If I was unclear about this, my point yesterday was not to say "everything in our culture is so trivial, man." I don't know what inherent triviality is, at least when we're talking about art or media or social interaction. My point is that some people treat everything as trivial, and I don't think that's a recipe for feeling good about stuff. Politics, clearly, are not trivial. They have huge real-world flesh and blood consequences. But it's my observation that many people, including and especially people who follow politics as a profession, treat them as trivial or comic all the time. And that combination of things-- obsessing over something that you regard as a joke or waste of time-- it just doesn't strike me as healthy. That makes sense, right? I'm a man of obsessions myself, and like a lot of my friends I'm constantly chasing stray thoughts and interests down rabbit holes. But even when the subjects seem silly or small, I'm thinking about them because I think they're worth thinking about. Why else would I spend any time on them?
There's things that I imagine are easier or harder to take seriously. My guess is that it's harder to feel like your time is well-spent if you're spending it on, like, the latest Justin Bier metacommentary. But that's just a value judgment of mine; it's totally up to you.
Somebody on Facebook posted the link to the Wampole piece and just quoted the bio at the bottom, "Christy Wampole is an assistant professor of French at Princeton University." The quote was meant as being dismissive in and of itself, and several people commenting on the Facebook post took it as such-- "LOL," "eyeroll," etc. This seems really wrongheaded to me. First, it would be hard to do a better job of confirming Wampole's points through disputing them. (A lot of people seem to be falling into that trap.) But second, let's just unpack the idea that being a professor of French is somehow inherently ridiculous. If you think that studying French is not a worthwhile pursuit, you're entitled to that position, but you should argue it and not let the assumption that everyone will see that profession as ridiculous do your work for you. This is especially true because counterarguments are available and potentially compelling. About a quarter of a billion people speak French! Seems important.
But more to the point, Christy Wampole certainly thinks French is worth studying, and she's found an institution that thinks it is worth hiring her to research and teach about it. For the conversation at hand, her own attitude towards her work is what's really important. It seems to me that being the person who is passionate enough about something to dedicate her life to it is better than being the person snarking at the other person for that passion. It's the "dancing at a wedding*" effect. Being a grad student, I am naturally defensive about how often people snark about grad school. But if I'm being more thoughtful about it, I tend to let it go. People who go to grad school because they've genuinely made an informed choice (as opposed to using it as a delaying mechanism or career avoidance) almost always are fulfilled by being there. So who cares about the snark? I'd rather be the grad student who spends his day doing what he enjoys and values than be the person making fun of grad students who hates his or her job. The assumption that everybody will agree in thinking that Wampole's profession is ridiculous speaks to the false idea that what matters in life is what other people agree matters. Personally, from my own particular vantage, I'd rather be Christy Wampole than somebody making fun of her. I think her piece was partly right and partly wrong, but I don't doubt that she holds the values she says she does.
*The Onion here uses irony in a critique of knee-jerk ironizing and a defense of behaving unironically. Irony is not the problem. Its application can be a problem.