A College of Playboy Scholars

You may have seen that the College of Liberal Arts at Penn State Tweeted an assurance of welcome to students, specifically extending the warm hand of friendship to students from groups that may feel, or that may pretend to feel, unwelcome in a College of Liberal Arts. I cannot read the name of every one of these groups, but along with Black students, Muslim and Jewish students, Latino students, and LGBTQ students, the Tweet extended the warm hand of friendship to “conservative students.” This naturally sparked outrage among the students whose identities are sufficiently important to be capitalized, and the warm hand of friendship was quickly withdrawn.

In his apology for the Tweet, the Penn State Director of Strategic Communication said that the College of Liberal Arts had intended the Tweet “to express the inclusive, democratic and participatory values of the liberal arts.” This goes to show that he, and perhaps the entire College of Liberal Arts, either does not know or will happily lie about the history and meaning of the phrase “liberal arts.”

The liberal arts take their name from the fact that those who pursue them are free of the need and desire to work for a living, and thus of the need and desire to obtain vocational training in some mechanical art. The liberal and mechanical arts can be combined in a balanced curriculum, and their respective students do not always divide on class lines, but there is no getting around the fact that the liberal arts are inherently elitist and exclusive because many students, owing to either circumstances or temperament, need to get a job and have no time to think about anything else.

Of course many students nowadays discover after it is to late that they actually had no time for the liberal arts, or at least not as much time as they gave them, and that they have become that saddest of all beings, a shabby proletarian drudge with a useless gentleman’s education. An education in the liberal arts is, after all, precisely that: a gentleman’s education. This is why a College of Liberal Arts could just as well be called a College of Playboy Scholars.

Before it was the name of a magazine of gateway smut, playboy was the name of a young man of ample means who did not work and lived a life of play. This young man was also called a “sport,” sport being a synonym for play, and the natty little roadster in which he sped from country club to cocktail party was therefore called a “sport’s car.” When he sped off to college in that natty roadster, a playboy pursued a gentleman’s education in the liberal arts, which is to say philosophy, appreciation of the fine arts, and the most impractical branches of science and mathematics. If he found these studies pleasurable, he became a gentleman or playboy scholar, possibly going on to play—excuse me—work in the comfort of a private study, or possibly joining in the elite and exclusive fellowship of a College of Playboy Scholars.

12 thoughts on “A College of Playboy Scholars

  1. Pingback: A College of Playboy Scholars | Reaction Times

  2. A Brief Meditation on Play: I assume that all of the male students in my classes were prodigious consumers of smut. None was a gentleman; most, in fact, were habitually unwashed and their habitude slovenly. None knew of play, but only of “gaming,” in all the varied connotations of that word. I have seen YouTube videos of dachshunds and other breeds playing with otters, rabbits, ducks, and domesticated squirrels, all of whom also know how to play. It is a cliche to lament that, in our decadence, we have fallen below the lowest level of the human, but we have. Worse than that, we have fallen below the level of the animals. What remains of the humanities, on my last observation, is a mixture of preening and accusation, sullenness and grievance. Any time spent in the classroom is drudgery, from the point of view of the clientele. There is no longer any “play,” taking that word in all its varied connotations. This remark encompasses students, faculty members, and administrators. Like the one who immediately retracted his vestigial sense of fair play.

    • We certainly have adolescent ennui in the South, but it is not quite so common as it is up North. Just one more instance of our backwardness. I noticed this when I came south from upstate New York thirty years ago, and although things have changed, the difference remains. One can still meet a callow youth in these parts, with callow intended in its positive sense. I notice the decline of play in a decline of wordplay. Wordplay is talking for fun, and word players are fun to listen to, but they are a dying breed. What we have is an oversupply of bores and scolds. The bore says nothing original; the scold rebukes anyone who is not a bore. They abolish wordplay and enforce a discourse of cant and clichés.

  3. TFB: You would have done well to assume that nigh on 100% of your female students were prodigious consumers of literary smut along the lines of Fifty Shades; absence of visual images counting for very little IMHO.

    Gentlemen of Leisure still exist. Bum about the beaches and hill towns of SE Asia and you’ll soon bump into Trustafarians. I find these less annoying than YouTube LARPing ‘Digital Nomads’. What you won’t find is GoL collecting inscriptions and putting out little monographs on same; no time to fit this kind of nonsense in between cooking classes and reiki sessions.

    As for Learned Ladies of Leisure: I give you the Zuckerbog’s Sister. We’re doomed. I’m no Jowett but I know it.

    • I think the internet has revealed a population that is both more ignorant and more learned that most people formerly supposed. I have read on-line discussions by assorted nobodies that were vastly superior to anything I ever heard at an academic conference, and I have read others that were less reasonable than a barking kennel of dogs.

    • @ Kinch: Agreed. A friend of my who did a stint in the Army and rose to the rank of master sergeant now supervises part of the janitorial services at the college from whose faculty I recently retired. I emphasize his stint in the Army. We were talking one Sunday afternoon in the bar and — a bunch of sorority girls having entered the premises — the topic of coeds came up. He asked me, “Have you ever listened to them in the hallway or in the food court?” I nodded yes. His point was the pornographic vulgarity of their language. It shocked him, my friend said, how they used the f-word in every sentence. I nodded again, being thoroughly familiar with the phenomenon.

      Quite a few of the female English professors, including the former Chair, exhibited the same propensity speech-wise. The Chair would regularly punctuate her lectures before students with the phrase, “What the f–k!” She uttered it as though it was an item of supreme cleverness.

  4. The vulgar female is one of the rotten fruits of feminism. Every student of literature knows that the world has always been well supplied with slatternly wenches, but it took an enlightened age to place that type on a pedestal. My impression is that young faculty are less inclined to use coarse language than were the now-retired senior faculty of my youth. Of course this may be simply the way they speak in front of me. Coarse language in a professor of English is particularly egregious since words like f-k are linguistic weeds that crowd out more elegant growths. The only appropriate response to that Chair saying WTF is to ask WTF is she is doing as Chair!

    • Just a note… I taught at SUNY Oswego for twenty years. I never once heard any of the senior male faculty in English use the f-word. Their liberalism was no doubt of the oleaginous variety, but their speech adhered to decorum. Although the new hires over the last decade in the Department were ninety per cent female, I never heard the f-word from any of the few new male hires. I have never heard Schumer or even Schiff use the f-word in public, but Tlaib, AOC, and the Muslim chick from Minnesota use it in public all the time. Talk about “rotten fruits of feminism”!

      As for “WTF is she doing as Chair?” — Narcissists tend to vote for other narcissists. The English Department inaugurated a “film studies” program ten years ago, which soon overwhelmed the literary side of that Department. But when it got a better offer from Communications and Arts, it defected right away. Who, I ask, is not a “film studies” professor? Hundreds of students think that if they make a jejune three-minute film for their senior project in the major, they will be snapped up by Hollywood and become millionaires. They put themselves in debt to do so, and then scrape out a living as baristas or customer-service staff in a telephone bunker.

  5. In my experience, the vicious professors are disproportionately female. They are emboldened by an ideology of past injustice, organized as a feminist freemasonry, and white-knighted by half their male colleagues. I am good friends with a retired female professor who can actually claim to have worked in a sexist university, and she is neither bitter or vengeful. On the contrary, perfectly lady-like. It’s the pampered and petted who are really unchained.

    I have been trying to talk my son’s girlfriend out of majoring in film studies. She’s a nice girl who doesn’t deserve the disappointment that lies at the end of that road. If she wants to make films, I tell her to do it now. Her phone and laptop are equal to the best equipment of the past, so the only things that stands in the way is her false belief that she must first obtain a degree.

    • Your son’s girlfriend would do well to listen to and follow your sage advice, lest she be Spoiled by a False Education. I’ve seen it happen to more than a few during my 54 years on this mortal coil of ours. I’ve also given the parents of some of these youngsters the same sort of advice with respect to their encouraging their daughers to go to college and get a degree and become an “independent woman,” which is a contradiction in terms in the first place, but that’s another matter. Almost invariably they (the parents in question) answer that it (spoliation) won’t happen to their daughter because of course she has such a good head on her shoulders, they raised her right, she’s too smart for that, and blah blah. Uh, hu.

    • That is my experience also. My campus has a coven of them, all with the personalities of rattlesnakes. They make every effort to be as abrasive as possible, constantly throwing out barbs both in public and in private. One of them offered her wisdom in a private conversation with me: “Men think through their penises!” When I asked her how she could possibly know such a thing, her only response was high dudgeon at my impertinence in questioning her. Why, she is so oppressed that she can spout any sexist nonsense she pleases. I can only imagine what would happen to me if I were to make an equivalent loony pronouncement about women.

      • The pattern is not unique to feminists, but they have the intelligence and discipline to carry it off more successfully than some: (1) an ideology of grievance that justifies injustice against the outgroup; (2) cronyism, which in the case of feminists might be called cronism; (3) a cultivated public perception of weakness so that white knights are always coming to the rescue. It is easy to chide men who truckle to this, but those men have reason to be afraid. That witch can cackle about penis-brained men all day long–indeed she can publish a paper on it. As you say, anything remotely similar from you would lead, at best, to struggle sessions.


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