On Sunday, Nicholas Kristof’s column addressed the “second most remarkable thing” about Obama’s election: the country will welcome into the White House “an open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual.”
That’s right, folks, a member of the professoriat has achieved the highest post in the land (and no, I don’t mean the Presidency of Harvard, sorry Drew Faust).
Does Barack’s election mean that it might start to be cool to be smart? Every fall, I teach groups of first-year honors students – kids who are complete over-achievers, who work hard, who spend hours in community service (not just at the holidays), who get terrific grades – and I always ask them if, in high school, it was considered cool to be smart. Almost to a person they shake their heads, “no, no, no way.” The kids who do say it was okay usually went to very small Catholic high schools, where the nuns had done such a number on the students that they all thought they were idiots – and thus there were no “smart kids” to ostracize.
At the other end of the spectrum are those kids for whom doing well academically is seen as some kind of sell-out, some kind of betrayal of family or neighborhood or friends. I’ve worked with these kids and it’s dreadful to watch them undercutting their own achievements because failure is more familiar than stretching towards something unknown.
Or maybe, additionally, Barack’s election means that now professors should start being slightly more sartorially savvy. I mean, is there any logical reason that rumpled = intelligent? I know, I know, professors are too busy Thinking Serious Thoughts to avoid things like pleated trousers, “fun” ties, and bad shoes. Or maybe we’re all too broke to upgrade our wardrobes with any regularity.
Kristof’s column brought something else to mind, however, besides the possible smartification of the country.
It gave me a theme for the Barackian Presidency:
Bringing Brainy Back.
Think about it: both Barack and Justin Timberlake have graced the cover of Rolling Stone numerous times; both men espouse a Rat Pack fashion sensibility (skinny ties, narrow suits); both borrow heavily from a mixture of racial vernaculars, although doubtless Timberlake is the better rapper. And let’s face it, they’re both rock stars.
Timberlake’s pop song starts “I’m bringing sexy back/Them other boys don’t know how to act” – and doesn’t that, with one minor change, sum it up: Obama brought brainy back, and those other boys (and girls) don’t know how to act?
Of course, the song itself, which lasts roughly four minutes, is composed of about forty words in total and makes some unfortunate references to slavery, shackles, and whips – not in the historical sense, mind you, but in another, uh…more intimate context. Clearly unsuitable for Inaugural Dancing.
But we’re bringin’ brainy back anyway, with or without that pesky final “g.”