Saturday, April 17, 2021

Are We Having Fun Yet? Academic Silliness

 I saw this tweet and was kind of surprised:

Because I have seen a lot of funny stuff and, I think, said a lot of funny stuff over the years, I was surprised by this post and had too much to say to fit into a tweet.  It is not rare that we academics do things that make us laugh, that our students often say things that make us laugh, that we end up hanging out and silliness ensues.  So, given how depressing things are in the big wave of COVID here, I thought I would listicle the funniest things I have done/heard/seen over the past thirty years of academia-ing.

  1.  The funniest thing that has ever happened to me in this academic business is the hardest to describe.  In my big Intro to IR class at McGill (600 students), I often made references to bags of milk as that is how folks in Ontario and Quebec get their milk, rather than jugs, and that more than anything else was a constant reminder I was in a foreign land.  I forget why kangaroos came up, but a student in the crowd said "kangaroo milk" as after I mentioned the roos.  It was the perfect moment, and so I laughed so hard that I couldn't breathe, and I kept laughing and tears came.  It was so very funny, and it is really hard to describe.  I also really enjoyed wearing costumes on/near Halloween if the studnets gave enough $ to UNICEF.

  2. One of the funniest things (at least to me) that I did in a classroom was during a smallish summer school lecture class back around 1996 or 1997.  This was when cell phones were scarce.  I rented a beeper in 1996 when my wife was pregnant.  Anyway, a student's cell phone went off, and he not only took the call but walked out of the class to carry on the conversation.  I was so put off that I mused aloud to my students that I had no policy on this because up until recently, only drug dealers had cell phones.  And then I told my students that I was not saying that this particular student was a drug dealer.  Or that he wasn't a drug dealer.  When he came back a few minutes later after completing his call, all the students looked at him as if he were a drug dealer.  
  3. A phd student once told me he didn't have to justify the choices in his dissertation proposal to me.  I think this is the hardest I laughed at a student.  
  4.  For my entire year on the Joint Staff, my direct boss, an army colonel, kept saying that by the time I would leave there, I would be straightened up--short hair cut, no beard, pressed clothes, shined shoes.  So, I showed up at his retirement party towards the end of my year with a crew cut, shaved my beard, in a uniform, etc.  And no, there is no pledge pin on my uniform.  And, no, he didn't recognize me at first.

  5. So many from various conferences over the years, but a few stick out.  Several involve finding new places for the floating ISA poker game because we made too much noise.  I think my favorites are when a publisher was next door--she was most gracious later on--and a recent time where we hadn't even made noise yet.  
  6. Speaking of ISA, I tried several times to organize an ultimate game (beach ultimate in Honolulu would have been great last year), and the one time it really worked out was in San Diego.  That was a heap of academic fun:  

  7. Does my bachelor party count?  It was by and for political scientists.  I don't remember much of it, but it was a lot of fun. Its funniest moment happened while I was passed out.  Or so I am told.
  8. Which gets to grad school--I had a lot of fun as I learned how to be an academic (well, they didn't train us in how to profess, just how to think and research).  The funniest non-bachelor party moment?  Perhaps the time the new student introduced his wife to me and my girlfriend (now Mrs. Spew) and asked us if we wanted to swap.  Holy first impression, Batman.  Or it could have been the Halloween parties as the folks dressed up great.  I went as a reporter one year and a pepper another year. 
  9. I have had so much fun interviewing experts, policy-makers, politicians, and military officers.  I remember so many times driving back to Montreal from Ottawa repeating the mantra "I love my job" as I learned so much interesting stuff from the people I interviewed.  The funniest moment, in retrospect, was me falling asleep on the couch of the Turkish general.
  10.  In  2007, the Canadian Armed Foces and NATO brought a bunch of academics to Kabul and Kandahar in an effort to sell the Afghanistan mission to the Canadian public.  That, by itself, is a funny idea.  But perhaps the funniest part was the gun show.  We visited the HQ of the NATO forces based in Kabul--French, Germans, Italians (got love that Italian beret).  As part of the orientation/presentation, they took us outside and showed us their weaponry.  It was funny not only because I look silly in a sniper gilly suit, but because this was a wonderfully amusing act of overcompensation.  At the time, those three countries were among the lamest in Afghanistan, limited by restrictions imposed by their home countries. The Italians and Germans could not engage in offensive operations or leave their relatively safe sectors, and the French were pretending that they didn't do violent counter-insurgency because Chirac was still pissed at Bush.  So, a gunshow was so silly--it didn't persuade any of us how warrior-ish these three contingents were.  But I got photos that make me laugh to this day and were handy when presenting my NATO/Canada in Afghanistan stuff.  

I have had many funny students and colleagues over the years.  I have laughed a lot.  If academics are seen as boring and stuffy, well, some of that is true.  But if we are seen as lacking humor, that is entirely wrong.  I love to laugh and to make others laugh.  And over the past thirty plus years (yikes!), I have laughed a lot.  I mean, how can you not at a student piping up in a massive, dark lecture hall, saying "Kangaroo milk!"

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