It’s all Villains, Thieves, and Scoundrels Union here on planet earth, and University Diaries, in a year-end, retrospective mood, recalls with you not merely the prolific literary frauds of our day (chronicled on this blog, to the extent that I can keep up with them), but cultural frauds more generally. Obviously, we’re most interested here in frauds perpetrated in university settings – the hilarious venerable ‘student/athlete’ thing; plagiarism; made-up research; corporate-whore research; stashing federal funds away for personal use; or simply, Jimbo Ramsey-style, stealing your university’s endowment…
Or go way back to the much spiffier Andrei Shleifer, eminent Harvard economics professor, turning his federal-government-funded advisory position into a get-rich-quick scheme… Persistently, this blog, and planet earth, have been located in The World According to Trump University, and with the election of that university’s CEO, people have made it pretty clear that this is where they want to be. It’s not – as the Vanity Fair quotation in my headline has it – that we want to watch the rise and fall – few fraudsters fall… I mean, you’ve got to be Bernie Madoff to really FALL. His comrade in crime, Ezra Merkin, will remain out of jail – although, to be sure, in courtrooms – for the rest of his life. James Ramsey, larcenous president of the University of Louisville, will die with his McMansion lifestyle intact and the case against him grinding slowly on. The literary fraudsters described in the VF article are getting immortalized in fancy schmancy movies. Shleifer continues to ride high.
But it is true that watching ourselves being frauds and perpetrating frauds has become a keener and keener spectator sport – it’s part of the Italianization of culture about which Adam Gopnik writes. Our self-alienation, wrote Walter Benjamin long ago, has “reached such a degree that [we] can experience [our] own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.”
Yet the blogeuse you hold in your hands hopes you can, like her models (Orwell, Camus, Arendt, Murdoch, Hitchens), resist la dolce vita spectatorship in favor of sour indignation.