We can add Barack Obama to our list of academic posers. In a section of his new memoir, A Promised Land, the former president describes reading books in college to impress girls he liked:
Looking back, it’s embarrassing to recognize the degree to which my intellectual curiosity those first two years of college paralleled the interests of various women I was attempting to get to know: Marx and Marcuse so I had something to say to the long-legged socialist who lived in my dorm; Fanon and Gwendolyn Brooks for the smooth-skinned sociology major who never gave me a second look; Foucault and Woolf for the ethereal bisexual who wore mostly black. As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless; I found myself in a series of affectionate but chaste friendships.
Smooth-skinned? Long-legged? Even 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Barack Obama has become horny on main. And though this passage provides much-needed ethereal bisexual representation, it’s particularly galling when we remember that Obama’s public political stances are at odds with those of the theorists he references above. Things could have been different if he’d focused more on the text and less on that sociology major’s smooth skin . . .
However, Obama is following in the footsteps of great men—in fact, of the very thinkers he faux-read. As @thomas_decker pointed out on Twitter, James Miller’s The Passion of Michel Foucault features Foucault telling this anecdote from his early education:
…In order to ingratiate myself with this boy who was very beautiful, [I] began to do his homework for him—and that’s how I became smart, I had to do all this work to just keep ahead of him a little bit, in order to help him. In a sense, all the rest of my life I’ve been trying to do intellectual things that would attract beautiful boys.
Crushes are so powerful that Foucault became Foucault for a crush. And the tactic makes sense; reading is hot, which we as writers for a book website love to remember.
Actually, this story is kind of uplifting. Next time a guy tries to hit on you by talking about Trick Mirror, be flattered—he might be the next president.