Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Mindsploitation -- Now That's the Way to Do It

Laura Runge, an English professor at the University of Southern Flordia, tweeted a link to info on Mindsploitation, a book by television comedy writer Vernon Chatman, a comedy writer. I bought a copy ( because it touches on an issue I frequently do faculty workshops around -- plagiarism and cheating. But I really bought it because it looks to be a fun read.

Here's what the book, along with its full title, is about:
Mindsploitation: Asinine Assignments for the Online Homework Cheating Industry
There are hundreds of online companies that will do your homework for you – at a price. But will they write ANY essay you request? Only the WORST of these horrible companies were employed in the composition of Mindsploitation. A GREAT DEAL of money was wasted ACROSS THE GLOBE to commission what may be the dumbest collection of ridiculous assignments in HUMAN HISTORY.

What does it say about our society that we can buy a quick custom eulogy for our grandmother, or pay to have a love poem for a mistress prepared by a stranger at the click of a button? How entitled is a culture that keeps these services afloat? Mindsploitation uses such questions as a launching pad for wildly entertaining comedic exchanges. The 50 assignments in this book hilariously explore self-help, spirituality, family, health, diet, pop culture, love, and more.

I haven't read the book yet, but just based on the description above, I'd be tempted to assign it in a writing course if I were currently teaching. It reminds of Don Novello's The Lazlo Letters (The Lazlo Letters by Don Novello | 9781563052859 | Paperback | Barnes & Noble ); in that, Novello, playing a character named Lazlo Toth, who sent off-beat letters to politicians and other leaders which resulted in funny exchanges, a kind of literary version of what Ali G went on to do less inventively. Mindsploitation seems a work in that vein, one that exposes some absurdities and creates a few of its own along the way.

I wish textbook publishing had room for books or digital learning projects that could do more with humor, could teach with a lighter touch. An outlying instructor here or there pulls that off, but by and large, most professors eschew humor from their pedagogy, and so making a book which relies on it simply isn't practical. Too much self-seriousness in teaching.

That said, I wonder how it would work to use a professional writing cheat to do some of the writing the job requires. If you were try that, engage a writer to something you're asked to do, what's the most asinine assignment, based on the kind of writing you do for work, that you could imagine?

To help imagine the kind of thing Chatman did, here's a sample request he made for a commissioned school assignment:
My midterm thesis essay paper is an exploration of Alternate Endings To Great Works of Literature. All I need from you is to come up with some Alternate endings to some Great works of literature … Provide a new ending to Catcher In The Rye where Holden Caulfield turns into a crawfish and goes into some kind of retail business.

Here's a Dilbertesque work assignment of the kind I mean:

My editorial team has been asked to provide use cases on nontraditional teachers for programmers at an educational software vendor coding a product for us. Can you write use cases for the following potential teachers?: the odd lady at the bus station with the sign on her neck about end times who follows families around trying to get the children to get the parents to get outta Sodom, Sodom being, in her mind, the bus station;  the loud guy in the business suit and bluetooth cell headset at the airport bar whose dropping names and instructing someone somewhere to buy, buy, buy, or sell, sell, sell, the guy whose voice gets louder, back gets straighter, and stomach gets sucked-trimmer every time any woman even looks at the stool next to him, which stool remarkably stays as empty as a handicapped driver parking space in a crowded parking lot during a torrential rain.

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