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Calling Professor Corey

What was once satirical nonsense is now standard academic fare

Calling Professor Corey

Irwin Corey (ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

Not the least of the pleasures you missed if you are a millennial or a Gen Xer is “Professor” Irwin Corey, “World’s Foremost Authority.” And that is how he was introduced—on Mike Douglas’ daytime show in the 1960s, on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show in the ’80s, and until old age. He died at 102 and required less and less of a studied stoop and unkempt hair for his shtick as the rambling academic on the interview circuit.

Here is a sample. “Professor, tell us, why does water run downhill?” The sartorially challenged college escapee in rumpled black tux with tails, a string tie, and ratty sneakers, begins in absentminded earnestness punctuated with apropos gesticulations:

“Well if you will look at the globe itself, you will find that the cylindrical field—or the more or less spherical outlook—leads us to believe that it is impossible unless there is confusion. Therefore the difficulty arises in the fact that chaos reigns supreme. I feel not only honored. But I feel the confrontation upon which we have set our sights can no longer endure the propensity of the developing prognosis. Not only has my information deterred those who have contributed financially to the establishment and realize that we can have another diphthong. The objective basis, on consumption, rather than the acceptance of a vital curiosity, which makes it impossible to sustain the allegations made in favor of those who seek to supplement themselves.”

The more serious and plausible satire sounds, the more delicious the cheat when the listener finally catches on that you are mad.

Let’s play a game. I will cite another sample, and you guess which era talk show it comes from. The question is on sexuality and the answer goes like this:

“Where and how do compulsory heterosexuality and phallogocentrism converge (Luce Irigaray’s question)? Where are the points of breakage between them? How does language itself produce the fictive construction of ‘sex’ that supports these various regimes of power? What kinds of cultural practices produce subversive discontinuity and dissonance among sex, gender, and desire, and call into question their alleged relations? …  For Beauvoir, the ‘subject’ within the existential analytic of misogyny is already masculine, conflated with the universal, differentiating itself from a feminine ‘Other’ outside the universalizing norms of personhood, hopelessly ‘particular,’ embodied, condemned to immanence. Beauvoir and Irigaray clearly differ over the fundamental structures by which gender asymmetry is reproduced; Beauvoir turns to the failed reciprocity of an asymmetrical dialect, while Irigaray suggests that the dialect itself is the monolithic elaboration of the masculinist signifying economy.”

Give up? Haha, it was a trick question. It wasn’t Professor Irwin Corey at all! It may indeed be your own child’s professor if you sent him off to college and it’s not a Christian college. The author is Judith Butler, the book is Gender Trouble, and the course could be political philosophy, ethics, English, social studies, or even math or science. Everything’s infected.

Having nothing better to do one day, I analyzed Professor Corey’s interviews to try to understand what makes them funny. Here is my conclusion:

You will notice that the sentences have a semblance of sense. By that I mean they are not made up words, for the most part, as in this nonsense verse from Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”:  

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

It is important in creating satire not to romp too far outside the boundaries of verbal rules and structures. The more serious and plausible you sound, the more delicious the cheat when the listener finally catches on that you are mad.

But unless your own child is studying satire at the university to the tune of $30,000 a year, you may want to think twice about subjecting him or her (if we’re allowed to use these pronouns anymore) to this diet of “dysrhythmic isomorphic and hegemonic trichotomy of shifting fields in alternative temporalities.”

Give me slithy toves instead.


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  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sat, 11/24/2018 05:38 pm

    I once belched a college admission application essay onto a piece of paper.  Apparently its fumes combusted en route, for I never heard back from the recipients.  Thank goodness.

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Wed, 11/28/2018 06:43 am

    I am from that generation but don't remember that "Professor." Not having a TV until teenage years, and then having limited access probably is responsible. Plus there were just 3 channels. Later when married we didn't have a TV until the first Iraq war when we found a small B&W TV that we pulled out to watch news and documentaries. Most of the time it was kept in a closed cabinet. Admittedly this is not always the best, or foolproof, anecdote to cultural syncretism but it helps.

    College was a great experience for me as well as for many in the 60s and 70s. Though I know this is not a universal truth. And today this can also be said. If one looks there are still good colleges out there. However, more and more we are seeing that there are other compelling reasons to look for alternative education away from knee jerk college matriculation after high school. Of course professors like you mention would be one good reason for caution. But $40k or $50k or more per year for what?

    Nevertheless, thanks for this piece. I am thankful for World's insights into today's culture wars. 

  • Judy Farrington
    Posted: Fri, 11/30/2018 08:37 am

    This is MOST EXCELLENT! I am always refreshed and "regrounded" when I read Andree's writing; and in this case, deeply saddened by the seriousness of this piece. Often we must laugh before we cry.

  • Hans's picture
    Posted: Tue, 12/04/2018 05:15 am

    As someone who has studied the humanities at a couple elite secular universities, I can acknowledge that jargon-laden writing is out there (which is why it was satirized in the first place back in the 1960s), but it's hardly the norm. Bad writing obfuscates, but it is bad reasoning that universalizes a single particular example as an argument against the whole.

  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Sat, 01/05/2019 03:35 am

    There is real knowledge in academia, but it seems to serve mainly as a front for the real agenda which is absurdity.  Congress plays much the same way.  The institutions of man have accomplished great things, like building towers to the sky, but ultimately devolve into babbling.  Vanity of vanities!