I was at Hofstra’s New College in 1992 when Doug Brinkley took the Majic Bus across country in search of Greater America. I should note that I was never extremely interested in the subjects he taught. Cold War American politics, Jazz, and Beat writers, did not interest me. Brinkley was a young, energetic professor at the time, and had his fans and sycophants among the students. I was not one of them. So, reading The Majic Bus after over twenty years I admit my bias.
First, I think the book is a formal failure. Brinkley is certainly enthusiastic about this venture, and wants to craft an wide ranging experience for the students. But the text is largely about Brinkley, what he feels, thinks, and experiences; there are also some fairly long digressions into his past. The students are certainly there, and treated in the book, but often times they seem more like background characters, and not central to this story. Brinkley should have given the students the foreground.
Second, the book has a strong tone of smugness and superiority that makes the narrative voice hard to empathize with. Brinkley is enamored of pop culture, wants to get out of the classroom to experience reality away from books, or supplement book learning, but what he offers the reader is often times very simple, judgmental fare. It seems popular culture is the culture that Brinkley likes.
Finally, you can see in this book the type of popular TV scholar that Brinkley would become. Despite his constant jabs at TV in The Majic Bus, he tells us about every appearance on local and national TV. This foreshadows Brinkley’s rising star, as he would become a TV commentator for CBS news, and in general an all around media hot shot.
So after twenty years, The Majic Bus has few lessons for our time. College is not something to escape from; it is a unique, and very expensive experience. It is a time to engage in scholarly thought, write and discuss ideas; for many, this will be the only time in their lives when such an opportunity presents itself. The Majic Bus is bizarrely anti-intellectual. It promotes the kind of upper middle class disdain for education that is at once hypocritical and adolescent.