Can we just get one thing straight: MFA students are NOT pampered pigs, particularly not in today’s academic/economic environment. The majority are in very precarious financial situations—fellowships have been cut or reduced, travel funding is not existent, they don’t teach, or if they do teach, they are underpaid or not paid at all (with a tuition waiver, for example—try taking that to Food Lion), they don’t have insurance, they have no security from semester to semester or year to year. Granted, some MFA programs have one or two fellowships to award; one or two out of twenty or so students have a little more stability. A handful of MFA programs have plenty of money and can provide better for all their students and if you want to know which ones they are look at the ads in the Writers’ Chronicle—but if you go, double check with the department secretary first, people, because past results do not predict future outcomes. Deans can cut lines and stipends from year to year, or ‘redistribute’ formerly secure fellowships to other departments or even other degree programs within the same departments.
So this idea that MFA students are in some way ‘pampered’ or ‘insulated’ from economic reality is just false on its face and, I believe, pernicious because it masks another assumption that people have adopted but are less willing to voice: that there’s something wrong about wanting to be a writer and wanting to take 2 or 3 years of your life and focus on your writing.
THAT’s what’s really unacceptable, and I believe that’s what MFA students are continuously flogged for, even by other writers, even by fucking FACULTY MEMBERS of MFA programs! Other writers flog the MFA’ers to keep that charge from coming back to them. It’s the capitalist culture at large that wants us to think Art is unjustified, or must be justified, and that to spend a few years on Art is somehow evidence of sloth, indolence, or unacceptable self-indulgence.
Don’t do those assholes’ work for them by shitting on MFA students whose commitment to writing and Art is simply the most visible and measurable.
Do you know who ARE the pampered pigs? Kraft food executives. Insurance
agents execs. I can’t understand why someone deserves a fucking medal (literally) for holding down a white collar job while writing poetry (Dana Gioia). How many figures was DG’s salary all that time, vs the average MFA student at a state or private school who can barely eke it out for 2 years? And anyway, why is it honorable to be a Kraft food General Foods executive? Medical problems of this country such as the obesity epidemic can be in fact directly linked to Saturated Fat, AKA Velveeta cheese nation. (Cease and desist me, Dana Gioia!). [Note: I was wrong about Gioia-- he was the man behind Jello jigglers, not Kraft Velveeta. He is apparently not singlehandedly responsible for the obesity epidemic. Apparently neither is corporate cheese food, so I'm told in the comments. But he is still my chief example of a writer celebrated for writing despite the "adversity" of being extremely gainfully employed.]
Finally, by point of comparison: I was reading the New York Times Sunday Magazine about the private jet industry. In 2008, when the economy was beginning its ‘nosedive’, Gulfstream Aerospace introduced a new model of private jet which costs $65 MILLION DOLLARS and they have so many orders for these planes they have a seven year backlog. The intrepid reporter was a little aghast at this list price but realized it was his ‘assumptions’ about wealthy people that was causing his resistence so in the interest of being fair and balanced he went and toured some of what he refers to as this ‘rarefied and complicated’ product (good fucking grief. this is while organ transplants are being cut by the Arizona state government as being not cost-effective). Finally he concludes
“I was assured by my hosts that Gulfstream customers aren’t looking to loll about in a posh environment for kicks — the payoff comes in the form of productivity, efficiency and so on. […] most of us consider the G650 and its ilk in symbolic terms: a thing that greed-head executives fly to Congressional bailout hearings or that supposedly populist politicians flashily eschew. […] And Gulfstream itself doesn’t exactly reject the private jet’s symbolic weight: “Ownership is not for everyone,” brags a promotional piece for the G650. But I get [the Gulfstream's] point: buyers of private jets do not warehouse or display the things; they use them. Makers of and shoppers for all sorts of objects almost always insist that they care about form and function, not symbolism. It may be that for Gulfstream and its customers, this is actually true.”
So that’s ok then. Because these are executives, productive members of society, interested in “productivity, efficiency”, ‘actually using the things’, “care about form and function”, then the emperor in fact has clothes, $65 million dollar clothes, and this patently unjustifiable luxury is not just justified but part of the ideological base of capitalism itself—that its about markets, utility, functionality, exchange value, and not exorbitance, rapacity, debt, and inequality.
That insistence on ‘productivity’, ‘efficiency’, ‘use’, and ‘care for form and function’ is exactly the kind of capitalistic/industrialist language which erects a mask of ‘positive’ ‘values’ around a rapacious system and against which the so called indolence and narcisism of the Artist—as emblematized/scapegoated by the MFA student—revolts against. In which case I say, let’s not let these assholes set us against each other and shift the attention off their own always justifiable ‘values’. All writers, all Artists, those in academia and those outside, should all stand shoulder to shoulder in pursuing the useless expenditure of Art, whether that uselessness takes the form of MFA studies, or community workshops, or slams, or presses, or Youtube reading tours, or anarchic in-house performances, or library reading series, or self-published blogs,or just writing a poem in your notebook, crumpling it up and trashing it, if $65million dollar jets is what ‘productivity’ and ‘efficiency’ and ‘usefulness’ and ‘care for form and function’ look like.