Welcome to the CPL

Sometimes high school students refuse to apply to large universities because they don’t want graduate students teaching them. I’m not sure whether the documentary film “The Parking Lot Movie” would change their minds, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. (You can find it on Netflix under “cerebral, quirky.” I take that as a compliment.)

The parking lot in question is the Corner Parking Lot (the CPL) in Charlottesville, Virginia. The lot attendants, typically University of Virginia graduate students in the humanities, dwell in a small, primitive booth that affords them a little too much time to contemplate human nature, the social contract, Buddhist detachment, and the meaning of life.

What really drives the film, though, is the attendants’ utter contempt for drivers who treat them like dirt. You will root for them in their “battle with humanity” and cheer as they rap, “God will hand us the sword of justice!” In this small corner of the world, grad students rule, their wisdom and power contained in mystical phrases like “truncated syllogism” and “transcendental existentialist.” It makes me want to go back to graduate school and stay there forever. (I guess Netflix has me pretty well pegged.)

I’m already beginning to think of ways to use the film in my Existentialism class this fall, perhaps as an end-of-semester treat. And who knows, maybe a few of my college-bound students will end up giving grad students a chance.

About Tom Simpson

Tom Simpson teaches religion, ethics, philosophy, and human rights at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH. He is the author of *American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism, 1867-1940* (University of North Carolina Press, 2016) and nonfiction essays about Bosnia for the Canadian literary magazine *Numero Cinq*. Born in 1975 in Olean, NY, he earned the Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Virginia, where he specialized in American religious history. He writes, teaches, and lectures about religion in America, popular culture, Mormonism, and Bosnia. He lives in Exeter with his partner, Alexis Simpson, and their two children.
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2 Responses to Welcome to the CPL

  1. Tom Simpson says:

    A good friend just sent me this provocative piece on the need to reform graduate programs in the humanities: http://www.slate.com/id/2300107/


  2. Jon Malesic says:

    I hadn’t thought of the film as a sort of grad-student revenge-fantasy world, but it fits, for sure. Maybe some of Nietzsche’s slave revolt in morality? But to make that work, as you say, you need the Pannapacker column as background. Not everyone may realize how downtrodden grad students can be. I bet it’ll be a great film to show to high school students; the heroes are a little older than they are but recognizable as heroes to them. If nothing else, it can be a cautionary tale: don’t be like the bad parkers!

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