Meet the UI Press: Ask the Bolshevik

bolshevikMeet 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.

Dear Bolshevik,
I read the other day that Amazon intends to install a presence on the University of Illinois campus, specifically within the venerable Illini Union Bookstore, where generations have overpaid for books with no resale value. Even though the company says it’s only a pickup location—how odd, don’t you people have bars and Tinder?—it seems ominous. A paradigm is shifting before our eyes, right? Signed, Fear the Smile

Dear Fear: The Bolshevik is not surprised by the news, as in the era of the corporate university each department must become creative with moneymaking ventures. It’s nothing to worry about, however. The counter at the IUB merely represents another small step toward an inevitable dystopian future with Amazon the crowned emperor of Earth. (Not possible? Corporations are people, too, comrade.) Every university will be an extension of the University of Amazon, i.e. U. of. Zon—Illinois, U. of Zon.—Rutgers, and so on. Our children will receive the surname Amazon and capitalism itself will be rebranded as Amazonism. Ironically, this will happen just as humans log the last stand of trees in the actual Amazon in order to pour the foundations for a new Rainforest Cafe location.

Dear Bolshevik,
Last week TV producer extraordinaire Garry Marshall died. He gave us laughter, he gave us catch phrases, he gave us an entire mini-pop culture that dominated a decade of American life. Whereas you help publish books that pointedly do NOT feature leather-jacketed Jewish hoods explaining the intersection of labor and feminism in a Milwaukee brewery. Do you ever feel frustrated because your stuff fails to reach a mass audience? Have you considered hiring Ted McGinley? Signed, Boulder Mindy

Dear Boulder: The passing away of a pop culture colossus can only force us all to (1) contemplate our own mortality and (2) wish we had spent our time more constructively on Tuesday nights in the Seventies. We here in the hallowed halls and ivory-lined bathrooms of academia concede that even a much-degreed superstar like Thomas Piketty hardly matches the cultural influence of barely sentient fictional constructs named Squiggy. Indeed, when I first heard the news about Comrade Marshall, I lit a pipe to contemplate what his achievements say about intellectual life in fin de siècle America. Then I remembered that terms like fin de siècle—to say nothing of italics—turn people off.

Really, what can you say about this dilemma that my disappointed parents have not already told me? Mr. Marshall and our little collection of exquisitely educated collectivist church mice occupy two difference niches in popular culture. Or, if you prefer, we occupy a niche, while Mr. Marshall’s works and the careers of those he launched make up an ecosystem. We deal in serious ideas, in visions, in contemplations of a better world. He dealt in laffs, humanity’s most powerful weapon for dealing with the harsh reality (redundant?) that maintains when people repeatedly reject a better world.

Yet that seeming contradiction clues us in to the existence of common ground. Yes, as bizarre as it may seem, university press publishing shares a link to Mork and Mindy. (Only that great first season, though.) We, like comedy, are trying to find a way forward by pointing out some problems. We, like comedy, shine a light on marginalized figures like fussbudget photographers while also bringing to light incredible achievements as overlooked as, to mention the classic, jumping a shark on water skis.