Not only little boys play one-up and one-down, searching for status. German education minister Annette Schavan resigned her post on Saturday after officials revoked her Ph.D. because she had evidently committed dissertation plagiary. Two years ago, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Germany’s defense minister, also resigned after evidence of his plagiarism surfaced.
The United States has never had titles of nobility, so academic titles are a substitute, but people who stick Ph.D. after their names whenever possible seem insecure. (WORLD uses the “Dr.” title only for medical doctors, except for those who have a Dr. in their stage names, like Dr. Laura.) Germany had aristocratic titles until 95 years ago and it seems that the desire for them has never fully worn off: Many American doctorate holders are content not to use their academic titles in non-academic settings, but in Germany it’s Herr Doktor this and Frau Doktor that, and two doctorates gets you a “Doktor Doktor.”
But we Americans should not think we’re better than Germans: The Academy Awards are coming up in 12 days, and—according to The New York Times—“a spot on the yearly scroll of recently deceased movie luminaries has become one of the evening’s most hotly contested honors.” Some Hollywoodians are apparently still upset that in 2009 “Maila Nurmi, a film-business also-ran, credited as Vampira in Ed Wood’s megaflop Plan 9 from Outer Space, was included.” At least she wasn’t Doktor Vampira.
Times obituaries are also the objects of coveting. A New Yorker cartoon years ago had a pitchforked devil next to a man surprised to be in hell because he had a prominent obituary in “The Newspaper of Record.” Some make that, or an Oscar remembrance, their goal, but heaven seems infinitely preferable.