that provokes fear, forcing a fight or flight response, they go into what studies in autism call “dysregulation.” Certainly it does seem that the initial response, developed first in the frontal cortex, right behind that eye that reads the seemingly threatening e-mail from the professor, overwhelms the carefully developed happiness built in the cerebral cortex on the sense of self-esteem and the belief that they control the context of their lives totally. Instead the more biologically controlling and intervening amygdala, fight or flight, controls before any measured and thoughtful response can be later generated in the cerebral cortex. In that state outside cues are swept aside in a landslide of emotion and emotion-based behavior. This seems like bio-postmodernism. Perhaps the seeming harshness and the various postmodern aspects of decentering that these e-mails contain, and the blending of subject and object especially, is just such a dysregulated performance. If that is so, then, finally, fear and loathing is at the bottom of these e-mails, a fear and a loathing both of the self and of the Other.
If so, this generation is set up to fail when called to account for their doings rather than for their being. Eventually they will dread being called to accountability on someone else’s terms, knowing that it is the terms of the other that will lead them into the 50% of their number who will live less well-off than their parents. I have to say, then, that these Gen Me people live in a postmodern world that forces others into it in a way that the Scylla of fear and the Charybdis of loathing could have never done to their iconic hero Odysseus.
Moving from a psychological to more political accounting of the previous, Lawrence Grossberg (2005) argues that “the Left has two easy ways of thinking about people. It makes ‘victims’ of power into heroes. Their actions become acts of resistance, their tacit understanding provides a rich source of knowledge often better than the experts.… Second, it sees those who cooperate or accede to power as the ignorant masses” (168). From that standpoint, this resistant student represents an Odysseus flailing against the mindless forces that must be fought to the death.
No matter what the theory, however, the professor has to deal with these Gen Me people, whose manufactured “specialness” will prove in the end to set them up for failure when they are unable to negotiate a positive outcome from an evaluator who is Other to them, and to accept or negotiate a critical outcome from an evaluator who is Other to them. It could be then that either the student or the professor is Pink Floyd’s (1979) just another brick in the wall…or both are.
It might seem odd that the Pussycat Dolls have made upon just the perfect sort of construction in their song, which makes the “I” and the “you” a conflated self in order to both torment and to control the Other, the “me” paradoxically both terms at the same time. If the Gen Me is the “I” and the “you” is the professor, Gen Me people have done that too by frequently sending academic e-mails similar to the lyrics of the Pussycat Dolls as a matter of course, their point being that “I” am ok and “you” are not. In a political sense, all these e-mails say the same thing, the force is with me, not with you, but it would be if only you were me, as I want you to be. This is just what the song says—“it is easy to see in the back of your mind I know you should be home with me.” Or, more plaintively, don’t I wish my professor was hot like me.
Copyright prohibits the reproduction of the complete song lyrics here, but I have provided the link to the lyrics in the references. A live performance of the Pussy Cat Dolls’ “Don’t Cha” can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEZs5Fmfk4o (accessed April 12, 2010).
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