UPenn Prof Made Students Sit Around in a Circle and Watch Porn

"It created a very uncomfortable environment for us—some of the class even got up part of the way through and left."

Announcing his proposed new course "Wasting Time on the Internet" last fall via the New Yorker, University of Pennsylvania's Kenneth Goldsmith said proudly that "nothing is off limits" for the class, including "watching three hours of porn" and "troll[ing] nefarious right-wing sites." When the class finally launched this spring, Goldsmith made sure that the porn prediction came true.

In the New Yorker piece, Goldsmith's spelled out his rationale for the course, explaining he designed it to help students recast "the 'dead time' they’ve been spending in front of their screens as engaged and creative," and noting that students would be able to look at anything they wanted online:

Nothing is off limits: if it is on the Internet, it is fair play. Students watching three hours of porn can use it as the basis for compelling erotica; they can troll nefarious right-wing sites, scraping hate-filled language for spy thrillers; they can render celebrity Twitter feeds into epic Dadaist poetry; they can recast Facebook feeds as novellas; or they can simply hand in their browser history at the end of a session and present it as a memoir. would likely end up.

What resulted, as Slate's Katy Waldman (who actually participated in the class) made clear, was far more "wasting time" (and money, costing $3,202) than expanding creativity. But apart from the devolution of educational rigor and purpose (he dropped written assignments--required by the university--partway through the semester), Goldsmith's class involved assignments designed to encourage "discomfort and transgression," in particular, sexual transgression. 

The College Fix, who spoke to a student who attended the class, provides the following description of some of the course's notable moments, including when Goldsmith asked students to sit in a circle and watch a porn video together:

This past spring, the University of Pennsylvania offered an English class called "Wasting Time on the Internet," which included, among other assignments, watching porn during class.

Other experiences ranged from “spreading rumors across the internet to simply filming [themselves]… for the entire 3-hour class,” according to a freshman who took the seminar.

As for the porn assignment, the student, who asked to remain anonymous, said in an email to The College Fix that the class sat in a circle in a crowded university building "and played the same porn video on our computers at the same time on full volume."

"It created a very uncomfortable environment for us – some of the class even got up part of the way through and left because they were uncomfortable," she stated, adding other students on campus apparently did not notice the group porn viewing.

"People … didn’t even hear or notice, to my knowledge," she said.

She described the pornography screening as part of a series of “experiments based on discomfort – trying to make the most uncomfortable environment possible."

Speaking to Slate's Waldman at the end of the semester, Goldsmith underscored the importance of making students "uncomfortable," saying while the course admittedly didn't focus on actually improving students' writing and critical thinking, it was necessary for "push[ing] them sideways, out of their comfort zones."

"They’re artists and writers," he told Waldman. "Some of the kids in this course would probably have been happier at another university. Anyway, everyone here already knows how to think and write in an academic context. I suppose I could push them to think and write incrementally better than they do now, but I’d rather push them sideways, out of their comfort zones."

As for Goldsmith's performance at the White House in 2011, the Free Beacon's Elizabeth Harrington notes that, like his recent book that simply included a word for word transcription of a New York Times paper, Goldsmith didn't actually read any of his own writing. Instead, he read excerpts from Walt Whitman’s "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" and "To Brooklyn Bridge" by Hart Crane, followed a transcript of traffic reports from a New York City AM radio station that last part he considers his "own" writing). In March, Goldsmith got himself into headlines by doing a "poetic remix" of the autopsy report of Michael Brown. 

Issues

Organizations