CJ Hinke comments: Why is Prof. Beard so important to academics? Precisely because she is an outspoken classicist, defending your freedoms. In simple percentage, outspoken academics are increasingly rare. Most of us have retreated into a comfortable, tweedy, wine and cheese, don’t rock the boat and wait for tenure world.
For the record, the US did have it coming. America made murder legal, wars on every continent and people are supposed to like us? Its $16 trillion in national debt results from killing not learning. Rather than the US arrogance of power, Dr. Beard thinks we should welcome and include the world’s peoples. Is understanding and learning from everyone not our duty as academics?
Mary describes herself as having ‘a thick skin’ during the recent campaign of vilification against her. I think more accurately, the rest of the academic community has too thin a skin and wishes only the safety of homogenised views. What a betrayal of the very core of our principles!
If academic voices can’t speak freely, who will speak for you?
THE SATURDAY PROFILE
In Britain, an Authority on the Past Stares Down a Nasty Modern Storm
The International Herald Tribune: February 15, 2013
Meet the Romans with Mary Beard: http://thepiratebay.se/torrent/7358114/Meet_The_Romans___(BBC_2012_-_Complete_Series)
“You never know what it’s like, because no mainstream paper will print it, nobody on the radio will let you say it, and so it came to look as if I was worried that they said I hadn’t done my hair.” Mary Beard
CAMBRIDGE: JANUARY was a busy month for Mary Beard, a Cambridge academic who is the closest thing, if it exists, to a celebrity classics professor.
In just a few weeks, Ms. Beard, who has helped popularize the study of antiquity through television and a lively blog, A Don’s Life, turned 58; finished a draft of her book on Roman laughter; became an officer of the Order of the British Empire; and attended the funeral of a lifelong friend and editor, Peter Carson.
But little could have prepared her for the furor she faced after she appeared on a weekly BBC debate show last month and, while discussing immigration, expressed the unpopular view that Britain’s social services would not be overburdened when restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian movement around Europe are lifted next year.
Her remarks, made on Jan. 17, unleashed a torrent of vicious, crude and personal online attacks, many targeting her unadorned style and her long, unkempt gray hair. Anonymous attackers also superimposed a picture of her face on a pornographic image. But rather than retire to her fainting couch (it is in her Newnham office, should she need it), or accept what happened as the cost of being a public figure in the Internet age, Ms. Beard decided to fight back.
Adopting what she said was a “high-risk strategy,” Ms. Beard reproduced on her blog some of the most unsavory remarks and the mocked-up image, which she has since removed.
“I wanted people to see how bad it is,” she said in an interview at Cambridge’s Newnham College, which she attended and where she has taught for nearly 30 years. “You never know what it’s like, because no mainstream paper will print it, nobody on the radio will let you say it, and so it came to look as if I was worried that they said I hadn’t done my hair.
“What was said was pornographic, violent, sexist, misogynist and also frightfully silly,” she said.
The comments would prove fatal for Don’t Start Me Off, an off-color online forum that became a bulletin board for her worst abusers. The site was eventually shuttered by its moderator, Richard White, who, in an about-face unexpected from an online provocateur, sent Ms. Beard a lengthy apology.
“I am genuinely sorry for any upset I may have caused you,” he wrote her privately. “I say this not because I’ve been ‘rumbled’ or because I think it’ll help my cause, but because it’s the right thing to do.”
Peter Stothard, the editor of The Times Literary Supplement, which publishes Ms. Beard’s blog, said her response was a quintessential case of “Mary being Mary.”
“She dealt with it in an extraordinary way,” Mr. Stothard said. “I don’t think it was necessarily bound to work, but it seems that it did. It’s a rare victory.”
The blog, which usually gets between 20,000 and 25,000 hits a week, drew about 85,000 visitors the week she addressed the controversy.
AT first glance, the professor is an unlikely candidate for such impassioned attention. Her gray hair, which she described as “mad,” hangs around her shoulders, which might be draped in a loose-fitting sweater or dress. She often uses tights to display a hint of her personality: on a recent Friday, they were black and adorned with shining plastic stars.
“I’ve chosen to be this way because that’s how I feel comfortable with myself,” Ms. Beard said. “That’s how I am. It’s about joining up the dots between how you look and how you feel inside, and I think that’s what I’ve done, and I think people do it differently.”
Ms. Beard first grew interested in classics as a precocious teenager with a talent for Latin and Greek and a taste for archaeological digs, where days spent excavating usually ended at the local pub, she said. But she would become a classics star at Cambridge, which was mostly male when she first showed up as a student in 1973. Now one of the university’s most high-profile professors, she extended her reach to a nation when “Meet the Romans with Mary Beard,” a short series, was first shown on BBC 2 last spring.
In three episodes, Ms. Beard appears as the viewer’s excitable and well-read guide to ancient Rome. She bikes around the city, perches atop ruins, pulls Roman artifacts out of storerooms and explains that a strange-looking tomb monument was built to recall a Roman bakery, a description that makes both bakeries and monuments seem fascinating.
“Classics isn’t about the ancient world. It’s partly about the ancient world, but it’s about our conversation. It’s how we try to talk to antiquity,” she said, elaborating on her mission to bring the subject to the masses. “A lot of people will always say, ‘I really know nothing about the ancient world.’ But there’s lots and lots of things people know. Partly they’ve been encouraged to think they’re ignorant about it. In some ways, the job to do is show people that they know much more than they’d like to admit.”
“Meet the Romans” showcased Rome, but it also put Ms. Beard’s appearance on display. When the show first aired, the Sunday Times critic A. A. Gill suggested she “really should be kept away from cameras altogether.” Since then, British columnists have debated whether her style is the result of laziness and inattention or unwillingness to conform to traditional standards of beauty.
NOT easily dissuaded, Ms. Beard is in talks for another Rome-based show. That is in addition to her typical agenda, filled with books to write, classes to teach and lectures to prepare.
Ms. Beard joined The Times Literary Supplement as its classics editor in 1992, eight years after writing her first book. She has since published more than a dozen; the most successful, “The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found,” was published in the United States in 2010. But Ms. Beard admits that the first time anyone ever heard of her was after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when she wrote in The London Review of Books that some believed that America “had it coming.”
The remarks drew global criticism. Though she does not regret them, Ms. Beard said she would choose different words now.
“Thinking back to then, what I wanted to say I would still want to say, which is that ghastly acts of terrorism are not unconnected to Western foreign policy,” in Britain as well as the United States, she said. “If I was making that point now, I wouldn’t write in those words; I would say something much more like what I just said.
“What politicians do is they never get the rhetoric wrong, and the price they pay is they don’t speak the truth as they see it,” she said. “Now, I will speak truth as I see it, and sometimes I don’t get the rhetoric right. I think that’s a fair trade-off.”
Ms. Beard is called “wickedly subversive” on her blog. It is a phrase routinely cited when she comes up in British newspapers, but, looking slightly embarrassed, she insists it was an editor’s choice, not hers.
“I’m always keen on understatement, you know?” she said with a laugh. “I’d just put ‘classicist.’ ”