Rutgers University drew attention this week for paying “Jersey Shore” star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi $32,000 to speak at the university last Thursday. You don’t need to be Suze Orman to realize this was a bad deal, but it gets worse. The school is paying Nobel-laureate writer Toni Morrison $30,000 to speak at its spring commencement in May.
I could tell you that this is a crying shame, but that’s the obvious argument. So, I’m going to explain to you why this is students’ fault.
One of the most basic principles in any economics class is that of supply and demand. Supply really isn’t in play here, but the point is that when demand is high, you can set prices high.
Demand for Snooki is high because the youth of our nation are obsessed with her television show. Demand for Morrison is low, although she’s won a Nobel Prize for literature.
If talent were a precious metal, Snooki would be worth about 78 cents at your local Gold 2 Cash location. She is, debatably, talented at tanning and laundry. If Snooki is gold, Morrison is rhodium; it’s worth a lot more, but you wouldn’t know because you’ve never heard of it.
When I reference the youth that makes Snooki so popular, I mean you. Now, I’ve only seen one full episode of “Jersey Shore,” but I can’t hole myself up in an ivory tower. I watch a lot of TV that is chemically proven to kill brain cells. As I can attest after watching “The Room” for the first time this weekend, watching overtly stupid things can be massively entertaining. But if we’re going to demonstrate outrage over something like Rutgers’ absurd display of celebrity proclivity, we have to do it actively.
I understand that many intelligent people don’t get the opportunity to attend college, but arguably you are among the top quarter of the population in terms of qualifications to read “high-level” literature. Let me tell you: It’s much more strenuous to read Morrison’s work than to read “Harry Potter.”
Authors, playwrights and artists routinely feel the heel of a society that finds their work too inconvenient to appreciate. Yes, an hour-long episode is easier to digest than a 600-page novel. But even if I never read Morrison again, I will still hang on to how amazing her prose was.
It’s easy to say that paying Morrison less than Snooki is wrong. It’s tougher to demonstrate that we mean it. Don’t watch MTV this week. Go out and buy a respected book. It doesn’t have to be Morrison. It doesn’t even have to be literature. Saying something is wrong is meaningless. Acting on it sends a message.
Ryan Book is majoring in journalism and political science at Ohio State university.