brni (brni) wrote,

The Authoritative Voice

I don't know if it is the same now, but when I was at Temple University as a grad student in 89/90/91, Temple had moved from having required courses in wide variety of subjects to a "core curriculum" structure, where a number of professors would "co-teach" some multi-disciplinary courses that would fulfill all these requirements - English, History, etc etc etc.

This presented a problem for the various departments - they had all these graduate students on teaching assistant scholarships, and suddenly there was no demand for the various Intro to [Philosophy | History | Economics | Sociology | &Etc.]. For our tuition and a meager stipend ($500/month), we were to teach one or two classes a semester. But suddenly there were no courses available.

Temple University had a solution to this economic problem. Clearly, they reasoned, if you were capable of getting accepted into graduate school in Philosophy [or &Etc], you were certainly capable of teaching English.

Not only was this often false, it was hideously unfair to the graduate students (who perhaps came to study Feminist Ethics and suddenly had to spend valuable cpu cycles figuring out how to explain the proper use of commas to a disinterested classroom). It was also often unfair to the undergrads, who were paying good money to watch someone only a few years older than they were flounder in unfamiliar waters. And of course, it was appallingly insulting to those who had spent years studying the language to be told that we were just as capable in this regard as they were.

Regardless, this is how things were (and perhaps how things are). Some of us were more successful than others. One woman who had a particularly difficult time was student in the Philosophy department. I do not remember her name. What I do remember is that she was the antithesis of the stereotypical philosophy student. She looked like a swimsuit model, tall and thin and beautiful, with long blond hair and a barbiedoll figure. And extraordinarily smart; she could think circles around most of us. The place she ran into trouble was her voice. The pre-adolescent little-girl-talking-to-her-doggie voice did no justice to her intellect or her appearance.

The other thing that happened in my first semester at Temple was that a group of students formed something called "The White Student Union." They formed this as an official school club, arguing that since there was a black student union and an asian-american student union and a hispanic student union and so on, any move by the school to block the group was discrimination against an ethnic group. Temple permitted it. They very quickly turned into a group of thugs.

The first place that the WSU (which appeared to be exclusively white males - the girlfriends were hangers-on but discouraged from being important, I guess) flexed their muscles was in this woman's classroom. One of her students was the girlfriend of the president of the WSU. This student declared that it was her right not to read anything written by non-whites, and to refuse any assignment that was related to any minority issue whatsoever. Her instructor told her that perhaps that may be so, but she should expect to fail the class if she refused to do the work. And this is probably where it would have ended, if she didn't sound like a chipmunk when she said it.

These people followed her around campus, hang around outside her classroom as she taught, vandalized her car. The university eventually had to assign a campus guard to escort her everywhere. But that didn't protect her off campus. She'd seen them hanging around near her apartment.

One of the things that Laurie Anderson did back in the early 80s was to play a lot with Voice. She would record her voice on tape, string the tape to a violin bow and play it on a tape head implanted in her violin at different speeds, which is to say, different pitches. She made extensive use of the vocoder in order to alter the pitch and quality of her speech in order to create "male" and "female" versions of herself, in an examination of how the same words might be interpreted or internalized differently depending on the pitch.

When I first moved in with Linda, Jesse was in middle school, and was having terrible problems. He had been identified as a "problem" in the school system back in kindergarten, and was being treated as a "special needs" case ever since. Anyone who talks to my kid can tell that he's quite intelligent, but the school flat out refused to listen to Linda when she requested and then demanded that he be put into regular classes. So I went with Linda to the first meeting of the year, and Linda once again requested this change. They once again refused. And I said, "Jesse is an intelligent kid. There's no reason for him to be in this program. We want you to put him in regular classes." Same thing Linda had just said.

I am 14 years younger than Linda. I had absolutely no experience raising a kid at that point. I had close to no credibility, especially not compared to Linda. But I do have a deeper voice.

"Oh," said the Principal. "Yes, of course. We can do that." And then, after a pause: "Are you going to sue us?"
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