Why Morgan Spurlock is Bad for my Soul

Having finished what they’ve released to DVD of Battlestar Galactica, Mary and I have started viewing the series 30 Days, the ongoing project of Supersize Me documentarian Morgn Spurlock.  I think I like Spurlock better than I like Michael Moore for many of the same reasons I like detective “Bunk” Moreland from The Wire more than I like the same show’s Jimmy McNulty: Whereas McNulty and Moore are college dropouts who think they’re smarter than the rest of the world, Moreland and Spurlock seem more like hard-working, hard-headed investigators who want the truth more than the glory.

Okay, that comparison was a stretch.

At any rate, we watched the 30 Days episode “Binge Drinking Mom” Saturday night, and all of a sudden I had to face again the realities of what happens in a five-block radius of my UGA English department office when I go home to Barrow County Thursday nights and when I’m playing with my son or working at Bogart Library on Saturdays.  The episode followed an affluent suburban mother and her nineteen-year-old Arizona State (I think) freshman daughter.  She was the archetypal “party animal” getting so drunk as to pass out three or four times a week and yet maintaining that she can keep up her studies at that pace.  (If you’d like, you can make jokes in the comments section about what major she must have been.)  The (rather silly, by the show’s normal standards) rules of engagement were thus that the mother had to have at least four drinks in two hours, at least four times per week.

Since Micah’s only three, I’m not going to pretend that I could do better as the parent of a nineteen-year-old, though I have a hunch I would have stopped paying her cell phone, gas, and other bills at some point.  But as the episode progressed, I saw screen after screen of white college kids (I don’t know if Arizona State has any minorities, but none were at these parties) destroying their brains with hundreds of dollars of booze per screen, and knowing full well that UGA’s reputation as a party school is likely not accidental, I realized that looking out on my students every class morning is about to get a little harder.  My hope is that a scant sliver of my students (who have been particularly well-prepared and willing to duke it out with Plato this semester) are of that world, but I’m going to wonder more often now.

And in case anyone wants to call Pharisee on me, my problems are not those problems commonly called “moral” or “religious.”  What does irk me is that these idiot children are sucking up the resources of a state university while kids who would work harder (I have to assume, if some of these morons are passed-out drunk as often as the show indicated) and likely surpass their brainless drunk counterparts given similar opportunities didn’t get in because, at age seventeen, their educational backgrounds didn’t prepare them as well for the SAT.  What also irks me is that these parasites, who have been given more than anyone in the world, are pissing it away.  If these kids’ lives really lack meaning, if they really can’t think of anything better to do than to poison themselves senseless, at least make them get jobs and do it with their own dough.

You see what I’m calling the poor little souls?  I warned you–you won’t like me when I’m angry.

So yes, El Ick, if you’ve already guessed, I do have the Puritan’s rage at the nobility.  Spurlock didn’t put it there, but he certainly did wake it up after I’d put it to sleep for some time.  And now it’s on the surface again.  And I’m not apologizing for it.

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13 Comments

Filed under pop culture, teaching, UGA

13 responses to “Why Morgan Spurlock is Bad for my Soul

  1. Hell yes. And these braindead little f***ers are so trashed on Bud Light and Jagermeister that they can’t read six G****MNED PAGES OF TELEVISION REVIEWS PER NIGHT FOR MY CLASS.

    Ahemexcuseme.

  2. Pardon my language, and feel free to redact me if you like. I know this is a family website.

  3. I did indeed redact for the sake of my more delicate readers and for the sake of my own standing should family or employers look here.

    I’m sure you understand.

  4. I started this response several times, always to be interrupted by another task or, in many cases, an errant yet relevant thought. I’ve come to the conclusion that my response is too long and convoluted to put here, so I’ll save most of it for a post of my own.

    My short answer, though, is consider the source: even though Spurlock’s show purports to be documentary-style and, therefore, “truer,” it’s still edited for television, which means for maximum sensationalism.

  5. True enough, but that still leaves the possibility that the interviewed undergrads were telling the truth. As I noted before, I imagine that world is a mere sliver of any given college population.

  6. Robert

    It ain’t a small sliver, though. And you’ve pegged the demographic.

  7. Jacob H

    Your frustrations are shared by some of your students, me in particular.
    Coming from a student who has never partied and drank, and doesn’t plan on it, it infuriates me to see people throw away their education and money on alcohol, while so many others aren’t given these chances.

    The biggest personal frustration is being the type of student who studies a fair amount, pays attention, generally does or attempts to do his homework, and overall works hard, but still being outdone by a smarter student who gives a fraction of the effort and spends the majority of their time partying.

    Don’t even get me started about the parents who keep filling their child’s pockets with money that goes primarily to Downtown Athens’ Bars. Nothing angers me more, as a student who has to pay for his entertainment, as well as half of his college education, from his own pocket.

  8. I maintain that quite a bit of one’s college education happens outside the classroom. Excess is, for some students, a part of that, and as long as they aren’t driving drunk and endangering other people, how they choose to spend money–regardless of who’s supplying it–isn’t any of my business. If the kid wants to skate by while binging 4 nights a week, that’s his/her affair.

  9. I agree that quite a bit of one’s education happens outside the classroom, but I see no reason why kids who are attending college on the public dime (much of the public university’s funding coming from lottery and tax funds) should be taking the university’s resources up if they’re only there to drink themselves stupid. If they want to self-destruct, let them live at home and work at McDonald’s, pay for their own booze (or, heck, let their parents stock up their own fridges for their little oligarchs), and free up admissions spots for people who are going to work at it. At least that way the boozers serve someone a sammich while they’re having their experiences, and the finite space and resources of the public university go towards students more likely to serve a public good.

    If the little princes decide, after a few years of that, to come back to college and work at it, that’s fine. They’ve learned from their experiences, and whatever education lies at the bottom of a bottle is theirs to treasure forever. In the meantime, students who are also having experiences outside the classroom (just different kinds) and who are ready for the responsibilities of intensive study can actually benefit from what colleges do, the universities can start demanding some real work from their students (the kind that one cannot do while being passed-out drunk three nights a week), and the liquor stores, I would imagine, would still have young idiots to whom they can sell their wares. The difference would be that they’d be falling asleep at the McDonald’s counter instead of in cost-intensive college classrooms.

    Let them conduct their affairs somewhere else, and let colleges be colleges.

  10. Jonathan

    I was waiting to weigh in on this, but I find myself agreeing with El Ick. Maybe it’s because I’m still a student and am more sympathetic to them since I am friends with people like that. I think some students do that because their college years are their only time to ‘be free and act crazy’ before the ‘real world’ of full-time jobs and starting their own families hits them. I don’t, personally, binge drink nor am I giving it an OK. I just am not bothered by what others choose to do. There are consequences to our actions. If somebody can go out and get hammered every night and still get good grades then I’m not going to hate on them. If somebody goes out and get hammered every night and they fail out of school then too bad for them. Life isn’t fair.

  11. I’m going to reveal my naivete here, but if “to hate on” is a verb that has narrowly emotional connotations, I assure you that I do not hate but pity them. They’ve been given great gifts, and they’re pissing them away. Their lives could be better, but their own stupidity and the apathy of the systems they inhabit let them waste their youth. You and El Ick are right that such a waste is none of my business.

    If “to hate on” is a more broadly ethical term, and you’re referring to my suggestion that they ought to be working fast food rather than taking up spots in chemistry lab, then I’d agree with you that life ain’t fair but note that, in a system that can self-correct given the right political action, many bits of life also ain’t inevitable. In other words, the colleges themselves should respect themselves and adjust their culture so that such wastrels can knock it off or head for the fast food application line. I’m all for letting stupid people be stupid; I only object to their taking up resources allocated for something other than stupidity. I find it hard to believe that colleges that take teaching seriously are content with this sort of nonsense, and I tend to conclude that places whose culture go there simply don’t take teaching seriously.

    To offer a parallel, I also think that working on a shrimp boat could be quite educational, but I don’t think that colleges should be subsidizing the shrimp industry or giving college credit for years on a shrimp boat. That doesn’t negate the interesting things one could learn on the boat; it’s just to say that it ain’t college. Likewise, for all the lovely things one can learn while passed out, I don’t think that such things constitute or enhance that particular experience called college education, and although people should be free to do so (on their parents’ dime, if we want to perpetuate feudalism–I’ll even grant that), I’d prefer that colleges offer their teachers’ time and their libraries’ resources and all the things that colleges are to the students ready and willing to work at that particular spectrum of things called college.

  12. Nate,

    While that’s all a fascinating ideal, how does one practice it? My issue is with how one would define “proper” allocation of funds, and how one would keep that from being misused.

    Are there lots of motivated potential students out there who are being denied an education because of these self-abusive individuals?

  13. To answer your second question first, judging by the rage against affirmative action, I’d say that there are likely at least a significant number of students denied admission to colleges of various sorts. I’d be inclined to create more openings not by keeping underprepared minorities out but overprepared drunks out. I realize that implementing such an admissions policy would be impossible to design and illegal to implement, but I’m just glad that you acknowledge that the idea might have merit! 😉

    To answer the first question, I’d be inclined to make known that the expected workload-per-credit hour was going up and that students who could not prove employment status would be required to take at least sixteen credit hours per semester (one lab science and four other classes or five classes plus a one-hour seminar) at a minimum to maintain full-time status. That still might not keep some brilliant but self-destructive types from continuing in brilliant self-destruction, but I imagine it would eliminate a goodly number of ’em.

    Obviously a university alone isn’t going to change this, and I realize that every suggestion I make is basically an attempt to make every college after Milligan’s image, but I do see so-called “party schools” largely as day-care for overgrown adolescents, and I do genuinely believe that, because of its sense of mission, Milligan tends to take learning more seriously than does the undergraduate world of places like UGA. I also know full well that I’m just better cut out for teaching people with families to feed or a sense of mission (or both) than people who feel entitled to four years of football tickets.

    And one more time, especially after today’s meetings, I’m very impressed with this year’s Plato sections, and by no means am I aiming these things at them specifically. If anything, they’ve been the ones who make me forget the absurdities of the “party school” world.

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