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Rant #36
(published April 19, 2001)
Dear Mr. Brooks:
An Open Letter to That Guy Who Wrote That Fucking Article in the Atlantic Monthly
by Cara Jeanne Spindler

Dear Mr. Brooks[1],

I recently read your article "The Organization Kid" in the Atlantic Monthly, an article which left me with lots, lots, lots of questions. Although the tone is breezy and well-informed, there are serious and fundamental flaws of high-Richter proportions to your argument (That argument being, basically, that the young, emerging elite, the movers and the shakers of tomorrow, are an individual speck of nothing, lacking connective tissue to self or family or morals, who rely on institutions to ground their life goals.) At least, if I'm reading the homage to the 1950s "Organization Man," that's what you're basically getting at: an individual without soul that slaves slaves slaves for the organization, for the company, for the government, all at the expense of his own growth, humanity, and life. Although there was no mention made of the book, I assume you picked that title for that reason— but you made no direct acknowledgment of your homage, and that pissed me off. Also, the Atlantic Monthly features ads that, while not as horrible as The New York Review of Books (Semester at Sea for High Schoolers! Tiffany's Diamonds are the best!— and classifieds — COTSWOLDS, ENGLAND, Romantic blah-blah-blah available for rent by week or month or Tuscan Villa, etc, etc) are awful all the same. Shame on you for publishing with a bunch of folks who grind away, pandering to the myth of the upperclass bourgeoisie with their blood, sweat, and tears.

"The young men and women of America's future elite work their laptops to the bone, rarely question authority, and happily accept their positions at the top of the heap as part of the natural order of life." Maybe you didn't write that subtitle all yourself, maybe some poor copy-editor pulled that one outta their ass. But whoever wrote it did pick up one the article's number one assumption: these Princeton muthafuckers are the coming elite.

Things that really, really, really pissed me off about your article. Starting with paragraph number one.

1. Princeton. Of all the thousands of colleges and universities in the U.S., you pick Princeton to represent. Yet another journalist in a national publication accepting the sad, sad, sad idea that the elite of a nation all basically derive from seven well-endowed, historically reprehensible, private universities. A few story problems I have about Princeton: On average, how much money has Sally, a freshman, spent at the end of her freshman year, including tuition, room and board, transportation, books, healthcare, and entertainment?[2] Let's say Sally spent four years at Princeton and, hypothetically, financed that education 100% solo (even though they have a huge endowment from alumni, even though there might be financial aid available). How old is Sally when she pays off her student loans? [3]

2. Who's your daddy? Who's your vision of a future president, or somebody else who will be "running our country in a few decades" (pg 40, Atlantic Monthly, April 2001)? And again, who's your daddy, because, as we all know from our present president remnant of Yale, that's one way to get into the seven ivory panties guarding our nation's greatness. If you want to know who the elitest of the elite are, where to find all those student leaders, what's the first place you go? The student government, the student paper, check out some literary magazines or research wings? The coffeeshops or bars or sit in on a couple of classes, attend some frat parties, ask some students? Or do you ask professors, perpetuating a system of inquiry that is top-down, for the who's-who of our nation's ivory chastity belts? Good journalism is choice a) talking about a little research? or b) inviting a few dozen articulate students out to lunch via recommendations from faculty members?

3. Once again, Princeton. If a university receives thousands more applications than they have placement for, if their public claim of student-type most preferred is "well-rounded," then of course a majority of the student body will be overworked, résumé-plumping ninnies. (Princeton can offer placement, according to their website, to about 12% of their applicants.) It's hard to get in-depth into your personhood, as an eighteen year-old in a two-page essay, and fall into the great grades/test scores category, and stand out as the one of seven valedictorians that gets into 4,600 (Princeton website, again) slots for up and coming elites-to-be. That's just to get the acceptance letter. I guess this one isn't a question.

Moving onward.

Paragraph two.

So you were on campus at the height of the election and didn't see even one Bush or Gore poster. So most students have no time to read newspapers, follow national politics, or get involved in crusades. Know what? I don't believe you, because paragraph one point two clearly points out that you don't know the first place to start looking for students in their natural habitat (if you could construe aforementioned university as natural). The WTO (Seattle? Washington, D.C.) or School of the Americas protests? The "No More Sweatshops Using My University's Logo" Crusades? Furthermore, I think you're exaggerating, and that means as a reader I inherently, and already, distrust you, right down to your piggy little eyes and mean mouth. Also, see point three. Well-rounded means no newspaper time for these to-be-leaders, who instead spend all their time reading for the blind and running marathons and doing homework and, oh yeah, because none of the students mentioned in your article ever mentioned this, work at the university library or dorm cafeteria or tend bar at night to offset at least some of the costs of attending a ritzy institution like the one aforementioned. However, even a Princeton student can still sound, or be made to sound, like a complete ass-kisser idiot in a one-sentence sound-bite. "It's a basic question of hours in the day," said one hapless victim, "People are too busy to get involved in larger issues. When I think of all that I have to keep up with, I'm relieved there are no bigger compelling causes."

The biggest problem with this article is the rampant synecdoche: your unflagging conviction that one tiniest, microcosm/electron microscope caricature can stand for the whole, and the assumption that these motherfuckers are the, I mean our, new elite. What's up with this university and the folks you talked to? The new elite, as far as I can see, are ridiculously homogeneous, unlike at least a large minority of college students in the rest of the nation. No jobs, for one. No returning students or "old" students or students with kids or spouses or any sort of life other than what worked in your article for you to get to the main, and interesting point, where finally you begin to deviate from the theories in your book. The new elite are the lucky few straight and narrow who made it through high school with no Ds, no mono, no major bouts of emotional/psychological strife, no babies hanging off their backs or parents breathing down their necks about student loans and eternity.

Now to the two things that burn me the most about your article, Mr. Brooks: The sappy-hippie-it-ain't-like-the-good-old-days comparison shit I've been hearing my whole fucking life is number one, and the surprising number two is grieving for the loss of guilt/evil/religious training in this school for the best of the best.

At least I thought it was sappy-hippie-shit. But now it's looking like all along, I had my dates confused. The sappy-alienated-you're-all-a-bunch-of-lazy-cynics came from the generation that just missed the Summer of Love. But I like the term sappy-hippie-shit, I will continue to use it, and it first makes an appearance in paragraph three. "When I went to college, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we often spent two or three hours at the lunch table, shooting the breeze and arguing about things." Sappy-hippy-shit always talks about the past, painting a rosy picture, exaggerating the details, stretching to reach a third hour (which, unless I'm mistaken, meant they got to the cafeteria as soon as the doors opened and only left with prodding).

Sappy-hippy-shit is when you're not status conscious, but other people are, and it's your job to call other people on it. You burn these poor kids for being status conscious. Fuck, man, you were the one that chose Princeton as your zoo. Or the sadder fact of the matter: if you wrote this article about Grand Rapids Community College, the Atlantic Monthly wouldn't pick it up. Community Colleges are not on Atlantic Monthlys radar. Hell, the entire state of Michigan (wherein one can find Grand Rapids) isn't on the Atlantic Monthly radar. Okay, so then you wouldn't be talking about the elite of the elite and that's who you're interested in. However, there's the whole second part of the story, the lack of character building, moral instruction, and religious presence at our ivory panties today. And since it's hard to give a damn about these cardboard students, it's also hard to give a damn about their immortal souls.

You burn these poor kids for not protesting, for, in the words of one faculty member, being too "eager to jump through whatever hoops the faculty puts in front of them, eager to conform." Hello? Admissions standards? Won't most high school movers and shakers (detention, suspension, clashes with teachers that gave them bad grades, etc.) be knocked out by the virginal purity of the obedient, the meek, the brown-nosers? Their lack of alienation, their impeccable manners and clothing, just might be indicative of the admissions process. "Alienation" is a word that, although your article implies it as a requisite of the college experience, is dated and far too teen-angsty to be of any use whatsoever.

You burn these poor kids for having lived the easy life: no wars, no trudging three-miles in snow both ways to get a quality education, no "real firsthand knowledge of global conflict." Because students today aren't rioting and throwing things at cops, it doesn't count? What about the popularity of campus anti-sweatshop crusades, the Take Back the Night Marches, the Affirmative Action marches? As for their supposedly spotless childhoods, see: Iran Contra Affair; War on Drug Dealers (whoops! for a president to declare war on his own people is unconstitutional), I mean War on Drugs; see, NAFTA or California's proposal to eliminate public schooling, medical care, or food for the children of illegal immigrants, or treat juvenile offender as adults; see, Columbine; see, Bosnia. Also, there's at least a hint of global conflict in the word "globalization," terminology which I'm sure all of these kids are familiar with.

And you bust on these kids for not looking scruffy enough, bemoan the lack of visible tattoos, ritual scarification, or piercings. What I could tell you about clit piercing, sir, is another letter, another time, another, more intimate, place. That whole evil argument you got going is complete bullshit. Thank God students today no longer participate in brutal football games between Freshman and Sophomores (funny, these traditions actually ended when institutions like the aforementioned became co-ed, by the way) that end in broken cheekbones and jaws, and sometimes death; thank god that hardly any of these students are familiar with the term "BMOC" (that's "Big Man On Campus" for all you uninitiated.) Thank god and say your prayers.

Also, your lack of statistics yet simultaneous reliance upon them is appalling. Before you start relying on any studies, I want evidence that you've read a wonderful little book entitled How To Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff.

My last question: are you, or have you ever been, in cahoots with the Heritage Foundation?


Cara Spindler

1. Author of the book Bobos in Paradise, coiner of the short-hand bobos for "bohemian bourgeosies" and explainer of, among other things, why people will pay exorbitant amounts of cash for organically-dyed cotton tank tops, or Williams and Sonoma old-school style blenders, or really, really expensive mountain bikes and gardening tools)

2. For Academic Year 2000-2001:

Comprehensive Fee $25,430
Room and Board $7,206
Misc. Expenses (books, laundry, telephone, recreation, etc.) $2,684
Estimated Total $35,320
(all the Princeton info is from their website, specifically this page: http://www.princeton.edu/pr/admissions/u/brief/)

Let´s say that money is distributed over 365 days— a full year. That's $96.75 a day. How much money did you spend today? But, to be realistic, we should keep in mind that tuition covers the standard academic year, which is roughly 8 months. So, a better figure, is $147 a day. Again, I ask, how much money have you spent today? Dave's lunch today will probably be instant Curry Udon— it comes in a styrofoam bowl, you add about 2 cups of boiling water to make it. It costs $1.99.

3. Several members of the PMjA staff are currently paying off student loans at about $300 per month. If Sally were in our boat, it would take her over 39 years to pay for her degree (having run up a tab of over $140,000[4].) She'll be 61 years old at that time.

4. At his current rate of pay, Dave will have earned $140,000 by 2009. (FYI, this is before deducting taxes and sundry expenses.)

The Fucking Article in question is available online at the Atlantic Monthly's website: www.theatlantic.com; look for the April 2001 issue.

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