Les Misérables: The College Parody

Via Inside Higher Ed, I discovered this parody of Les Misérables which depicts instead the despair not of young revolutionaries in France in a bygone era, but young graduates in the present day:

I think the video simultaneously makes a useful point, and undermines it, illustrating in the process what education is really for.

On the one hand, many students go to university anticipating that it will all but guarantee them a certain type of job or standard of living. It doesn’t. And it never has.

But it does offer a kind of experience and exposure to the breadth and richness of human creativity, that it fairly consistently enables students both to find creative ways to adapt to the challenges of real life, and to find enjoyment, appreciation, meaning, and comfort in that life.

The video is a case in point. The group of students at Boston University who made it found a way of expressing themselves, of creating a work of art that is communicating their disappointment and concern to a wider audience.

I wonder in what ways their education enabled them to appreciate Les Misérables, to connect it to their own experience, and to find a creative way of reenacting it. And I think that this illustrates one of the many ways that education fosters creativity on the one hand, and provides skills for coping with the challenges life throws at us on the other. Turning our story into song, drama, and/or video is one of the ways we do that.

Of course, there is also grad school, and so I leave you with these cartoons which are among several Les Misérables parodies created by PHD Comics:

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  • http://www.facebook.com/MrKevinWang Kevin Wang

    Hi James! I’m Kevin, the co-creator of the video and the “Philosophy Major” in the film. Thanks for covering our video – I’m glad you found it thought-provoking.

    I really appreciated your point about the college experience’s value often being overlooked. Many of my friends and peers are heavily involved with the startup/entrepreneurial world, where more and more people emphasize how useless a college degree supposedly is. I’ve always argued that the college experience not only allows them to mature and grow socially (which I think isvital), but fosters a lot of opportunities as well. Where else but college could a non-film industry guy (I’m an advertising major) be able to find actors, actresses, talented film shooting/editing folks, and graphic designers to work with within a week?

    I have always been a big fan of parody and satire, and believe that often times they are better at communicating truths than if they were simply laid bare in front of us. I do worry a bit about whether my video sends the wrong message, however, to both my generation and those older than mine. You see, while I believe that we are affected by a negative economy, I do not think we are victims – we simply have a greater obstacle to overcome. I an concerned that the parody promotes waiting for help and an entitled portrayal when what I really wanted to do was just give everyone who was still persevering in spite of the bleak job market something to laugh about and resonate with.

    Again, thanks for covering our video! Hope the rest of your 2012 goes great.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

      Sorry for the delay in replying! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I was delighted to find that my reflection on your video was not at odds with your own understanding of it! I hope you have a happy new year – and that in it you overcome great obstacles! :-)

  • http://tunabay.com/ Keika

    I believed once in time, that the biggest mistake in my life was not going for my masters degree, instead leaving immediately with my marketing major sheepskin for a job promised to me, three years earlier by the president of a major advertising firm who suggested which college and courses to take. It was now the ‘malaise’ of 1975 and the ad firm was unable to hire me, even though I was expecting a promised position after three years of summers and winters away from home.

    In the two years following my ‘mistake,’ I dabbled writing several screenplays, of which two with the help of my agent were optioned by studios in Hollywood. With cash in hand, I opened my first business. College taught me how to market myself and interact with people. Even though I had regretted not obtaining my masters degree, looking back at the timing of things, I would never have sold my scripts. So, here’s an example of what may or may not come to a young graduate in good times or bad. You must remain flexible and optimistic and not be afraid of enjoying a deflated self-worth until the economy rebounds.

    P.S. aside. Three years (‘73,’74,’75) at a major university cost my parents a whopping $10,000 for my degree. Lord help us.