The zany doings of humanities professors at our major universities are too rich not to cover. Once upon a time, the profs in departments of, say, English, history, or Judaic studies actually taught their subjects: English literature, the War of 1812, the social setting of the compilation of the Talmud. Nowadays, those topics are considered too dull and conventional, and the humanities profs have wandered into “cultural studies,” as it’s called. “Cultural studies” is academic code for “Marxist analysis of contemporary American life.” It’s full of “gender theory” (academic code for “male oppression of women”) and similar trendy jargon.

Last week I posted on two profs who nominally teach literature and history at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and University College-London but who are calling for papers for a book they plan to write about “The Gendered Construction of Public Toilets.” (See my Gender Theory Takes a Trip Down the Commode, June 3.) Today I post on Robert Bennett, an English professor at the University of Montana’s Bozeman campus who’s putting together a conference on–no, not Shakespeare or Joyce–Brad Pitt.

Yes, Brad Pitt. You might think of Brad as the hunky-thighed hero of last year’s ludicrous “Troy” who’s currently peeved because reporters keep asking him about his fling with Angelina Jolie instead of his views on the environment. But you’re wrong: In the eyes of Prof. Bennett, Pitt is a Very Serious Cultural Figure who (I’m quoting Bennett) is “[s]imultaneously reifying and challenging hegemonic codes of race, class, gender, and regional or national identity.”

Indeed, I’ll quote Bennett’s complete announcement regarding the Pitt conference (quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education):

“For the 2005 Western Literature Association Conference in Los Angeles, we plan to organize a panel on the film icon, Brad Pitt. Why Brad Pitt? As one of this generation’s most popular actors, Pitt has explored many of the cultural tensions of our emerging postmodern era. Depicting masculine American whiteness in various states of crisis, his characters generally enact complex postmodern agencies; they are never wholly coherent, they are often self-destructive, and they generally rely on a certain amount of play — between stability and instability, between life and death, between autonomy and alter-dependency, between control and abandon. Simultaneously reifying and challenging hegemonic codes of race, class, gender, and regional or national identity, his characters explore the complex and changing postmodern cultural landscape. Tracing his performances through a variety of films and theoretical texts we hope to explain Brad Pitt’s multidimensional postmodernity by exploring: 1) the cultural logic of his performances, showing how they dramatize postmodern cultural tensions, and 2) the kind of cultural or political work that his performances accomplish, or the difference that they make and the impact that they have on the audiences who watch them.”

“Dramtize postmodern cultural tensions”? I hope that includes some juicy speculation on whether Jennifer Anniston will take Brad back.

By the way, I consider Brad Pitt to be perfectly gorgeous, and he can simultaneously reify and challenge my hegemonic code any old time.