Lust, Satire and Academic Insularity

As a counterpoint to the THE‘s piece on The seven deadly sins of the academy, about which I wrote here, Mary Beard has exasperatedly pointed out that the entry about lust was – as the author himself has also had to explain – satirical:

Sex with students? Is Terence Kealey as misunderstood as Juvenal?

Poster from Beard's article in TimesOnline

… I hadn’t realised that there was a storm about Terence Kealey‘s piece on Lust … So I took a look at it. … It was instantly clear to me that this was SATIRE. … Taking several more, careful looks at the Kealey piece, I was left in no doubt that he was aiming his darts at the ways crude sexual exploitation of female students gets justified, by satircally mimicking the locker room style in which it is discussed. Come on everyone, NO VICE-CHANCELLOR (not even of Buckingham) calls women students a “perk” unless satirically (and aiming a dart at precisely those assumptions). Honest.

It was however a dreadful experience looking not only at the press reports of all this but also the comments of the THE website (some of which were presumably written by academics, who showed no ability to read or understand satire AT ALL . . . maybe they were all computer scientist, but I rather doubt it). To be fair, a few did make the plea for humour and satire. But not many. …

The trouble with satire, as poor Kealey has found, is that the literal minded are always liable not to get it. And the satirist is inadvertently taken to support the very views s/he is attacking.

Perhaps, for the literal-minded, we should replace “lust” in the list with “academic insularity”, and then confine the literal-minded to their insulæ.

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