American Idle

Honors College Students Experiment with Laziness; Results Aren’t Pretty
by Chris Carroll | Illustration by Papee Thirawat

Biological sciences major Anika Samee ’22 figured she was a little different from the average Honors College student—more easygoing, more willing to occasionally settle for good enough rather than demand perfection.

So she assumed an assignment in a University Honors seminar last semester focusing on American attitudes toward laziness would be a snap: Just spend eight hours relaxing with no homework, no laundry, no hardcore workouts, and then write about it.

“I started out watching a movie for about two hours,” she says. “Then I couldn’t help it. I started cleaning and ended up spending the rest of the day sorting out my entire life.”

Their generation may be sometimes slapped with the label “snowflakes” and stereotyped as more interested in play than toil, says Katie Stanutz Ph.D. ’15, assistant director of University Honors and teacher of the “American Idle” seminar, but her students in reality have powerful work ethics.

“The idea of being intentionally lazy kind of freaks them out,” she says. “I’m having to talk them into doing the laziness project.”

Hmm … does trying to avoid the assignment mean they really ARE lazy?

Good question, says Stanutz, whose primary aim is not to teach sloth, but to analyze its depiction in literature and culture since the nation’s founding, from picking apart Benjamin Franklin’s maxims about the moral value of hard work to analyzing the peerlessly laid-back Dude of “The Big Lebowski.”

“Oftentimes what we find is that laziness is defined as almost anything that’s not seen as profitable labor—something that runs counter to capitalist interest,” she says.

There are countercurrents as well: Some fictional characters, like Rip Van Winkle—who sleeps through his working years and wakes up to a relaxed retirement—get rewarded for laziness.

Thanks to the class, Desiree Morrison ’21, an operations management and business analytics major, had a Rip Van Winkle experience of her own, but it didn’t turn out quite so well.

“I was pretty excited about completing the assignment—like, ‘alright, I’m going to be chill and have a lazy day,’” she says.

Going above and beyond what the assignment required, she fell asleep and snoozed right through a deadline in another course. Consequently, Morrison received her first A-minus in a college class, kissing a 4.0 GPA goodbye.


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