JOE WEBB AND CO. – THE WRITTEN WORLD

LESSON #29: STEP OUTSIDE THE UNIVERSITY BOX

Posted in Lessons by The Books Production Team on October 31, 2008

LESSON #29: STEP OUTSIDE THE UNIVERSITY BOX

typewriter12         Truth be told, I was kind of a weird little kid.  Whereas most of my peers growing up in Mattoon (the self-proclaimed Baseball Capital of the World) wanted to be either a firefighter or a Major League baseball player during their money-making years, up until about the age of eleven, I was so legitimately taken with Pranay Patel’s mother that I wanted to work at K-Mart when I grew up.  Blue Light specials?  The K-Mart Restaurant?  Awesome!  Upon reaching the sixth grade, however, I quickly shifted gears when I decided that K-Mart was not for me.  Instead, I declared that I would one day be the President of the United States.  Now, I realize that this seems like a complete 180-degree turn, but, if you think about it, the two might not be all that different.  I mean, both K-Mart and the United States government seem to be failing economically right now.  But, I digress.

          The point of my youthful weirdness that I would like to emphasize in today’s lesson is the fact that throughout my childhood, I was haunted by the fear that the entire world was secretly just an elaborate game that had been laid out by some mastermind to fuck with me.  I feared that every person I encountered was just a paid actor who was playing some part in my life, and my own future was to be determined not by any force of my own volition, but rather by some contrivance of an omniscient Eye in the Sky.   I told you – I was a weird little kid – but at least I wasn’t the only person who ever felt that way.  You see, years later, this nightmare would be more fully reinforced by watching The Truman Show– a movie where Jim Carrey’s entire existence is really just a television program for a much larger world.  And although I’ve outgrown nearly all of my youthful paranoia now that I’ve reached adulthood, I still sometimes wonder whether or not it is strictly coincidence that one of my best friends is named Christhilf – a name eerily similar to that of Ed Harris’s character Christof in the movie.

          Still, even if it’s true, I’ve come to accept that I’m at least getting to see a lot of the world in my box.  If it’s a question like the one delivered to Neo by Laurence Fishburne in The Matrix, I guess I’d probably go ahead and take the blue pill.  But that’s because my little bubble isn’t nearly so small as the one encapsulating Jim Carrey in The Truman Show, who’s got about twenty square miles to play with.  Unfortunately, that’s more than I can say for a lot of America’s college students.  In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that there are undergraduates who have spent 4 full years on the campus of Saint Louis University without ever breaking the perimeter of a tiny bubble that extends two blocks beyond campus in every direction, with the exception of one long, skinny stretch of Highway 40 that leads to the Target near Brentwood Boulevard.  And thus, we now come to the body of today’s piece of Dr. Wizard’s Advice: students, sometimes it’s a really good idea to step outside the University Box.  It’s good for you, it’s good for the community, and it’s good for the world – so strap on your Nikes and just do it.

          Now, if you go to school in a small town, I realize that townies can be a little scary.  You’ve heard crazy stories about how they kidnap college kids when they step out into local bars and sell their kidneys on the black market.  But this is (usually) not the case.  In fact, you should know that most townies are equally misinformed about you.  Why is this?  Well, in part, this is because the only time they see you is when you get drunk and decide to go to the townie bar on Friday night.  They assume that your peeing in the corner pocket of the pool table is normal collegiate behavior, and thus generalize this sort of lunacy onto the whole population of your school.  What you need to do to bridge the gap between your school and your host village is to establish a dialogue (where not all of your words are slurred), so that they can be proud of the University in their midst.  This small rural community has opened up its arms to you every fall; its citizens clean your classrooms and cook your food – and they’d simply love it if you expressed a little gratitude every now and then.  As an added bonus, if you can become more fully immersed in the local surroundings, you’re likely to discover all sorts of hidden gems that don’t tailor exclusively to the people who call the town home for only nine months a year.   And this is doubly true if you go to school in a more metropolitan center.  For example, Saint Louis is a city with roughly 3 million people, all of whom need to be occasionally entertained.  As difficult as you might find this to believe, not all of the city’s entertainment venues are within a two-block radius of your campus.  I’d recommend that you get out and explore.  But this is not the only advantage you can garner by periodically stepping outside of the University Box.  In fact, I can think of at least two more that are extremely important to your long-term mental development, and both have to do with broadening your mental horizons.

          One of the greatest lies we tell ourselves as professors is that we are responsible for exposing you, the college students of America, to a diverse array of opinions and ideas – but this isn’t really true.  The truth is that we’re not nearly so diverse as we would like you to believe.  Just look at me; I’m liberal as shit, and in most Humanities Divisions at state-run colleges I would be well towards the conservative side of the continuum of professors.  If you hang around  us long enough, you’ll eventually come to question how anybody can possibly not be a card-carrying member of the ACLU.  But there are plenty of Americans who think that we are just crazy-people, spouting off about Atheism and Marxism and all kinds of other morally corrupt philosophies.  In the American Presidential Election that we’ll be holding on Tuesday, more than 50 million people will vote for John McCain – which is something most professors are completely incapable of wrapping their heads around.  Your job is to balance the information we give you with doses of real America by talking to people who aren’t like us – and to find out why there are Republicans, because they can’t all be crazy.  Don’t let us completely brainwash you.

          By the same token, we’ll spend the next four years teaching you about the theoretical problems of American poverty, all while keeping you safely insulated in a well-cushioned, $30,000 a year cloud.  Now I’m not saying that if you go to DePaul University in Chicago you should start taking nightly walks through Cabrini Green – that’s just not safe – but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for you to occasionally venture out into the city and participate in some real charity work where you can learn about real poverty.  Your education is a privilege, but like any privilege, it can only be fully appreciated if you understand what life is like for those without the opportunity.  Learning to value what you’ve been given will make you a better, more motivated student, and will fill you with a sense of responsibility to capitalize on the gift of Higher Learning in your future.  Again, this is only possible if you step outside the University Box.

          So don’t stay in the bubble.  Life is not The Truman Show.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to run over to K-Mart to pick up the necessary black construction paper I’ll need so that I can go to tonight’s Halloween Party as the 3-Hole Punch version of Jim.

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3 Responses

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  1. Green Wave Fever said, on November 1, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    Not only the Baseball Capital of the World – but the Bagel Capital of the World as well!!! By the way, on behalf of Wanda Ferguson and Dave Carter, I’d like to invite you all to next year’s Bagelfest!!! I hear PopRocks will be playing an awesome set.

  2. Barry H said, on November 1, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    Wiz, I had never really considered it, but you’ve got me thinking. The Truman Show and The Matrix are basically the same movie…if, you know, Truman was capable of doing a sweet levitation kick.

  3. The Uncle Jesse Fan Club said, on November 1, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    Wait – so you’re saying most professors are liberal? That’s like saying Barry Bonds takes a few vitamins before he works out.


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