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Commentary: Ditch trashy stars for those with talent

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As someone who writes for the Arts section, I rarely get the opportunity to be openly militant about particular issues. Today, I am up in arms over an arts issue.

Rutgers University drew attention this week for paying “Jersey Shore” star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi $32,000 to speak at the university last Thursday. You don’t need to be Suze Orman to realize this was a bad deal, but it gets worse. The school is paying Nobel-laureate writer Toni Morrison $30,000 to speak at its spring commencement in May.

I could tell you that this is a crying shame, but that’s the obvious argument. So, I’m going to explain to you why this is our fault.

One of the most basic principles in any economics class is that of supply and demand. Supply really isn’t in play here, but the point is that when demand is high, you can set prices high.

Demand for Snooki is high because the youth of our nation is obsessed with her asinine show. Demand for Morrison is low, although she’s won a Nobel Prize for literature.

If talent were a precious metal, Snooki would be worth about 78 cents at your local Gold 2 Cash location. She is (debatably) talented at tanning and laundry. I’m not even going to joke about the gym part. She’s like Ivan Rodriguez, except with more emphasis on the “Pudge.” If Snooki is gold, Morrison is rhodium; it’s worth a lot more, but you wouldn’t know because you’ve never heard of it.

When I reference the youth that makes Snooki so popular, I mean you guys. Now, I’ve only seen one full episode of “Jersey Shore,” but I can’t hole myself up in an ivory tower. I watch a lot of TV that is chemically proven to kill brain cells (for example, Syfy’s “Danger Mouse vs. The Lab Rats”). As I can attest after watching “The Room” for the first time this weekend, watching overtly stupid things is massively entertaining. But if we’re going to demonstrate outrage over something like Rutgers’ absurd display of celebrity proclivity, we have to do it actively.

What’s your excuse for having not read “Beloved”? Too much text? Too little time?

I understand that many intelligent people don’t get the opportunity to attend college, but arguably you are among the top quarter of the population in terms of qualifications to read “high-level” literature. Let me tell you: It’s much more strenuous than reading “Harry Potter.” But it’s much less strenuous than reading “The Sound and The Fury.”

Authors, playwrights and artists routinely feel the heel of a society that finds their work too inconvenient to appreciate. Yes, an hour-long episode is easier to digest than a 600-page novel. But even if I never read Morrison again, I will still hang on to how amazing her prose was.

It’s easy to say that paying Morrison less than Snooki is wrong. It’s tougher to demonstrate that we mean it. Don’t watch MTV this week. Go out and buy a respected book. It doesn’t have to be Morrison. It doesn’t even have to be literature. Saying something is wrong is meaningless. Acting on it sends a message.

Terry Jones, if you’ve gotten bored instigating violence in the Middle East, can I recommend “A Shore Thing” for your next book burning?

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