Wednesday, October 11, 2006

James and the Giant Can Opener



“. . . along the knife-edge dividing the conceivably-just-about-relevant from the irreducibly immitigably, irrelevant.”



Jim Chen. . . . I never met him but find myself looking forward to his posts. With his last one, it all comes together. (Please assume I have inserted one of those nifty green links to Jim’s latest and read it as I am uncomfortable that this one displaces his at the top.) I now know that my image of him -- can opener in hand, looking for the can with the worms -- is a matter of birthright. I personally would like to praise the food service workers in his past.

Although I have tired of my own class bias angle, Jim has pried the can open once again under the term “party crasher.” I call it socioeconomic displacement. You find yourself in the company of people who are socially and economically different. The usual cause is skipping a step. That is, in the normal scheme of things with a working class background you might go to college and end up managing a Wal-Mart. Jim’s situation is a little different. Maybe he should have become a doctor or a real lawyer. First generations more often than not go for the dough and with the safety net in place their sons and daughters go for the “life of the mind” (or is that leisure?) Instead, by jumping a step in the socioeconomic progression you find yourself stunned by the values or lack of values you encounter.

Here are some signs of socioeconomic displacement/party crashing.

1. Your Italian/Jewish/Asian mother asks what you do. You say “law professor.” She says, “How many hours a week do you teach?” You say, “Six.” Her eyes roll as she wonders why, since you work only six hours a week, you cannot come to her house every day. She also wonders, “What is up with this ‘law professor” thing? Is he going to go to jail?”

2. You have at least one relative who is doing time and it’s not for white collar shenanigans. Or, at least two relatives are on welfare of one sort or another.

3. When you accepted your job you were ecstatic that the School would pay some amount toward your moving expenses. No one in your family had ever held such a position. Your consciousness was quickly raised when one of your privileged co-hires said “I cannot possibly move for that amount.”

4. The idea that the School will pay for you to go to England for a conference makes you feel slightly dishonest. (That is actually fun, right?)Your colleagues think the School should be happy you are willing to go, are disappointed the School will not pay for first class, feel a side trip to, say, Hong Kong is in order, and are not sure how much time they will be able to commit to the actual conference itself due to networking demands in Dublin.

5. You read Lucky Jim and relate.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post Jeff; I really enjoyed it. If I may plug a book (not my own, I promise) - I just finished reading on a related topic, "The Price of Admission" by Daniel Golden. People may or may not agree with everything Golden says, but I dont think that it's necessary to agree with him on all counts to get something from the book.

10/11/2006 3:42 PM  
Blogger Jim Chen said...

"Maybe [Jim Chen] should have become a doctor or a real lawyer."

At last the legal academy and my parents find a point of common ground!

10/11/2006 4:10 PM  
Anonymous big red said...

That's it. "Skipping a step." The fun of law teaching for me is spotting the "step skippers" and hurling them where they never thought they could go, ideally over the heads of their complacent (privileged) peers. That's it, and I nearly forgot.

10/12/2006 2:06 PM  

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