This is episode is the full, unedited interview with Professor Ian Condry. If you haven’t listened to the fully produced episode yet, we strongly encourage you to do so before listening to this one. They’re shorter in length and much more refined.
Guest Starring Ian Condry, Professor of Japanese Cultural Studies – MIT Anthropology
Produced & Hosted by Adam Greenfield
Executive Produced by Patrick Yurick, Instructional Designer – MIT OGE
Executive Produced by Heather Konar, Communication Director – MIT OGE
Special thanks to the following editors who provided us invaluable feedback that aided in the development of this show:
Christopher O’Keeffe, Co-Founder of Podcation
Kristy Bennet, Manager – MIT Women’s League
Jennifer Cherone, Phd Candidate – MIT Burge Laboratory
Erik Tillman, Phd, Formerly of the Kim Lab & Currently A Fellow at Vida Ventures, LLC
The Great Communicators Podcast is a part of Gradcommx. Gradcommx, targeted at enhancing research communication, is the first offering of Gradx – a professional development project created for the graduate student population at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by the Office For Graduate Education.
MUSIC & SOUNDS
“Divider” by Chris Zabriskie is licensed under Attribution 4.0 International License (http://freemusicarchive.org)
Hello, Adam Greenfield here, host of The Great Communicators podcast series. What you’re about to hear is the full, unedited interview with one of the guests we spoke with. If you haven’t listened to the fully produced episode yet, I definitely encourage you to do so before listening to this one. They’re shorter in length and much more refined. You can find them all at gradx.mit.edu/podcasts.
The idea behind these longer, unedited conversation is to give you an opportunity to hear the entire talk, warts and all. This is not only a fun way to hear the full flow of the conversation but it also emphasizes the importance of the points made in the shorter, produced episodes, which again, can be found at gradx.mit.edu/podcasts.
Thanks for listening and enjoy the conversation.
Patrick Yurick: Can you say your name and what you do at MIT?
Ian Condry: I am Ian Condry. I am a cultural anthropologist in the Department of Global Studies and Languages, and I study Japanese popular culture, things like hip-hop and anime.
P: So, I want to talk a little bit about writing and the role, we cannot cover all these questions today, but I want to focus our talk around some basics on writing but also kind of elevating that to some other ideas. Why do you think for a professional within these fields of research or study, why do you think writing, it feels very basic to ask that question but, humor me, why you think writing is important?
I: Why is writing important? As a scholar, writing is one of the main ways we get our ideas out to a broader audience. I feel that teaching needs to include the writing aspect where students can go over the material, think about the structure of an argument, and look at how we make a case. Marshal evidence, draw the reader in, give a twist that surprises people, and then try to get to a conclusion that gets people to a new place. I believe that writing is one of the best ways to do that it’s a very immersive multimedia form in fact. So, writing is key for getting our ideas out to an audience, and it’s key professionally. It is the main thing by which young scholars are evaluated. So, having strong writing is very much the basis of our project as scholars. The whole thing about publish or perish is true.
P: Let’s talk about that for a minute. I am guessing you have seen a lot of broad variants of writing, what has come into you from students from abroad and students who have gone through our public education system or not. What do you see is the main through line that young writers start with in the field of, the publish and perish kind of writers that are going in that direction?
I: I think the best way to become a better academic writer and writing for a public audience of any kind is to learn how to rewrite. So, when I came to MIT, one of my colleagues, John Dower, won the national book award for one of his books. It is beautifully written. I remember having a chance to sit down with him at lunch. I said, “John, how did you do it? Your writing is so great. You know, how did you manage to pull it off?” He said, “First, it is really hard.” He said, “That is what you have got to realize. It is really hard for me. It does not come naturally.” He says, “The main thing is editing.” He said, “That book that I wrote that won all the awards was a seven hundred page book when I first wrote it. I had an editor who was just brutal about tearing parts out, re-organizing it, and forcing me to rethink it. I cut 300 pages of the 700-page book.” He said, “You know what? In the end, I didn’t miss it.” He said, “It is a better book because of it.” So, that is what I have learned from my colleagues who I respect as writers. Junot Diaz, novelist here at MIT, won both the Pulitzer prize for his book. We actually came in to MIT at the same time, so I have been able to hang out with him a little bit. He says the same thing. It is about rewriting and rewriting and how hard it is. I think it is a challenge because you have a lot of writers who say, “I have to write. Writing is my passion, and I cannot imagine a day without writing.” What they often do not say is how hard it is, too. Editing, revising, being part of that pendulum swing between writing something down and getting some momentum going where you say, “Okay, this is pretty good, this is pretty good, keep going, keep going, keep going. That pendulum has to swing back to the other side where you read over your stuff, and you say, “This is terrible, this is terrible, this is terrible. Okay wait, maybe this is okay. Alright, let me take that part out, and I am going to start to rebuild it around this part that is okay and let it swing back and say, “Okay it’s good, it’s good, it’s good.” So, I think there is a real emotional pendulum, roller coaster, whatever you want to call it, of encouraging yourself to write and then also being your harshest editor. I think learning that process is a lifetime thing.
P: Yeah, I was thinking about as you were talking about that, in our other interviews, this has come up a lot. This idea of cutting from your first, going through drafts and cutting, and visual design, public speaking. What is required after you finish your first draft, or as you are writing your first draft, what is the thing you need to hold in your mind to be able to know that you are going to cut stuff but you don’t know what it is?
I: I think there are different stages to the process. I think you do have to be confident and believe in yourself and cut yourself some slack and just say, “Hey maybe it is okay. It sounds so obvious to me because I’ve already thought about it all this time but it might not be obvious to somebody else.” So, I do think there is a stage of being easy on yourself and just trying to get the words on the page that is important. I think it is important not to do the editing as your writing. First, get down all your ideas as much as you can. They can be disorganized. They can be partial, but get it on paper because once I see my writing on paper, the first thing I realize is how short it comes. What a failure it is compared to the depth of my emotional commitment inside of myself. It was going to be way better than this I imagined before I started writing. So, having it on paper at least allows me to say, “Okay, I thought I was going to get much further than this. I got 15% of the way I want to get there how can I get to 20%? What needs to be added here?” Then, you can start filling in and expanding out. So, I think first, it is a process of just getting out as much as you can, and then ideally you let it sit. You know, if it is a day, that is fine. If it is a week, that’s better. If it’s a month, it can be even better. But give it some time and then go back to it because often the things that I was so emotionally attached to at the moment of writing, maybe did not end up being the best writing. Later I say, “Oh, actually this is a really interesting story. I should pull that out more and make this the centerpiece and have things revolve around that.” So, I think writing, having a little break, and then coming back to it for your editing phase. There, too, I like to mark things up, cross things out, and write with pen on a piece paper rather than trying to rewrite it on the computer because I get bogged down and don’t get through enough of the material if I am rewriting as I am doing it.
P: In regards to this pendulum swing, does that apply to all kinds of writing? So, I am thinking about a lot of our grad students who are going to be writing research and, I mean, we are not getting into skills-specific training with this course, but I know a lot of them are going to be asking themselves, “Well that might apply to Junot Diaz’s writing, but does that apply to the research paper that I am working on for publication?”
I: I do nonfiction writing. I write ethnographies where I am trying to report on the words, the stories, and the experiences of my colleagues and informants in Japan. So, I think that writing skills of revising, editing, finding the core idea, and figuring out how to express it in the clearest way applies to all forms of writing. In academia, there’s a constant battle to move away from jargon and to move away from specialized terms in order to reach a broader audience. Specialized language and jargon has its place; it is not always a bad idea. However, to the extent that we can make our ideas more clear, more communicable to broader audience is always going to be better academia. I think that applies to whether you are a romance poet or whether you are an engineer in computer science.
P: You were talking earlier, in regards to public speaking, but you know, I think using jargon can be alienating for the audience if they do not know what you are talking about and you are talking in a tone that they should know what you are talking about. There are also techniques around like building understanding around new language in writing. Do you have any techniques around that? Like if you are trying to build a new understanding around something? It might be a harder question, but I was curious about it from your perspective.
I: So, one are the questions is don’t we need you to use specialized language in academia and moreover as we are trying to carve out a space for our own intellectual projects, there is an urge and really a pressure from publishers, from our advisors, and from our mentors to come up with terms that no one else is using, to mark our territory in a way. So, I think there is a place for specialized language, and there is a real value in using some of the specialized language in order to make clear specifications and speak to particular histories within an academic discipline. So, I am not completely against jargon. I mean, one person’s insightful keyword is another person’s jargon. So, that is a challenge for all of us. I think the trick is telling stories that really make a new term come into being and make it have an impact and stay with people. So, I get asked about fieldwork. So, one of the parts of anthropology is doing participant observation fieldwork. People say, well how do you become part of a community and how do you know? So, one part of my research projects is about Japanese rap music. I spent a lot of time in hip-hop clubs in Tokyo. I used to go to this club every Thursday night, midnight to 5 AM, that’s when the club event was. It was the same group of folks every week. I got to know them over time. It was interesting how these little booms, these little popularities, these little trends ran through the club. I swear, one week seemed like a third of the club had bleach-blonde hair, I don’t know why. None of them had normal, bleach blonde hair, but they all bleached their hair and then it faded. Then, there was a guy who used to breakdance. He use to come through and go, “BLAHH” and point his finger and raise another hand like he was shooting a gun. He would go, “BLAHH.” So, for a couple weeks, we are all doing that. It is really funny. Then about six months into me going to this event, a DJ friend comes up to me and says, “You know what’s really popular right now?” I said, “No. What’s really popular?” He said, “Ian, what’s really popular right now is imitating you.” I said, “What? What are you talking?” He said, “Yeah, it is really interesting. Everybody does you, but they do you differently. It is totally fascinating.” I am like, “What are you talking about? Oh my God.” I can imagine what they are talking about. They are making fun of my Japanese. They are making fun of the fact that I hand out my business card at a nightclub. They are making fun of the fact that I take notes in a nightclub at three in the morning about what people are saying. I can imagine all of these horrible things, I’m really self-conscious now, I am wondering, “Oh my god, what’s going on?” It took me a little while to get over this, but what I realized was that, in fact, this was the moment where my fieldwork had gone from me being an outsider some kind of weird person who shows up to now me being part of the community in an interesting way and that it was really a fieldwork milestone. It was horribly embarrassing, and I was really uncomfortable for a long time after that. But in retrospect and having dealt with and this particular fad moved on as well, but that for me this was a way to understand how fieldwork involves becoming part of a community and what it means to become part of a community is very local and very distinctive, but it has to do with people recognizing you as part of what they are up to. To me, that is the real power of fieldwork and was also kind of a nice story that makes people say, “Ah, that’s different. It’s not what I’m used to.”
P: I am sure you can tell that story, you might modify it of you are using that story say in a public speaking event, but you know the beats of that story in the presentation of that story so it is really interesting thinking about that. I wanted to ask you about, I lost my question. I was too engaged in your story, you got me off track. I am not usually the interviewer this is usually Adam’s job. What made you decide to become, to do what you do?
I: Academics? Yeah. So what was my path? You know, I asked every rap musician, you know, how they got into being a rapper. I got to know them over several years, so I would ask them sometimes several times. The good rappers would tell a different story each time. So, now I am in the same boat. What is the semi-truthful story that I can tell? I mean, the story I tell is that my interest in Japan started when I failed my Spanish competency exam in college. I studied Spanish all through high school. College had a language requirement. I took the test and completely failed. So, I said, “I’ll just study Japanese.” It sounds weird. So, I studied Japanese and had a great teacher. I mean, that is the real story. I had a great Japanese language teacher. She turned me onto Japanese. I had the chance to go to Japan for a summer. After college, I went to Japan for a year. But what drew me to academia was that I was working for a Japanese newspaper in Washington D.C. I was interested in journalism, but I felt like the problem with journalism is if you worked on a project, a long project was two to three days long. They could not really get deeply involved in whatever they were studying. They knew a little bit about a lot, and meanwhile, part of my job was to interview academics who were always working on just incredibly esoteric and tiny, little projects; but in talking with them, I felt like they had a much better understanding of the world than my journalist colleagues, who would flit along in the waves of what was popular for the moment. So, you know, that is what drew me to academia, that to the extent that we get really focused on something that is very narrow, I believe it also gives, in some ways, a broader perspective on some of the bigger questions. That is not true in all academia, necessarily, but that is what got me into the business.
P: I like that idea of academia being the field of very dedicated long-form journalism. That’s a really cool twist.
I: Seven or eight years to work on your hip-hop project.
P: Spotlight’s got nothin.
I: Exactly. What they do is great, but you’re right. Event spotlight, what do they get? Six months? A year and a half? Not even.
P: That’s interesting. What correlations to journalism do you think academia has?
I: Well, I do ethnography, which is telling the story of people’s perspective as a way of understanding the world. So, in many ways, ethnography and journalism overlap a lot. We go out, we talk to people, and we try to spend time in their worlds and give their perspective a fair airing. So, I think there is a lot of overlap between what anthropologists do, what documentary filmmakers do, and what journalists do. I think what makes anthropology a little special is a commitment to jumping across cultures, making sure you get into a space you really do not know, learning the language, and being among the people for a longer period of time before you make judgements. It is, I think it is long-form journalism and it’s a different range of theory that we are responding to as well. I think there is a lot of overlap between all kinds of nonfiction writing.
P: Yeah, I would imagine the ethical guidelines are a bit different, right? So, where sensationalism may be a bigger bonus in journalism, it might not be, I’m guessing, in academia. I wouldn’t know because I haven’t published in academia, but I wonder, I’m thinking about like when we interviewed Yang Shao-Horn yesterday, and she is in this like nano-tech. We understood nothing that was written on the walls of her office room. I was just thinking to myself, “How does this connect to, you know, the basics of storytelling?” In a lot of ways, she did talk about how there’s a lot of connections between the different things. I’m getting somewhere with a question. This is me wondering through my questions. I wrote questions, but now I’m going off script. The ethical guidelines is something that has not come up, at least it has, but this is the first time I thought of it because journalistic ethics is something that journalists argue about all the time, right? It’s a big hot topic in journalism, and I’m guessing it’s also a part of the publishing community in a big way. How do you think of ethics when writing?
I: Ethics, so how do I think about ethics in writing? I think we have to be careful to represent people in an honest and straightforward way while also trying to tell a good story. So, I think there is a real challenge to being respectful to people but also realizing that a sensational story is worth seeking out, especially if it’s true or it’s representative or it has something to teach us. So, I manage that a little bit by disguising identities of people who say things that they don’t want to be associated with but in fact they probably don’t mind having written somewhere as long as it’s not associate with their name. So, as part of my fieldwork, I witnessed people doing some illegal things. I try not to share that. I witnessed people putting down fellow artists. I anonymized that if it’s relevant to a story. But, I guess one of the things that I would suggest to young scholars starting out is that a little more sensationalism probably will help, in fact. We spend a lot of time, I think, especially in graduate school, worrying about whether we are right or whether somebody will come at us and say, “What you’re saying is wrong.” So, we spent a lot of time explaining how we are not trying to reify culture. For an anthropologist, it is a terrible thing to say, culture is actually a thing. You can’t actually say that if you’re an apologist, although it’s the core of our research project is to discuss culture. You cannot pretend it’s actually a thing. You have to talk about in a certain way. Some people won’t use the word culture or they will only use cultural or cultural patterns. So, we get a little bit precious in our theory making. I think it is a mistake. What I’ve learned over time is that it is more important to get people’s attention and to backpedal if they tell you you’re wrong than it is to be right all the time but say things that are rather bland and unprovocative. So, I think shocking people a little bit and trying to give people a sense of things from a perspective that they don’t often come at it from is very important and is one of the hardest things to do because so much of graduate school is training us not to make a mistake and not to be wrong when, in fact, we need to think more and more about how to get people’s attention and what’s an idea that’s right but also that will get through the noise of everything else going on. So, I’ll give you an example. It is a little bit odd of an example. One of the things I’m interested in is this mixture of social value and economic value. So, I argue that how something like hip-hop becomes a global phenomenon is not because you follow the money. It’s not because it makes a lot of money for people because it doesn’t in the early stages, same for animation, same for comic books. You don’t get in it for the money; you get it because you love it. That’s fine, you’d like to get paid for it eventually, and you deserve to. That’s fine, but we need to somehow understand that there is a social value that’s a little separate from an economic value. People often say, well those are two separate worlds. You say, no, they’re not at all. In fact, the same act can have aspects of both. An example I like to give the undergraduates, which blows their mind. Take this example. I’m traveling overseas. I’m giving a talk. I have a lovely dinner. I meet this woman at a bar. She comes home with me to the hotel. We have a lovely night. I think everything’s great. She’s gone in the morning. I look at the countertop, and she’s left me $100. I say, here’s a perfect example of a social value that’s been turned into an economic value. In so doing, you’ve turned it into crap. Something that I thought was real, invaluable, and authentic, is actually nothing more than a commodity to you and a big so-long-sucker. So, this is the story. I’ve heard the story told different ways, but this is the way I tell it. It’s an actually fairly common story in the business, but it’s usually not personalized. I find that personalizing it, makes the jaws drop a little bit more. My feminist colleagues say it is because I’m a man and I can get away with it, and they are probably right about that. It would be harder for a woman to tell this story. But, I think that’s a good way to get the idea across. It’s a simple idea, but being a little bit more sensational about it, students don’t really like to think about their professor having sex, they really don’t, to begin with, much less getting paid for it. So, that’s a good angle in to get people’s attention. They stop looking at Facebook for a minute. Anyway, that’s a trick of the trade that I would like to convey to my junior colleagues.
P: It’s interesting. Sensationalism. I was wondering and I was thinking to myself, too, even when we talked to Yang yesterday, this came up as how to connect to your audience. She kind of gave an example of how she did not connect to her audience during a talk. I was just thinking about how even in a hard science, like, I don’t like soft science and hard science terminology, but to get the point across, when you’re studying chemical reactions and you’re trying to write a paper about chemical reactions, I wonder what you think. Do you think sensationalism still plays a role in writing about something that is not glamorous or is judged socially as having very little glamour but high content technical value?
I: I think when you’re trying to present your academic work, you should always think about the audience and how to engage them, how to surprise them, and how to draw them in. It is absolutely essential no matter what kind of academic or scholarly work you are into. I think the beauty of giving talks and why people should give a lot of talks is that you can see very quickly when it is not working. You have a very palpable sense of when you are losing the audience, when they are drifting off, and when they are not paying attention. It is hugely humiliating, and that is a great motivator. So, I think that is a really important thing to do. You know, some of it there are just little tricks. I mean, one little trick. I would again encourage my junior colleagues to try this when they need to. The talk is flagging, people are not listening very well, and you are losing them. Take a second and go, “You know what is really interesting?” Then, you get about five to thirty seconds just out of saying that. You will draw them in. It is a totally cheap trick. Even if you don’t know what you are going to say next, I will throw that in there every once in a while. I’ll be like, “You know what is really interesting?” Then, they all pop up, and you get about thirty seconds in there to try to drag them in and try to hit them with something that will surprise them and blow their minds. So, you know, showing videos that are a little shocking, a little bit surprising, I try to find those. I have a couple of those that I time through like a forty-minute talk so that I get a little break and the audience get a little break. I will use three, 1.5 minute clips where the middle one is a little bit wrong and inappropriate.
Adam Greenfield: I am curious about and what I find interesting….if you don’t hit home with that, do you tend to lose a little bit of, I guess, credit from a listener?
I: Yeah, but you use it in a situation where you have already lost credit anyway. I mean, that is a situation in which you already lost them. It is a last ditch effort, let’s face it. Of course, and you want to, you know, it is bad. Those bad talks are bad, and I have definitely had, you know, they still stick with me. I remember the bad talks the best. The good talks, they are okay but, you get the tricks in there, you know, I got a few jokes. It is interesting when I give talks internationally, though, that is what is hard. I have to cut the jokes, and I have to cut the word play because it just is too cute and people do not get it. I am not good enough to joke very well in Japanese. I can do a couple of them. The ones I can do in English, do not work as well in Japanese. So, yeah there is a risk. But, like I said, my thing is the greater risk is not pulling them in at all. So yeah, you use that when you need to, but it is a trick. I mean, the other thing I try to teach the students in writing is they often do not use rhetorical questions enough. Questions are great, but too much of our time is spent explaining things we already know rather than asking a question and pausing for a second to let everybody think about. It is a great way to get people off track because they are thinking about their own thing. You ask them a question, and you have already have the answer because you have been thinking about it for, you know, five or six years. They are thinking about it for thirty seconds. It is a great opportunity to get them a little flat-footed, not sure, oh I don’t know. What is the relationship between sensationalism and activism, for example? That is an interesting question. The wheels are turning, and then you got an opening to pull them in. So, you know, I am thinking about the performative aspects of public speaking is very useful. I feel I am a pretty good public speaker, but then I go see my jazz musicians friends perform and see what improvisation looks like. I realize, I need to get back to work because they really work the angle, surprise, juxtaposition, leaving a space, asking a question, and then not answering it. There are all these techniques that I learned from musicians that need to be incorporated into our academic speaking. People can find inspiration all over the place, seeing a particularly good performance and try to analyze how people do it, where the rhythms are, what is the length of a presentation. We can learn from all sorts of places.
P: I mean. I do not have anything else. I was only going to comment on what you were saying, which because I was thinking about this idea from earlier talks and another through line is this humility factor and the ability to be flexible when you see something screwing up like in your communication. When we were talking with Tony Eng earlier and talking about this problem of there are so many speakers who will know that their talk is going wrong, so they just keep doing the same thing because they are like, “I just got to get it over with.” But what you are almost positing, that I think is really valuable is like, actually that is an opportunity to try something because there is nothing much worst that you can get from.
I: I am bombing out anyway. Exactly. I am not getting this job.
P: But, that key factor is that humility, right? You have to have the ability to say I am going to be okay, no matter what, like personally this is, I have to just try something. I think that is a really difficult thing.
A: Daniel Tosh, you can tell when he is starting to lose some of the crowd, but he just keeps going until that last person is laughing, you know. Then no one is laughing at all and that is when he feels like, okay, now I am done.
I: Yeah, I mean that is commitment right there. You know, Pete Seeger was one of the guys who could do that. I have never seen anybody get an audience singing like Pete Seeger can. It was him and Arlo Guthrie at a concert, and Arlo comes out there and he is like, “God dammit, how does he do that? I get half of you singing for my songs, but he gets all of you singing for his songs.” Part of it is, maybe humility is a good word for it, but it is taking your audience seriously. It is a tough one because you cannot let that person doing Facebook and the person sleeping in the class bother you too much. If you got two or three people listening you should be working towards those two to three people and then hope to get the rest of them in there. There are just some simple tricks that people should know better. I mean, do not read your PowerPoint slide. Enough with the bullet points. Use images, but be very careful with the words you use. Do not ever read off a slide. Even I do not live by this very well, but I try to get better. I think being more creative about how you present something is very important, and unfortunately there are so many bad examples in academia of very successful people giving terrible talks. People imbibe that, and it looks important. Or, it makes you feel important if you are giving kind of a boring talk, which I disagree with that approach.
P: It is what 90% of all [51:44 _____] right now?
I: Exactly, the Talking Heads. I mean, that is why I love the idea of animation, you know? You might like this guy, Kuriyama is his name, he is at Harvard. But, he is a religion, philosophy, Japan guy. He will lecture, but he superimposes a giant, talking panda head over his head, and he projects this while he is lecturing so that he gives these deep lectures on Buddhism, Zen, and Shinto as a sort of giant panda head. I have only seen pictures of it, and I really want to see it, but you are like, “Oh. That is stretching it out in a way that I had not considered yet.” You know, it is interesting. I mean, I found it, have you heard of this guy Michael Taussig? Anthropologist Taussig was on campus the other day, he is famous in anthropology, known for kind of giving crazy lectures. This one was called mooning Texas, and I was like, “Oh, this will be interesting.” So, it is an interesting talk, kind of poetic. He gets to the part of it, you know, he says, “I used to do this story where I’d be like the sound artist for the dada period, I can’t remember 1920s or 30s. He used to dress up in this kind of rocket outfit, and he called himself The Blue Bishop, I think he called himself. He had a cardboard dunce cap on his head and a round tube around his body, and he used to do this sort of sound poetry. He said, “I was invited to give a talk at the University of Texas, and I wanted to do this. In fact, I built a cardboard rocket ship costume for my Blue Bishop look, but I couldn’t get it into the suitcase. He said, “So, I wanted to do a little bit of sound poetry and so I put a bag over my head. I cut a little hole for the eyes and mouth, and I did the sound poetry with the bag over my head. So, I didn’t think about it very much. So, a few years later, I was up for a job at some university and didn’t get it. I asked my buddy, okay, no problem, but what happened? He said, “I can’t talk about it.” I said, “Come on, it’s no big deal. I didn’t need the job anyway.” He says, “Well, the problem is what you did at the University of Texas.” Nick goes, “What do you mean? What did I do in Texas?” He says, “Well, you mooned the audience.” He said, “I never mooned the audience!” He said, “Well, that’s the story going around, that you mooned the audience.” Isn’t that interesting? So, his story is actually a reflection on how, I mean, it actually made an interesting point, which is that Karl Marx has this idea that capital becomes more capital and how you go from C to C Prime and capital can sort of magically produce more capital by exploiting labor. It’s an old story that is now accepted in mainstream economics, frankly. He says the interesting thing is the social world is the same way. You go from S to S Prime to where there is an expansion of social energy, were social energy just makes more energy, and gossip and rumors are a perfect example of this. I thought, oh my God, that’s funny because I’ve just been hearing the rumor that is going around about me. I heard it about a year ago, and I was just like, I don’t even want to think about this. This is just so ridiculous and impossible. I was just at a conference in Seattle the other day, and I heard the same rumor. Of course, my good friends are finally telling me the rumor, but God knows how far the rumor has been traveling. So, the rumor is that I was up for a job talk at a university on the West Coast. Over the course of my job talk, I transformed myself into a Japanese rapper. I changed my clothes. I started rapping. I adapted the moves, which was really upsetting to me. I am so not that way, I am like, I give the rappers their own voice. I try to be respectful and translate their words, but the whole point is not about me, it is about the other culture. So, it is a rumor that is particularly undermining to me and really gets my goat because I never even got that job talk. I wanted to get that job talk, but I was not invited for the job talk. It is kind of interesting, you know, and you probably shouldn’t put this in there because, to me, it is a little bit symbolic of how the people who do stretch out the performance things and try a little more will get punished for it by some people who don’t like that. I mean, that is one of the ways, rumor always has that bring down. The positive reading on it is, I’m finally famous enough that rumors are spreading about me. Hot dog! I have arrived. I am successful.
A: That’s what Tiny Tim did. He started off singing perfectly normal and he just got no attention at all. The moment he changed to what we all know him as, everybody was like, “Who is this freak?” And, that was when he started getting all that attention.
I: Isn’t that interesting. Yeah.
P: I even think it is basic when you, I talk to my students about trend setting and trend following. The issue, there is so much safety in being a trend follower. It is so much easier because, you know, but the risk is never doing anything that anybody remembers you for doing, right, when you are following a trend. Creating a trend runs a risk of being seen as insane, for a portion of time, because you probably are going to be the only person doing the thing in the beginning. You have to dance by yourself for a little while, but it takes an immense amount of bravery and what others might call or see as insanity. But, you see a change that needs to be made in the world, and it is really important, if that is what you want to do, you have got to risk it.
I: Yeah, exactly and that is what I tell the students, too. Stretch it out, and back pedal when you need to know to. You know, it is all right. But, I think you are right. It is good advice. You know, you think about high school education is not designed that way. You think about most college education is designed that way. Graduate school is supposed to be designed that way, but if you read the ques, you know, conformity is rewarded much more than branching out. It is a fine line. I remember hearing early on in my graduate career that one of the senior faculty said, “You know what we love at senior faculty? You know, new answers to old problems.” I thought that was a pretty smart rule to live by. Think about what are the big, old problems that are out there but design a new answer that is
going to get people’s attention and blow their minds. Go for that because odds are, you are going to have to try a few times to figure out a way to breakthrough.
P: Sure, that is a good place to stop.