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Posts tagged "Performancism"


Fischers of Men (or, a Chessay)

Bobby scanned the board one last time, drew in a breath, and gently grabbed a black bishop that looked slightly unnatural in his small hand, moving it three squares to e6. A huddled group of spectators suppressed a gasp. Journalists began to quietly scribble notes while onlookers cast skeptical glances at each other. Was it […]

If I Can Just Understand the Arrival Fallacy, I’ll Be Happy

The latest ‘gimme’ from the world of social science has, er, arrived. I’m referring to the Arrival Fallacy, “the illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness.” Earlier this week The NY Times devoted a whole column to this familiar dynamic, A.C. Shilton’s […]

The Dangers of Parenting Under the Influence

Waiting in the airport today, my family chipped away at a crossword. We were stuck with only a few clues left to solve, so needless to say, stakes were high. In a family where crossword answers are like currency, one can feel pressured to do the unthinkable under certain circumstances. Google. No, no, I wouldn’t […]

Preaching to Todd Marinovich

Todd has learned a term, performance-based love, to describe the trauma of his youth: “The only time, perceived or real, that I felt loved, is when I was performing, which is super sick.” He believes if he had not turned to drugs, he would have killed himself. “No-brainer,” he says. “I don’t know what else […]

Everything for Nothing: The Berenstain Bears and the Black Hole of Pressure

Fatherhood has become my most cherished title. I love being a dad and watching my daughter grow and learn and play and become who she is. Fatherhood has also, though, baptized me in the waters of children’s television, which, if you’re unfamiliar, is a genre of entertainment rife with princesses, anthropomorphic animals, and seemingly no […]

From the Archives: What I Didn’t Do On My Summer Vacation

Lately there’s been a considerable dearth of David Zahl on this site, wouldn’t you say?! So here ya go. The following article goes out to anyone strapping a cargo shell to the roof of his or her car this weekend. From our archives, this one remains as prescient and timely as when DZ wrote it […]

Performancism 101: A Conference Breakout Preview

Here is the first of this year’s conference breakout previews–sneak peeks into what we’ll be talking about during the breakout sessions at Mockingbird’s NYC Conference April 14-16.

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Sometimes it seems like our culture sees its students as mythical creatures, glowing embodiments of youth and drive; they represent who we as a society will be “tomorrow.” Often the social structures of our student bodies reflect the structures in society more generally, and no where is this more true than in the stress-inducing standards of performance-based living. For students, achievement is identity. Sound familiar?

Students currently live in a no-fail world where any misstep feels like a plunge off the cliff of college admissions and the good life after that. A 4.0 GPA is no longer enough. To get where they (feel they) need to go, they need extracurriculars, Advanced Placement classes, awards, and honors. Consider The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, which encourages college-aspiring students to begin recording their achievements in an online portfolio–in ninth grade, four years in advance. One high school guidance counselor calls it an “arms race,” while over at The New Yorker, Matt Feeney declares this lifestyle as “poisonous,” saying that it not only affects students, but also parents: “I’m starting to resent the prospect of having my family life colonized and deformed by a system that, though it works through educational channels, doesn’t serve educational ends, or exacts extreme costs in exchange for a meagre educational payoff.” Ella Gonzalez, at The Huffington Post, writes: “If you happen to be entering your senior year of high school, first I’d like to say, congratulations and I am sorry,” followed by, “You are not in control of anything.” Various admissions blogs discuss suicide and the threat of it, post-rejection.

920x920Some say, fear not: admissions reforms are in the works. But as discussions about limiting extracurriculars and AP classes occupy the news, Feeney asks: “What new and more exacting model of self, in other words, will colleges be urging their teen-age aspirants to approximate?” Reform of the law cannot fulfill it, and any attempts to do so will inevitably result in the high-pressure lifestyle of what we’ve come to call “performancism.”

At this conference breakout session (2:15, Friday April 15), we are going to look at how fear and the need for control contribute to performancism, particularly among students. We’ll talk about stress and how we cope with it. We’ll point some fingers. And maybe, too, after all that, we’ll find a cure.

Pre-register here!

Passionate vs. Cool: Performancism in College

Set to start my senior year of college, a few interactions from my first semester in Charlottesville still stick with me. One was a question my advisor asked me as I anxiously slumped into a chair in his office for the first time. The second is a comment I made over lunch with a professor I […]

Penn Faces and Campus Tragedies: More Notes on the Suicide Epidemic

Here’s why I didn’t want to write about Julie Scelfo’s recent article “Campus Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection” in The NY Times: It is not because we’ve written about the phenomenon too many times already–though we have. It is because writing about it again only serves to underline how futile-seeming these kinds of reflections […]

Alfred Hitchcock: Artist of Anxiety

Alfred Hitchcock agreed to sit down with François Truffaut for a five-day interview in August 1962. The Frenchman aimed to pick the master’s brain and snag some good tidbits for interested cinephiles. Gradually, their conversation started to flow and the product was a wonderful book. In its introduction, Truffaut calls Hitchcock an “artist of anxiety.” […]

Thou Shalt Never Feel Bad: Inside Out for the Ivy League

Sadness is having a cultural moment, and that makes me happy. Much of this is thanks to Pixar’s Inside Out, that rare film which deserves all the success and acclaim being heaped upon it. There are any number of reasons to laud the movie, as DP pointed out a couple weeks ago. Its artistic merits […]

Simultaneously Frazzled and Fragile: Surviving a Culture of Overachievement

It’s getting to the point where I’d almost rather not draw attention to articles like Frank Bruni’s “Best, Brightest–and Saddest?”. Not just because I wish their subject matter wasn’t as urgent as it is, or that their claims were more groundless, but because the whole thing has become so excruciatingly obvious. As performancism escalates, so too […]