Ask the Bolshevik

Meet the UI Press is a recurring feature that delves into issues affecting academic publishing, writing, education, and related topics. Today, industry advice columnist The Bolshevik answers your questions.

bolshevikDear Bolshevik,
During a recent symposium I attended, one of the participants suggested that one might gain a more enthusiastic readership by dropping bon mots of humor into scholarly articles and books. The audience hooted him into silence but I have to admit the idea made sense to me. Any advice on how I can make laffs work as I face the publish-versus-perish dialectic? —Signed, Stand Up Adjunct

Stand Up: A story, if I may. Back in the youthful days of the revolution, one comrade made a very similar suggestion. As he said, the working class had no patience, or time, for theory-choked critiques and thundering manifestos. Better to enlist the tools of the capitalist—pies in the face, hanging from water towers, walking into rakes—to capture the hearts and minds of toilers everywhere. The Party formed a committee to study the issue, and a committee to advise the committee, and then seven sub-committees, one of which consisted entirely of dancing bears. Following years of debate and occasional shootings, the Party concluded that humor indeed had its place in revolutionary agitprop. But since revolutionaries are in general about as funny as a turnip smoothie with a toenail in it, the idea never caught on.

The modern university, thankfully, offers more fertile ground for humor, as clever people from many fields—only some of them Marxists—make up its ranks. To save you the committee-centric rigmarole illustrated above, I have dug out my copy of the Party’s 1923 pamphlet Comrade Splatzky Commits a Boner.  It advises revolutionaries to salt their literature with certain words guaranteed to provide laughter, the better to lower the defenses of the reader and render them ripe for indoctrination. Imagine how much better your scholarly monograph will sound when it includes words like: underwear, booger, eggplant, rough-rider, loo, the piles, diphthong, gob, monkeyshines, rube, and flautist. Good luck.

Dear Bolshevik,
Recently I read a story about a new software package that monitors students’ faces as they take tests, in order to find out if they’re cheating. Rutgers installed the thing even though (1) it had only been patented a few weeks earlier; (2) they had made no effort to protect the privacy of the students. Do you think the Soviet Union would still be around if they had this kind of equipment? Signed, Spies Like Them

Dear Spies: It is stories like this that make me more certain the Soviet Experiment began 100 years too early. As you suppose, international communism would have fared far better against the capitalist West with this kind of social control machinery at its disposal. Though I question whether the software would’ve run on our kerosene-powered computers.