Michael Linden is a force of order in a disorganized world. As I enter his kitchen, he’s cleaning dishes. I offer to help, but he simply asks that I stay out of the way. As we eat the dinner he’s made he clears away stray pieces of lettuce I drop. Housemates stream through the kitchen, cooking and offering insights into what makes Linden a WesCeleb. He is the former president of the Wesleyan Democrats, he sings a capella in Slender James, he performs in Second Stage productions, and he is a supervisor for the Wesleyan Media Project. To get to the bottom of the question, though, I ask Linden himself.
The Argus: Why do you think you’re a WesCeleb?
Michael Linden: Honestly I have no clue. Originally I thought it was because you nominated me to be a WesCeleb. Beyond that, perhaps it’s for my good looks and charm, but I can’t be certain. For a while I was pretty passionate about some things. I used to be president of the Wesleyan Democrats. Can I just give a shout-out to Marshal Lawler [’16] at this point? Current president of WesDems and champion of democracy.
A: So what led you to give up on WesDems in specific and democracy more generally?
ML: I got disillusioned with party politics and realized there were just an equal number of dumb people on both sides. I just felt like I wasn’t making a difference and no one at Wesleyan really cared particularly about party politics.
A: That’s probably true.
ML: Can we note at this point in the interview Michael has unraveled the kind of gross-looking chicken things we’ll be eating tonight?
A: Are we going to get salmonella?
ML: No, we aren’t going to get salmonella; it just might not taste good. O.K., we’re gonna make a red wine vinegar and butter sauce and—
A: This is not a cooking show.
ML: This is not a cooking show? I was misled.
Ariane Turley ’15 (housemate): What else are you going to do then?
[Turley reaches for a glass pepper shaker. It falls to the ground and shatters.]
ML: Jesus Christ. Maybe there are glass shards in my salad.
AT: No, I don’t think so.
A: Is that something we want to gamble on?
AT: Sorry about ruining the WesCeleb. I’ll get a broom.
A: So, Michael, you recently took a trip to Washington, D.C. to present at the American Political Science Association (APSA) annual conference.
ML: Yes, with some brilliant other people. We were doing research on the use of average-seeming people in political ads—whether or not that’s effective. When we were at the conference, we woke up the morning we were supposed to present and apparently there had been two attempts at arson at the central hotel for the conference, so they had to evacuate the hotel, and I went to these panels with people who clearly had not slept. It was this whole debacle. And then a few weeks later, it turned out it was this former professor who just went off the rails and had been committing arson all over Washington, D.C. I’ve only been to one APSA conference but it was definitely the most interesting thing that happened.
A: And I know, relatedly, you work for the Wesleyan Media Project watching political ads. Why do you do this kind of research?
ML: I think political advertising is a really good way to see into the psyche of campaigns and thereby see into the psyche of the American public. It really is jarring to be at Wesleyan, this bastion of liberal activism, and watch these political ads. And you know the reason [campaigns] are running them is because they work. It’s interesting to be like, “What kinds of people are concerned about Ebola in their daily life? What kind of people are swayed by portrayals of Obama as an authoritarian dictator? And what does that say about the hope for democracy?” These are the people that are actually making decisions in our country.
A: And that’s why you’re no longer the President of WesDems. But I do want to know—do you see yourself being in politics? Will you be president in 20 years?
ML: It seems highly unlikely. I’m pretty honest. I find it hard to pretend I believe things I don’t. The vast majority of America says they wouldn’t vote for someone who doesn’t believe in God, and I’m pretty agnostic on that.
A: Are you worried, too, that something like your senior thesis will come back and haunt you?
ML: See, that’s something that I don’t think is true. I really think marijuana legalization or decriminalization nationally is pretty foreordained.
A: For those that don’t know, why don’t you explain a little bit what your thesis is about?
ML: Yeah, right now my thesis focuses on the history and progression of marijuana prohibition, and how it’s used as racial code. I’m interested in how changing views about drugs, marijuana specifically, if that has anything to say about the racial history of drug prohibition. Are the tactics we’re using for marijuana legalization going to backfire if we’re going to try to reform other drugs? You see a lot about marijuana being safer than alcohol or how so many people use marijuana, [that] this shouldn’t be illegal, but you don’t see a lot about the human cost. And I think that’s something that’s critical if you want to talk about marijuana reform or drug reform more broadly.
A: How did you become interested in this topic?
ML: I read Michelle Alexander’s book [“The New Jim Crow”], which has really invigorated discussion on this issue. There’s been so much traction on this issue even since we’ve been in college. Like the first legalization attempt, that was in 2010. There’s just been so much movement.
[We sit down to eat, and Linden prepares to dress the salad.]
ML: You should note this. I have my mom ship me bottles of Greek dressing from home [in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan], and I keep it in a shoebox under my bed, and I’m about to go retrieve one now.
A: How did you come to be so interested in cooking?
ML: Well, my dad has always cooked a lot. Throughout my years I’ve always been a really picky lunch eater. I don’t like lunch meat, and I don’t like untoasted bread, so he would always cook a lot for me. He would make me nice meals that I could heat up in the microwave in the cafeteria, so I’ve been kind of spoiled with food.
A: How did the other kids feel about that? You bringing gourmet meals to elementary school?
ML: Actually, elementary school was a phase where I would just bring a bagel and sliced cheese and melt it in the microwave. I think that’s when I gained about 70 pounds. I have these soccer cards from when I was a kid, and every year I would gain 5 pounds, and then there was this one year where I just gained 40 pounds, and it was all due to bagels.
A: So what was your biggest youth trauma? Lunch meat and untoasted bread?
ML: Well, I swam for my middle and high school swim teams, and I think just as a fat person, being in a Speedo is necessarily traumatic. So that, as well as untoasted bread and lunch meat. Those were the big three.
A: Speaking of athletics, I know you bike a lot. Are you still doing that?
ML: Recently I haven’t been biking outside as much because it’s getting kind of cold, but I’ve been [attending] a wonderful “Cycling for Fitness” class at Freeman Athletic Center, with Coach Meredith [Adjunct Professor of Physical Education Eva Meredith], who really kicks ass in these classes. I really bookended my college career. I took this exact class first quarter of freshman year.
A: How do you motivate yourself? Do you visualize something?
ML: I visualize being done with it.
[I take bite of salad and feel an unsettling crunch.]
A: I just ate something really crunchy. Could it be glass? A little bit of glass won’t hurt me, will it?
ML: No, you’ll be fine.
A: So what are you afraid of?
ML: I’m pretty afraid of the dark. I really don’t like bridges. I’m scared of heights. I’m scared of rejection.
A: So your worst fear would be a bridge at night where people reject you by throwing untoasted bread at you?
ML: Yes, and lunch meat. And I’m in a Speedo.
A: I think that would rank pretty low on most people’s experience list.
ML: Yeah, I don’t think being afraid of heights is a big differentiator for me as a WesCeleb. I imagine many non-Celebs are afraid of heights too.
A: Where do you expect to be in a year?
ML: Hopefully Chicago. I might want to go to law school at some point but I’m looking at taking one or two years off.
A: What kind of issues do you want to be working with?
ML: I’m interested in criminal justice. I think if money were no object I’d be interested in being a public defender. Money being an object, I’m less sure. I also think criminal law is what interests everybody before they go to law school because who stays up at night thinking about corporate tax structures?
A: I think some people stay up at night thinking, “God, I’d love to be super rich.”
ML: But I think there are a lot more less sexy but still interesting things about that kind of law. I’m open to what interests me. I don’t know, maybe I’ll just come back to Wesleyan and bum around and knock on random doors and say, “I’m a WesCeleb, nice to meet you. Can I stay on your couch for a little while?”
A: I don’t even think you’ll have to introduce yourself.
ML: I suppose that comes with the territory. Once this is published for the masses, everyone will know.
A: Anything else people should know about you?
ML: I’m a big Amazon Prime fan. I believe in unfettered capitalism. I’m worried Amazon is taking over the world but I’m also looking forward to how convenient that will be.