A couple of weeks ago in my English discussion section, I drew a connection between the novel we were reading and David Foster Wallace. I raised my voice a little more than usual while maintaining a steady, low-toned level of sophisticated elocution to make sure everyone else was aware of the brilliance exuding from my cranial treasure chest. I mic-dropped that shit, left silence in my wake, threw up the deuces and kicked the door open on my way out. If I were to be honest, they didn’t know what the frick hit them.
But then, after my deuces came down and I found myself alone in the hallway outside of the classroom, I felt empty inside. I realized that the people in my class were disgusted with me and would most likely gag a bit the next time they saw my face. I wanted to apologize, take it back and instead replace it with a half-hearted BS statement about how the glass bowl in chapter 7 is a symbol for the waning nature of love. Or at least make the reference a bit more “low-brow,” like declaring the diction to be peculiarly T-Pain-esque. You know, something that doesn’t mean anything, but sounds smart — but not too smart — and allows everyone to continue to be on the same page of not giving a hoot while still racking up those participation points.
But I had fallen into the trap: the classic Berkeley intellectual sinkhole of being completely and utterly annoying during discussion section. You see, discussion etiquette is a slippery slope. It’s scary and hard to navigate, like The Weeknd’s hair for a family of lice.
I’m gonna drop some real truth: No one, and I mean no one, cares how “smart” someone in their class may be. Sometimes, peeps forget about this and want to make it absolutely freaking crystalline that they are intellectual phoenixes and that they bring the light in UC Berkeley’s motto “Let there be light.” This is a major misstep for many in discussion sections and one I made with the David Foster Wallace mic-drop situation.
Last semester in my film noir class, there was a dude who loved to throw his unfathomable intellect all over the place. I kid you not, one time he brought up a 17-word-long-titled Swedish philosophy treatise from the 1800s in connection to a Hitchcock movie. He even used the word “picture” in place of “movie.” My God, I nearly bowed down in reverence. And then I realized I didn’t give a flying lima bean about his Swedish treatise prowess. The class started to chuckle about halfway through his recitation of the title, prodding him to say: “What? This is Berkeley, I can talk like this here, OK?” Bruh, I can use the same reasoning to validate my decision to take mad joints of LSD and perform an interpretive dance around campus naked. But let’s ask ourselves, does that mean I should?
Another problem is that the right people don’t speak at the right times. If you got some real truth to drop on all our faces, drop that shiz! For example, in my English discussion section last year, my GSI was discussing how the main character was “friend-zoned” by this chica and how “nice guys finish last” throughout the novel. While he was talking about this, a dude next to me made a dramatic “mmmhhhhhmmmmmm” noise while emphatically nodding his head up and down. I wanted to stop the entire class, stand up, and say: “Yo, I want to hear what this brobie has to say — he obviously has some mad knowledge on this subject! Speak, brotha, tell us about your friend-zone experiences!” But, instead, some guy stole away the spotlight and spewed some superficial idea about how it captured the post-modernist, Millennial spirit, etc. What the hell does that mean? Opportunity wasted.
But, this does not mean everyone should delve into their personal experiences, for this can quickly become what we might label as “the absolute worst.” This is when people take the opportunity to make a humble brag about a shining snippet of their resume. Don’t do the thing where you start your comment with, “Well, I interned on a film set this past summer, so … ” And then go on in an attempt to signal to people that you “get it” more than they do because of your “prestigious” “film” “internship” where you “made” a hundred “baguette sandwiches” for the “crew” everyday. This is a thinly-veiled way to make all the other slackers in the class aware that you spent your summer on the front lines of culture while they were on the couch at their parent’s house eating Cheez Whiz straight from the can while watching “Family Feud.”
Whenever students walk into their discussion section, there should be an unspoken agreement that we’re all going to just play it cool. Let’s feign partial interest, say something that’s insightful, but not too over-the-top and throw up our deuces together on our way out, strutting into the sunset towards our diplomas that read: “Bachelor of Arts in Being Just the Right Amount of Pretentious While Still Maintaining Good Relations Among Classmates.”
Taran Moriates writes the Monday column on the dos and don’ts of college. Contact him at [email protected].