Treme is a television series about post-Katrina New Orleans. David Simon, the creator of The Wire, uses his story-telling skills to describe how a colorful group of characters try to piece their lives together after the hurricane. In season one, episode two, “Meet De Boys on the Battlefront,” John Goodman’s character, a Tulane University English professor, criticizes the school for disbanding its engineering departments while keeping its liberal arts majors. Disciplines like philosophy and history make us critical thinkers about human life and society, but at the end of the day we still need hard science and math to build the things that feed us, heat our homes, and improve quality of life on a physical level. Goodman’s character has a point.
Goodman: It’s unbelievable. Two departments. Like that. 160 tenured professors.
Some dude: How can they do that?
G: How can they do that? Well, they can and they have and they did. It is a done deal. Gone: civil engineering, computer engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science. I mean sure, why would the university train people who know how to build things like oh say computer systems, power grids, levees. Hey, who needs them?
D: Seems kinda crazy.
G: Gee, you think? I mean, look what they’re keeping. Musical theater, digital media, medieval studies, women’s studies, Jewish studies, African studies. It’s all about identity. Let’s not learn how to actually do anything. Let’s just sit and contemplate the glory of me in all my complexities. Who am I? I am black, Jewish woman. Hear me roar.
After watching Fight Club again last night, I realized how anti-consumerist Tyler Durden, the narrator’s bad-ass, anarchist alter ego was. And I was totally digging that side of his philosophy. Not the let’s-blow-up-financial-institutions part of his beliefs (they don’t need any help) but his principle that what you are should not be defined by what you buy.
Here’s a clip that sums it up. I’ve transcribed it below in case Youtube takes it down.
Tyler: Do you know what a duvet is?
Narrator: It’s a comforter.
T: It’s a blanket. Just a blanket. Why do guys like you and I know what a duvet is? Is it essential to our survival in the hunter-gatherer sense of the word? No. What are we?
N: [shrugs] Consumers?
T: Right. You’re consumers. We are by-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty. These things don’t concern me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy’s name on my underwear, Rogaine®, Viagra®, Olestra. It’s all going down man. So fuck off with your sofa units and string-green stripe pads…The things you own, end up owning you.