Academic obscurantism for the sake of . . . what?
Among other relics from middle school, my CD case still contains well-worn copies of both Pinkerton and The Blue Album, so I read Jeffrey Rosenberg’s Rosenfeld’s undergraduate thesis on Weezer’s odd career arc with great interest (via). My interest waned, however, as the piece wore on; not because Rosenberg’s Rosenfeld’s ideas were stupid or uninteresting, but because his thesis is written like every other piece of turgid, academic prose.
OK, that’s unfair. There are, in fact, accessible academic works floating around out there. And Rosenberg’s Rosenfeld’s thesis really isn’t that bad. In fact, it’s pretty darn interesting – more interesting than anything I wrote as an undergrad (a low bar, to be sure). But it is written in the oddly stilted, formal style of most academic papers (THIS IS MY THESIS STATEMENT), and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. I mean, I understand why an undergraduate’s writing style would be modeled on other academics’. But a paper on the fall and rise of America’s premier geek-rock band needn’t be impenetrable to a broader audience.
Actually, I’m pretty convinced that Rosenberg’s Rosenfeld’s thesis would have made for a great Rolling Stone article. The introduction: a brief account of Weezer’s odd comeback. Next, a page or so on the distinction between highbrow and middlebrow art and rock music’s odd place in between (complete with a history of the rise of mass consumerism in the 19th century). Finally: a discussion of Weezer’s turn-of-the-century critical resurgence, contextualized with examples from the article’s earlier paragraphs.
I would totally read that article. I’m also fairly certain it could convey the same amount of information that Rosenberg’s Rosenfeld’s thesis so admirably lays out. So why not write (some) academic papers in a more accessible format? Like Rolling Stone articles, but with footnotes (perhaps our next generation of academics will look to David Foster Wallace for inspiration).
I understand why certain disciplines demand specialized terminologies. Conveying complex ideas in familiar shorthand to a knowledgeable audience makes a lot of sense if you’re presenting a paper on advanced microeconomics. And hell, I don’t really want to read that stuff anyway. But a paper on Weezer? Why not make it accessible to the rest of us?
One of the genuine benefits of blogging is the proliferation of experts with blogs. It’s nice (or terrifying, depending on your perspective) to go straight to the websites of a few trained economists when a genuine crisis hits, for example. I find this to be a lot more informative than relying on the Washington Post’s interpretation of the state of the economic debate. So why not generalize this approach to academic fields – sociology, history, political science – whose interest extends far beyond academia? This strikes me as a win-win situation, as scholars would receive more recognition for their studies, and people like me would have the benefit of more (and better) reading material.
Also, this song is still pretty awesome: