Why are my students so DOUR?

Dour. If I had to use one word to describe my students, that would be it. Maybe I’ve already blogged about this. I can’t remember. But it bears repeating.

On more than one occasion, I have looked out at a room full of students and yelled, “Why are you so DOUR? You have EVERYTHING!”

I met women selling bags of water on the streets of Accra, Ghana who were happier than these students. Students who watch TV on plasma screens in their dorm rooms, then drive their BMWs to eat sushi for dinner, before getting a couple of hours of studying in between IMing, BBMing, texting, and Facebooking their friends. OK, so that’s an exaggeration. Sort of.

I thought of these dour students recently when I was listening to an old interview with David Foster Wallace on “Fresh Air,” the NPR show. Wallace has recently committed suicide at age 46. I haven’t read his fiction, most notably his novel “Infinite Jest,” but his essay on “Roger Federer as a Religious Experience” in the New York Times magazine a couple of years ago was amazing.

In any event, in the interview with Terry Gross, he talks about the inspiration for his novel “Infinite Jest” being his realization at age 30 that despite having been grotesquely privileged their whole lives he and his friends were also extraordinarily sad. He attributes this in part to the fact that “success” in our culture means: make alot of money, have an attractive spouse, and become (in)famous in some way — i.e., experience as much pleasure as possible, which ultimately is empty.

Viewed through this lens, binge drinking and random hooking up (for example) is a symptom, then, not a cause of a generation of college students who are privileged, sad, hollow, and dour.

Correct me if I’m wrong.

Published by David Yamane

Sociologist at Wake Forest U, student of gun culture, tennis player, racket stringer (MRT), whisk(e)y drinker, bow-tie wearer, father, husband. Not necessarily in that order.

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