Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Day 205 - The Distinguished Lecture Series

I have never attended a Distinguished Lecture Series event. This periodic event offered by the local University of Wisconsin permits individuals to attend talks by highly influential people that have impacted our lives and our society in some way. As someone always interested in learning from such events, attending a Distinguished Lecture Series presentation has been on my to-do list for several years, but I consistently failed to act on researching when they would occur. As a result, I was either too late to attend the lectures I wanted to see, or I put off the trip to the University of Wisconsin campus when I received notice of an upcoming Distinguished Lecture Series talk.

Realizing my ignorance and procrastination regarding the Distinguished Lecture Series would mean my participation in such an event would likely never occur, I resolved to attend one of the lectures during my “I have never...” year. I knew my best chance to achieve my goal would be to locate a lecture occurring during the otherwise slow winter months. Doing so would permit me to cross off a long overdue experience and keep my “I have never...” year going during an otherwise challenging time of year. As a result, I began researching some of the Distinguished Lecture Series events scheduled for the end of the fall semester this year. Although the bulk of the events didn’t fit in my schedule or didn’t particularly appeal to me, a lecture from Max Brooks, the author of The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z, caught my eye. I wasn’t necessarily a fan of the zombie fiction pop culture movement, but the idea of seeing the son of famed comedian, actor, director Mel Brooks was enough to pique my curiosity.

As a result, I set aside time in my calendar to attend tonight’s Distinguished Lecture Series event featuring Max Brooks. While I didn’t know quite what to expect from the speaker or the crowd at an event focused on works of zombie fiction, I figured the event would be, at minimum, an interesting new experience. Consequently, my anticipation of the event grew as it drew nearer, and the fact that a good friend of mine I had not seen for some time, Jesse, decided to accompany me only added to the evening’s potential. Ready for what I knew would be a fun and unique event, I met Jesse at my house this evening, and together we headed to Union South on the University of Wisconsin campus to partake in tonight’s Distinguished Lecture Series.

Waiting for things to start

Our plans resulted in Jesse and me arriving somewhat early to the lecture, which gave us some time to catch up and settle into the lecture hall. After locating some choice seats in the venue, we chatted a bit about the months that had passed since we last spent time together, which was more than enough to fill the time until the Distinguished Lecture Series event began. After a brief introduction from a University of Wisconsin History Professor, Max Brooks took the stage and immediately began talking about his inspiration and purpose for writing his famed works, The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z.

The crowd
As someone almost expecting a talk that bordered on “doomsday prepper” style preparedness, I was happy to hear Max speak about the ridiculousness of the modern fixation on doomsday scenarios and the overzealousness of many “preppers.” With a fair share of humor and an ample amount of reason, he called attention to the follies in such an approach to disaster scenarios and laid out the perspectives that guided his work on The Zombie Survival Guide. With particular focus on the inherent downfalls of the all=American trait of individualism, Max honed in on the importance of specialization in building a functioning society and belied the concept of reliance on finite resources during times of crisis. More broadly, he spoke of the persistent self-preservation and groupthink across world governments that result in poor decision making during such times, which he stated played a direct role in the core of his work. His points were cogent and his wit kept the audience laughing and engaged throughout the lecture. From that, it was easy to see Max was definitely his father’s son, and it was easy to tell why he had attained such success in his chosen forms of media.

"What about zombies?"
At the conclusion of his lecture, Max was quick to open the floor up to questions from members of the audience. Although many of the questions related to specific portions of Max’s books were unfamiliar to me, Max provided answers that reached further than the point of inquiry. Often, he would explain the historical facts and experiences that helped create each topic discussed, which gave deeper insight into the mind of a man with a clear intent to evoke conversation on our way of life through the unique forum of zombie-themed works. By the time the question and answer session drew to a close, I found myself impressed by the depth and focus of Max Brooks’ work, and I walked away with a certain degree of reverence for his approach to influencing the perspectives of others. Needless to say, it was a great experience led by a man with a powerful mind, which made me happy I finally decided to attend a Distinguished Lecture Series event.

Tonight’s event provided some great topics to ponder and definitely left me inspired to continue seeking new sources of knowledge as my “I have never...” year moves forward. I went into my first Distinguished Lecture Series event not knowing what to expect, but I hoped I gain some new information and some new perspectives. Thanks to the University of Wisconsin and Max Brooks, I didn’t walk away from tonight’s experience disappointed. Now that I have finally made time to attend an event in the Distinguished Lecture Series, I know it will be nearly impossible for me to avoid attending another. After tonight’s experience, ignorance to the schedule of upcoming talks or outright procrastination won’t be sufficient excuses for missing these unique events. Stated simply, I’d be a fool not to make the Distinguished Lecture Series a part of my routine. The only downside is that will have to wait until I get back to having some sort of a routine.

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