When transitioning from high school to the unknown, did you ever wish for an honest guide about what to expect and how to maneuver college life? Did a family friend or parent gift you boring, inaccessible tomes with advice such as “join clubs” and “attend class,” leaving you wanting more?
“Five College Dialogues” by Ian Thomas Malone is a resource in the form of fictional Socratic dialogues between staff around campus and a graduate student teacher’s assistant who gives advice to various students.
The odious personality of the advice-giver, however, was so fascinatingly bad that I could barely pay attention to his advice, which was oftentimes rehashed common knowledge or simply too confusing to follow.
The TA goes by the name of Chief. A pompous dickwad that I truly believe Malone intended to write as witty and charming, Chief seems like that guy who stands with hands on hips, budding beer belly thrust out as he smugly doles out pre-thought-out one-liners to eighteen year olds who find him slightly too old to comfortably have a conversation.
And there you have it. One hundred sixty-ish pages of a TA acting as a freelance guidance counselor, with some okay thoughts, but mostly coming across as preachy, stale and raucously misogynistic.
I swear to God, I couldn’t get through a single dialogue without clutching my chest and mouthing oh my heavens in response to some casual remark made by Chief, our shining knight in collegiate knowledge. While the freshman boys aren’t prizes themselves, the few times female peers are brought up, it’s in remarkably negative contexts. In a conversation with a freshman boy, Chief playfully taunts a student, asking if he has to run to an “angry girlfriend” who needs tending to. In addition, the student and Chief share the irritation that occurs when a group goes to a frat party and only the girls are invited in, thus “betraying” their guy friends. In “Five College Dialogues,” girls are presented as being viciously jealous of their friends’ sex lives, while the boys consider girls who sleep around whores. Cue joke about feminism. (No, really.)
The worst was an anecdote played off for laughs in which Chief warns his student on the dangers of drinking too much alcohol at a party. He recalls a party at which there was “a girl who was so drunk I’m not sure she could even say her own name,” who was so out of control of her body that she ended up covered in vomit and feces. But not only does Chief then assure that “she wasn’t in a life-threatening state,” but he further spins the story by stating that she was so embarrassed she transferred schools, and how that is the big shame to avoid.
I did, however, appreciate the format of writing advice in a script. It was a fast, entertaining read, aside from rather long and unconvincing chunks of Chief’s monologues and laments.
On a rare occasion, a morsel of wisdom that actually makes sense is found in “Dialogues.” Some valid points include: it’s okay to participate in hookup culture, but there is a double standard; if prepared to major in a subject that’s difficult to get a job with, consider a double major and friends who do not help you when you are drunk and roll down a hill and break a limb may not really be true friends.
A final word about Malone introducing the work as a Socratic dialogue: the five sections are titled in accordance to Greek terminology, but the allusions are so faint that Malone felt it fit to add a page at the end explaining his reasoning –– for instance, in “Part 1 – Phileo,” Chief administers brotherly advice to a frustrated freshman, and in “Argos” he acts as a guardian to a boy too involved in alcohol and drugs. In a shatteringly keen passage in “Ethos,” the dean questions Chief’s integrity and credibility behind all his unofficial guidance. It almost made me consider that Malone was in on the joke the whole time. Maybe. Maybe not.
Contact Sarah Goldwasser at [email protected].