A little while back, the NYT ran an exposé about today's spoiled college students. How spoiled? So spoiled that in anticipation of beginning their freshman year, they bought shower caddies at Target. Sorry, their parents bought them stuff at Target. So fancy! Also: so schmancy.
I had trouble reacting with appropriate horror to these trips to big-box stores, given the scale of the cost of college and the drop in a bucket this represents. Also given how unremarkable if not modest this kind of spending would be if done by adults for themselves or their under-18 children. People buy towels and stuff. Curtains are now sometimes a part of "stuff"? Yeah, fine, not when I was that age, but so it goes.
But a shrug was clearly not the response one was meant to have. Which, to some extent, fair enough. I mean, outrage - or at least annoyance - seems a fair response if your parents weren't able or willing to put a cent towards shower caddies, upon realizing that your roommate's parents had gone all out. Still, it seemed a bit disingenuous for a NYT lifestyle article. There are no doubt kids being shipped off with $300 shower gel. Was this the best target for generalized rage?
It's for whatever reason easier to rage at more middle-class decadence. Maybe because that's meant to signal a generational shift - this might be kids-these-days, in a way that the schmanciest 0.01% are not. Or maybe it's because there's a certain amount of respect granted to those who spend gobs, but not at a place as shabby as Target, because that's supposed to be chic. It's that second possibility that concerns me.
We now meet the similarly fancy and schmancy students of the University of Missouri, Columbia, who live in "luxury" apartments. What is luxury, though, in this context? Luxury is, these are apartments, not dorms. They actually cost less than the dorms, but are nicer. Key paragraph commenters seem not all that keen on reading:
The monthly rates for the modern units in Columbia generally start at $700 per student for a spot in an apartment, about twice the cost of older housing in the area. Yet they are on par with the price of on-campus housing, which equates to about $1,000 a month per bed, meals included.So this does sound kind of steep either way. (Dorm food: world's biggest rip-off, unless Alice Waters is somehow involved.) Fascinating, really, that people are paying more to live in Missouri off-campus housing, however luxurious, than one could not that long ago to live in Greater Park Slope.
These apartments are "luxury," though, because they have flat-screen TVs, instead of professors giving lectures. Which is... apparently something we're to believe is a normal thing that happens in a dorm? I went to a somewhat intellectual college (understatement) and lived in its dorms. No one was giving any lectures, unless you count the occasional midnight mansplaining among the undergrads.
"Luxury," though, seems to be mostly code for things that weren't ubiquitous back in the day, but have become so. Or things that didn't exist, period. College students today are mighty luxurious with their smartphones, but note the lack of record players, records/tapes/CDs, video cameras, regular cameras, address books... Similarly, various accoutrements of an earlier age that haven't been replaced with smartphones are also obsolete. How much formalwear are students bringing to college, for example, and no, we don't just get to compare this with whichever peak of hippieishness from the 1970s.
The article inspired what might well be the most mean-spirited comment in newspaper comment history. One college student is interviewed and explains that she's covering some of the cost of living in one of these evil luxury buildings herself, and is not - as the journalist clearly wants to portray her as - a brat. Which gets this response:
Ironic that the bearer of such an infamously aspirational, tacky and upwardly-mobile-stock-broker-fave name as "Courtney" would dispute the notion that student residents of these upscale off-campus resize denies are entitled and spoiled jerks.
And when she says "I wouldn't say I'm spoiled by any means," methinks the lady doth protest too much.Charming!
Further complicating things from an amateur-sociology perspective: there are a) the dorms, which sound like the biggest rip-off, but which have some kind of implied academic atmosphere, and b) the new "luxury" housing, with their "stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and balconies," but there is also c) the Niedermeyer Building, which is apparently old, quaint, and in far better taste than dorms with their own tanning salons. The Niedermeyer Building - furnished, one imagines, by Karl Farbman himself - is clearly for a better class of person. A recent grad who lives there refers to Option B as "mass-produced, soulless luxury." So is it that some students are too poor for in-house tanning, or that some are sufficiently lowbrow as to seek this out? (Both?)
And another commenter has this to say:
My own kids go to top colleges and stay in dorms that are austere and basic. [....] I'd be interested in finding out if there is a direct inverse relationship between the status of the college academically and the luxury housing and other perks they feel compelled to offer. If you are secure in your status, you don't need bells and whistles.Never mind that it's not the college offering all this. But this commenter may have a point. Student scrappiness is its own class signifier - sometimes the result of a badly-funded school with working-class students, but sometimes the very height of posh. (If you want to make this international, check out the dorms at Sartre's alma mater in Paris.) Maybe those raging against the One Percent would want to look somewhere other than at state-school kids in Missouri, granite-countertop-having or otherwise.