Friday, June 20, 2008

Contemporary journalism genre #432:

"'Harvard is unimportant,' by Harvard grad X." Such an article may also be about Yale, Columbia, or elite schools generally, but Harvard always presents a better case.

Along with genre #671, "The Diaper-Changing Memoir," genre #432 needs some serious overhaul. If you are going to write about how name-the-Ivy, your alma mater, isn't all it's cracked up to be, by announcing this in a major publication, you've already contradicted yourself. After-the-fact regrets about having not gone to a more humble institution--however sincere--do not ring true when these regrets express themselves in the form of articles meant for a general audience. Of all the subjects an article could be about, only one--'the Ivies aren't so great'--requires, by definition, an author with an Ivy affiliation. As I commented--more succinctly it seems--on Rita's blog, "If you didn't go to Harvard and say Harvard doesn't matter, no one will believe you. If you did go and say this, and say it in a national newspaper, no one *should* believe you."

An echo-chamber effect ensues, with many readers (including but not limited to those who did not go to elite schools) immediately understanding that the article would not exist if it's argument were true, or if the author actually believed his own argument. What's left is a small group of people, rightly proud of their accomplishments, pondering and questioning the meaning of said accomplishments, because taking a critical stance is more noble and sophisticated than rah-rah school pride.

Neither childrearing nor the quality of elite universities need be declared a taboo subject, but there ought to be a better way.

(Via Rita and Amber, respectively.)

1 comment:

Dave said...

Phoebe, did this guy plagiarize my work? I was writing about this stuff while at the Big H several years ago:


And most significantly: