[Originally published April 22, 2010.]
By now you’re probably wondering what this is all about, why FBI agents pulled you out of your barista job, threw you on a helicopter, and brought you to NASA headquarters. There’s no time, so I’ll shoot it to you straight. You’ve seen the news reports. What hit New York wasn’t some debris from an old satellite. There’s an asteroid the size of Montana heading toward Earth and if it hits us, the planet is over. But we’ve got one last-ditch plan. We need a team to land on the surface of the asteroid, drill a nuclear warhead one mile into its core, and get out before it explodes. And you’re just the liberal arts major we need to lead that team.
Sure, we’ve got dozens of astronauts, physicists, and demolitions experts. I’ll be damned if we didn’t try to train our best men for this mission. But just because they can fly a shuttle and understand higher-level astrophysics doesn’t mean they can execute a unique mission like this. Anyone can learn how to land a spacecraft on a rocky asteroid flying through space at twelve miles per second. I don’t need some pencilneck with four Ph.D’s, one-thousand hours of simulator time, and the ability to operate a robot crane in low-Earth orbit. I need someone with four years of broad-but-humanities-focused studies, three subsequent years in temp jobs, and the ability to reason across multiple areas of study. I need someone who can read The Bell Jar and make strong observations about its representations of mental health and the repression of women. Sure, you’ve never even flown a plane before, but with only ten days until the asteroid hits, there’s no one better to nuke an asteroid.
I’ve seen your work and it’s damn impressive. Your midterm paper on the semiotics of Band of Outsiders turned a lot of heads at mission control. Your performance in Biology For Non-Science Majors was impressive, matched only by your mastery of second-year Portuguese. And a lot of the research we do here couldn’t have happened without your groundbreaking work on suburban malaise and its representation and repression in John Hughes’ films. I hope you’re still that good, because when you’re lowering a hydrogen bomb into a craggy mass of flying astronomic death with barely any gravity, you’re going to need to draw on all the multidisciplinary reason and analysis you’ve got.
Don’t think I don’t have my misgivings about sending some hotshot Asian Studies minor into space for the first time. This is NASA, not Grinnell. I don’t have the time or patience for your renegade attitude and macho bravado. I can’t believe the fate of mankind rests on some roughneck bachelor of the arts. I know your type. You feed off the thrill of inference and small, instructor-led discussion. You think you’re some kind of invincible God just because you have cursory understandings of Buddhism, classical literature, and introductory linguistics. Well listen up, cowboy. You make one false move up there, be it a clumsy thesis statement, poorly reasoned argument, or glib analysis, and your team is dead, along with this whole sorry planet.
I’ve wasted enough time with chatter. Let’s get you over to mission control. Our avionics team needs your help getting their paper on gender politics in The Matrix properly cited in MLA format.