Waxworks and Roustabouts: “Getting down to business”

Opinion by P.G. Mann
Jan. 8, 2010, 4:02 p.m.

So much for New Year’s resolutions. There I was on Jan. 1, knee-deep in luggage, resolved to board a greyhound to Lafayette, La. to begin my new life as a philosophy major. Then a tweet came screaming through the ether into my iPhone. UL-Lafayette had announced it was doing away with its philosophy degree. Extinguished were my hopes of becoming an educated southern gentleman, drawling on Epictetus and gazing into the Heraclitean flux of my mint julep.

The pain brought to mind the trauma of last fall, when I showed up at Michigan State with a trunk full of Sophocles and some nasty stuff by Catullus in my back pocket, only to be informed that MSU was axing its classics major. No dorm room bacchanalia with maenad coeds. No drinking Old Milwaukee out of a kantharos. No impressing girls by reading aloud the letters on the fraternity houses.

I was beginning to fear this country no longer had room for a man of my liberal arts persuasion. Thereupon a dark spell came over me. I alternated between carving out chunks of my flesh and flipping through Forbes magazine.

But, just when I was poised to toss a coin and either hack off a limb or major in business, a tweet came blistering through the ether into my iPhone and restored my will to live. The University of Texas at Austin has paved the way to the future of education with a new course: The English Major in the Workplace.

Here students read Death of a Salesman and follow it up with strategies for networking, writing good resumes and giving successful job interviews (this is not a joke). With classes like that, UT is a school that is going to hang onto its English major.

At last, the fuzzy and worthless humanities have become relevant!

Before, we of the humanities had to lurk in the shadows of the nation’s majority, the business majors–teaching their children, writing their newspapers, eating from dumpsters, going to law school when resignation struck. All the while we envied their productivity, their synergy, their output-ability. But most of all, we admired their scrupulous attention to ethics, those questions concerning our collective wellbeing and ultimate aims as individual human beings. Now, finally, we’re getting the specialized workplace skills we need in order to join them in the bang-up business they are doing all across America.

And this is only the beginning. I can only dream of all the other potential edifying courses I will be able to take as an English major in the second decade of the 21st century. Look for these classes in your upcoming course catalog:

How to Sell Your Soul: The Faustian Tradition

The Brothers Karamazov and the Brothers Lehman: The Pitfalls of Family Finance

Siegfried Sasoon/Vidal Sasoon: A Comparison in (Entrepreneurial) Style

Heart of Darkness: Kurtz as Corporate Visionary

Email, Text, Tweet: Advanced Composition

How to Tie a Tie

Selling/Stealing, Brokering/Bamboozling: The Power of Rhetoric

Naked Lunch Power Lunch: A Chat n’ Chew, Meet n’ Greet for Wingtipped Beatniks (martinis and mechanical dildos provided)

Speaking in Complete Sentences and Other Interviewing Strategies

The Power of Positive Thinking: A Study in Textual Exegesis

Bleak House: Sub-Prime Mortgaging and the Dickensian Dignity of Poverty

The Cubicle: A Space for Creative Exploration (prerequisite: Thinking Outside the Box while Inside a Cubicle)

If only the University of California would start offering courses like these. Then its alums would make so much money, they, rather than the state, could subsidize the cost of tuition.

With this new business casual makeover of the bed-headed patched-tweed English major, my degree is sure to make me a valuable worker in the jobless economy. Now I don’t have to major in business just to get ahead in the bread line.

What’s more, I can look my relatives square in the face when they ask me what I’m going to do with a degree in English and tell them:

“Why, I’m going to join the workforce, juggles spreadsheets, earn great big pots of money, sink it into an oversized house, boost the GDP, watch shitloads of prerecorded television, sire some children who will be even more ignorant than I am, get laid off, lose the house, get sick, and then hope to God by that time one of my idiot kids has majored in business and makes enough money to put me in a private nursing home, where I will slowly drool out all memory of my existence.”

“Wonderful,” they’ll say. “That sounds just like a business degree. Eminently practical.”

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