Gallows Humor and Academic Life

Curator's Note

My contribution for the Cinema Journal "In Focus" section was interested in articulating the lived, felt dimensions of academic life in the current moment. With tenure lines on the wane and research money ever scarcer, new faculty face professional lives that look far different than they have in eras past.  I wanted to talk about what that feels like, how I navigate it, how it influences my scholarship and informs my teaching interests. I am a devoted Facebooker; I use the network to share stories and observations with other academics. Bubbling up throughout these posts are drollness and resignation—humor that helps soften the sharpness of the many professional precarities that new faculty like me experience. These observations—often witty, sometimes sad—chronicle what it’s like to deal with students, colleagues, administrations, and research expectations. These posts form an emotional reservoir—living, breathing proof that others share my experiences and frustrations. I find strength in this mutuality and kinship even if it often operates at the level of acquiescence: accepting and “making do” rather than challenging or contesting. 

This clip spread like wildfire on my Facebook wall several months ago. The video doesn’t overturn staid dynamics of power or challenge the status quo in an increasingly corporatized academy. What it does provide is a chuckle as I move between the various roles I play as an academic. I know that I’m lucky to have an academic job. Even so, this doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to remember that…



Your post really resonates with me, Hollis, as a fan of humor like this (including stuff like PhD Comics and Academic Coach Taylor). Your comments also make me think of the role social media has played in the mental side of my academic life in recent years. It’s quite cathartic to see others dealing with problems many of us confront every day and sharing tips for getting through them, and much of it is couched in good-natured terms, rather than draconian laments. As you say, there are probably downsides to this, like encouraging resignation to one’s fate or wasting already limited time by addictively reading a Twitter hashtag like #overlyhonestsyllabi. But even so, I’ve found these resources to be invaluable for the mental grind of our lives.

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