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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Admit it! It Sucks! Law Prawfs Version

Fans of Joe Queenan will recall a series of articles he wrote for Spy Magazine in the early 90s called "Admit it!  It Sucks!" in which he skewered various things--jazz, "San Francisco"--that all good serious cultured intellectuals are supposed to say they love but that, if they were honest with themselves, would admit actually suck.  So, for example, in his jazz column, he runs a hypothetical: your friend calls you up with two tickets to see Wynton Marsalis's 11:00 pm show at the Blue Note, and you beg off, citing various excuses about how your mother is coming to visit you that night and how cigarette smoke "isn't really good for your asthma."  But, he says, "after you put down the phone, you know that it's time to be honest with yourself.  You blew off your friend because deep down inside, gnawing away in your bosom, is an ugly, horrible secret that you dare not share with anyone else--even though everybody else in the country shares it.  Jazz sucks."  He continues:

Admit it and you'll feel a whole lot better.  You've never had the slightest interest in an art form dominated by guys named Toots and Dizzy and Philly Joe Something-or-Other.  From the first time you heard Art Tatum playing "Tea for Two," you've always felt that jazz is a dipshit idiom that chomps the big one. 

OK, so I actually love jazz, but you know Queenan has a point here.  And the question that follows for this group of readers is what about the legal academy: What are the things that we as purportedly serious intellectual scholars are all supposed to say we love, love, love, but actually, deep down sort of think kind of actually suck?  Here are some nominations: (1) peer-reviewed journals (I mean, come on, we whine and whine about student edited law reviews, but for the 95% of us out there that don't write groundbreaking scholarship--and here I'm making the controversial assumption that there is a distinction between "good" legal scholarship and "not good" legal scholarship--isn't it better that we can blame the "ignorant" students when the Harvard Law Review once again rejects our article on the original understanding of the Weights and Measures Clause?); (2) interdisciplinary work (really--if I wanted to hear about philosophy all the time, I would have gone to philosophy grad school . . . and taught six classes a year for $46,000); (3) workshops and conferences (oh, great, here's another "comment followed by a two part question" to which the speaker "will take the second question first" (incidentally, do you ever wonder what would happen if the person giving the talk actually took the first question first?)); (4) pursuing "social justice" (OK, never mind, I guess that one's pretty solid).

What do people think?  Any of these fit the bill?  Other ideas?  Anonymous comments are welcomed and danced with, vigorously.

Posted by Jay Wexler on April 9, 2009 at 08:44 AM in Jay Wexler | Permalink


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Nice, so you're saying that on the surface I should be loved, but deep down I suck.

I'll take it!

Posted by: Barrister's Handshake | Apr 10, 2009 3:23:20 PM

As the designer of the Volokh Conspiracy's t-shirts, my answer is "Barrister's Handshake." ;-)

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Apr 10, 2009 4:19:00 AM

Oh yeah, and SSRN. It's like their webdesigner writes code on a Commodore 64 over dial-up using Prodigy.

I should love, love, love the easy dissemination of legal scholarship, but does it have to look like an Atari vomited?

Posted by: Barrister's Handshake | Apr 9, 2009 6:16:13 PM

Here is some timely suckiness...The Volokh Conspiracy's t-shirts. Super bad.


VC is a widely read legal blog, written by law professors, I should love, love, love their gear. But it sucks, big time.

Posted by: Barrister's Handshake | Apr 9, 2009 6:12:54 PM

Ooh, I like the turn this is now taking. FWIW, I think you are too generous in encouraging anonymity, which defeats the structure of this game. Maybe those confessing achieve catharsis (per Queenan), but another objective is to reward the agonized confession-against-interest in such a way as to encourage confessors in going too far (as in David Lodge's humiliation game, where a professor of literature confesses he never read Hamlet). Anonymous admissions are too close to costless.

Since this is a signed comment, I will confess that there is nothing that a serious scholar is supposed to love, love, love that I do not love, save for those things that a clear consensus of serious scholars would privately agree are not genuinely lovable.

Posted by: Edward Swaine | Apr 9, 2009 11:58:21 AM

Zorns comment is classic.

Posted by: vap | Apr 9, 2009 11:52:49 AM

#2, absolutely! The idea that political science, economics, anthropology, philosophy, history, sociology, criminology, psychology, linguistics, etc. might have anything of value to say about the law is completely nuts, and deep down, we all know it. All those people are doing is inflating their paychecks and reducing their teaching loads, all the while taking up spots that could be filled by *real* law faculty.

I'd also add: Empirical work (cf. Pfaff's post yesterday). Seriously, do the number-crunchers ever really tell us anything we don't already know? Once upon a time, it was good enough that Felix Frankfurter said it. Now we're expected to collect data, learn statistics, run regressions (and, by the way, why are regressions "run," anyway? It's not like they actually *go* anywhere; they just sit there in your computer, mocking you), report "marginal effects," and do all manner of other things I never learned in Civ Pro. Empirical work is a dipshit epistemology that chomps the big one.

Posted by: C. Zorn | Apr 9, 2009 11:30:33 AM

Off-topic perhaps? But my vote would be for baseball. I mean, really?

Posted by: anonymous | Apr 9, 2009 10:53:09 AM

Couldn't agree more about conferences. Why do we continue to think that four people with microphones, each talking in monotone for a half-hour each, constitutes a good presentation style? I get more at conferences out of the informal discussions in hallways, over dinner, etc.

And, by the way, those "questions" from the crowd? The term "question" implies that there's some form of interrogatory. Thus, a statement of the "questioner's" opinion doesn't really count. Instead, such an uninvited soliloquy basically connotes: "I'm so arrogant that I'm basically going to appoint myself as an adjunct member of this panel, because omitting me from it clearly was an oversight."

(Query whether the comments section of a blog fulfills the same function? On that note, I think I'll stop typing now).

Posted by: NewLawProf | Apr 9, 2009 10:22:16 AM

Re: 1, peer reviewed journals: They also suck because you're asked to be a peer reviewer, who has the time for that?

Posted by: vap | Apr 9, 2009 9:14:36 AM

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