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April 19, 2007

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Joyless Moralist

I'm still working on this one (via audibles, just like Nathan!), but I can certainly say that I'd have been offended to have read it in college, and I'm still not far enough out not to be a little offended. There's more than a little truth to it, but mixed with a lot of falsehood and silliness. And yes, above all, it makes it sound as though most college students are unconcerned about academics (and even to some degree about their grades! which certainly isn't true at Ivy League schools! I didn't go to one as an undergrad, but I teach in one now -- as a TA, not a prof, just to clarify -- and my students do not seem like the types who would be reluctant to admit to going to the library. And they're positively hyper about their grades.) If Wolfe were writing about a low-level state school that might be more realistic, but at elite universities I think a substiantial amount of studying is considered normal, and most people aren't ashamed of it.

Another thing: Wolfe portrays college students as being extremely concerned about "image" in a superficial sense -- caring a lot about fashion, etc. etc. No doubt that's true to some degree, but I felt a lot less pressure that way in college than in high school. At Notre Dame, actually, one of the things I sort of liked was that money wasn't that big of a deal. Since we all lived in the same dorms, ate in the dining halls, had access to the same classes and same gyms etc. etc., there was a kind of natural egalitarianism to the whole experience that I found pleasing. It meant that we didn't need to be too conscious of who came from a richer background and who from a poorer one.

On the other hand, I found his jabs regarding the snobbery of people at elite universities, and their hyper-awareness that they were AT AN ELITE UNIVERSITY to be wickedly funny and fairly true to life. Wolfe may just be trying to roll too many negatives into one culture -- perhaps all are found in SOME college or university in America, but maybe not all in THE SAME ONE.

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