Monday, August 04, 2003


Arts & Letters Daily has linked up this article from the News and Observer on the flap over using Nickeled And Dimed as required reading for freshman orientation at Univ. of North Carolina. (I reported the story originally here. Two snips of a very good article.
However, the "Nickel and Dimed" debate is far more than a tired rerun of the ongoing drama "Ivory Tower Liberals and the Right-Wing Fanatics Who Despise Them." The two radically divergent views of the book reflect the increasing compartmentalization of American intellectual life. As our politics become more partisan and our news sources more varied and ideological, it is becoming easier to pass one's life without ever hearing many opinions that challenge one's perspective. Broadly speaking, liberals get their version of reality from CNN, NPR, the Nation magazine and progressive books and Web sites, while the right feeds on a steady diet of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the Weekly Standard, Ann Coulter and conservative blogs.


UNC's selection of "Nickel and Dimed" can be seen as a salvo in the culture wars. Given the current political environment, defined by warring camps who live in their own worlds, it is reasonable to conclude that the school's administrators were both clueless and calculating. A part of them couldn't imagine that anyone would find "Nickel and Dimed" inflammatory; part of them, it seems, wanted to send this message: If you thought last year's book was bad, try this one on for size.

Last year's book, btw, was Michael Sell's Approaching the Qu'ran. As another News and Observer columnist notes, the parallels are there, even though she didn't like Nickeled and Dimed.
So at first when I heard about "Nickel and Dimed" turning into this year's Quran controversy at UNC -Chapel Hill, I had to roll my eyes. Aw, geez. Not again. And not that book.

Then it dawned on me:This book about a woman masquerading as something she's not is really the perfect metaphor for so much of what is happening in UNC's latest skirmish in the culture wars.

Put it this way: Ehrenreich isn't the only one faking a job application and putting on a hairnet for political effect.

The university, for starters, portrays itself as a sort of impartial marketplace of ideas, when everyone knows it is a liberal institution.

Conservative state lawmakers portray themselves as defenders of academic fairness, seeking balance for the young people of North Carolina. But what they'd really like to do is teach that arrogant "anti-Christian" UNC-CH a lesson, most effectively by cutting the university's budget.

After reading over Prof. German's letter earlier today and her reply post-blog, I think there's a lesson here for us all -- we need to get out more, both in the blogosphere and on the campus. We do live in these compartments. Maybe I'll go read Atrios ... ah, never mind.