Friday, April 10, 2009


Yesterday's New York Times contains an interesting review of the off-Broadway play Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage. While I'm not exactly a devotee of experimental theatre, the play sounds like a lot of fun to me. I have a feeling that a few of my colleagues may not relish a play poking fun at Beowulf scholars, but I'm of the general opinion that any mention of the poem in popular culture is good news for medievalists.

One small complaint, though: the review refers to the scholars who appear to be the butt of the play's joke as "stuffy academics." It's a cliche, of course; for many people the term "academics" is just naturally preceded by "stuffy." But you know what? Most of my academic friends, maybe especially the medievalists among them, are decidedly non-stuffy. The American Heritage Dictionary defines stuffy as "not receptive to new or unusual ideas and behavior; conventional and narrow-minded." That definition seems to me to be more applicable to the students I teach than to my colleagues, some of whom are pompous and self-interested, yes, but not stuffy.

So I'd like to call for an end to this kind of libelous characterization. Maybe we need to hire a publicist or something. Let's redefine the cliche and be known for what we are: "dorky academics," or "poorly dressed academics," even "boring academics," but not "stuffy academics."

Take that, New York Times.