The clip is four years old, and has about half a million views on Youtube, but I had honestly never seen it or heard about it before today. (Not a faithful 30 Rock viewer, even though I think the show is great.) When Liz and Jack exchange the comment simultaneously like it is an accepted fact, it made me laugh, for sure, but why? Liz and Jack's joke is funny not just because it is at the expense of graduate students but also because they are using the stereotype of grad students to make themselves feel better about their own shady, semi-despicable actions and incompetency. But why grad students and not, say, 7th graders, or lawyers, or the guys who compete on the Bachelorette?
Consider now this quick compilation clip from The Simpsons:
After I did a quick search, I found that the clip and others like it have been commented on by bloggers and commentators before. Mike Spry's essay shares the same title, "Graduate Students are the Worst," so I thought I would read his op-ed through for a few more laughs. But Spry's essay goes beyond the self-deprecation and self-preservation of functional graduate school humor and delivers a sharp criticism of what graduate education has become, and what it turns its students (including himself) into. "Grad students aren't bad people," he says, just "humorless," reductive, useless, self-absorbed people. In other words, "the worst."
Spry's essay comes from a place of experience -- and not a positive one. Clearly, he has found fulfillment in other environments in life that he never found in or as a result of graduate school. But what do writers of 30 Rock and The Simpsons mean by their jokes?
For me, I see these TV jokes as an extension of the self-deprecating line of humor that graduate students themselves have created as a means of pre-emptive self-preservation. (Think of "Piled Higher and Deeper" comics, "When In Academia" tumblr, and the famous xtra normal cartoon "So you want to get a PHD in the Humanities.") What do you guys think of Liz Lemon's joke? How has "grad school humor" affected you? Does it alleviate anxieties and give us affirmation of community sharing in some of the same experiences? Does the self-deprecation provide us with a means of self-defense? Does it secretly hurt our feelings?