A Professor Responds to Darren Rovell

To: Darren Rovell

From: J. Pleather Face

Date: Tue. May 6, 2014 at 2:23 PM

Subject: re: One of your students/lecturers

Darren,

This message comes as a reply to your request of Professor Shipan at the University of Michigan to discipline his former student, Dr. Neill Mohammed, for certain remarks made at your expense on Twitter last month. I'm frankly unsurprised you received no response from Professor Shipan, who has asked that I—as a colleague and friend—address your concerns about Dr. Mohammed's innocuous satire.

Why me, you ask? Well, we ivory-tower academics maintain a close-knit circle of trust, whereby when outsiders take up arms against the academy we can circle the wagons, so to speak, in the interests of self-preservation and maintenance of our esteemed vocation. I'm not saying we employ a Knights Templar sort of network, but I'm not saying we don't, either.

Let's talk turkey, Darren. I'm sure you were dismayed to receive not a whisper of reply from Professor Shipan, but if you did, it probably would have run something like this:

Darren,

While I understand your feelings and concerns regarding Dr. Mohammed's tweet, federal law (FERPA) prohibits me from disclosing any information concerning university students—past or present—to those not directly involved in students' academic progress and good standing. To be sure, I cannot legally acknowledge that Dr. Mohammed ever sat in one of my seminars. I will appreciate no further inquiries regarding Dr. Mohammed's academic career at the University of Michigan.

Best,

Professor Charles Shipan

We all keep a form letter of this type in the chamber for just those occasions when snoopy parents or spouses or estranged relatives come calling for sensitive material. It serves as protection for students who may not otherwise have that safety in an era of compromised privacy.

Lucky for you, Dr. Mohammed has kindly waived his FERPA rights and protections with the understanding that I explain just how badly you fucked up, Darren. You see, Dr. Mohammed understands the digital age and its capabilities for communicative celerity and bluntness. He further understands the historical absurdity of a high-profile media participant like yourself honing in on Dr. Mohammed, who of course is and should be a blip on your internet radar. In fact, that faint laughing you hear? That's Drs. Shipan and Mohammed cackling at the very thought of your testicle-sized brain making a conscious decision to email the University of Michigan over a tweet. Just take a step back and think about that, Darren. Was that tweet in any way worse than the firestorm that followed? Was the cost-benefit ratio a positive one in the end? I'm no statistician, but I can squint and see the answer is a definitive "no."

As for the subject matter of the tweet and the context wherein it resides, let me say a few words. Certainly you are by now familiar with PFTCommenter and his specific journalistic milieu. In the field of literary criticism, PFTCommenter would be labeled a satirist. He represents the most recent point on a literary spectrum that traces its roots through Swift, Juvenal, and Aristophanes. In fact, it's people like you, Darren, who spawned Juvenal's famous quip: "it's difficult not to write satire" (difficile est saturam non scribere, Sat. 1.30). You're a parody of yourself, you twit. When people look at you and hear you talk and read your fetid logorrhea they are overcome by an emotional need—a psychological pang—to critique by way of humor. You're like Midas with ass's ears: we can all see them, and we're all laughing at them, and you're dumbly wondering what's so goddamn funny.

Was the tweet's content off-color? Of course it was, and that's what makes the satire so successful. Your #brand-driven worldview opens you up to lambaste of the ugliest, most vitriolic type. You look at Oscar Pistorius and don't see a man who shot a woman; you look at Oscar Pistorius and see his Oakley sponsorship. You look at Oscar Pistorius and don't see the moral and humanistic failings of a tragic situation; you look at Oscar Pistorius and wonder whether a sunglass brand will drop the face of the company. This is what Barry Petchesky means when he writes that you live in a posthuman world. You make Nietzsche look like a goddamn Baptist.

Am I getting through to you, Darren? Do you understand that satire, qua humor writing, is an outlet—a certain catharsis—for individuals who might otherwise be having a shitty day? Does this help explain why swastika-related jokes can be funny, if packaged correctly and aimed at the right people? Have you even read this far? Does it come as a surprise that Professor Shipan happily ignored your asinine emails (plural emails!) requesting corrective action against Dr. Mohammed, who is no longer his student? Are you at all amazed that Professor Shipan's busy schedule—no doubt fraught with a rigorous research agenda, teaching preparation and pedagogy, day-to-day departmental business, run-ins with college deans, interviewing potential new hires, editing academic journals, planning campus conferences, high-school outreach and recruiting, keeping his faculty happy, student advising, to name just a few—prevented him writing back to your idiot ass? Can I get you a glass of water?

Listen, Darren, leave Drs. Shipan and Mohammed alone. They're busy. You're busy. Hell, I'm busy. I just owed Chuck (as he's known to me) a favor. Just … leave them alone and go back to masturbating into Nike Dri-Fit socks.

Best,

Dr. J. Pleather Face, Adjunct Professor of Classics, Fuck U.