Wednesday, March 15, 2006

My Generation Was Ripped Off!

In a non-media related post today over at Cathy's World, Cathy Seipp finished her piece with a paragraph that reminded me how much Generation X (among others) was cheated out of all the "muckety-muck" we were due.

He suggested I have my dad, who turns 77 next month, handle it: "Have him show up in a raccoon coat, holding a pennant, saying, 'Back off -- Maia and I have been dating for six months!"


I know, the quote is out of context and doesn't really make any sense. So what, within this quote, triggered my ire? Thanks for asking.

The description of Cathy's father "in a raccoon coat, holding a pennant" reminded me of what I thought college was going to be.



Between Goofy and Warner Bros. cartoons I was certain that my college days would be filled with raccoon coats, pennants, model T Hot Rods, the works. I spent a great deal of my childhood dreaming of these trivialities as if they represented a fantasy world of wonder, success, and contentment. And for someone whose parents had to live in a motel or in another family's RV, among other struggles, visions of such petty bourgeoisie were what made doing homework possible.

I don't know if you have ever imagined what it would be like to live with a "kitchenette" in your motel room, and have that be a step up from the crazy free-base addict who rented your family a room before, is like. Motel rooms aren't exactly the best study environment, especially given the "creative project" focus that a lot of Elementary and Middle School education contains. "I'm sorry Ms. A, but I was unable to build a ginger bread version of the Walls of Troy because we don't have a baking tray at home" isn't something your average 5th grader is ready to admit openly.

So the raccoon coat wearing, happy go lucky, whimsical view of college that Disney shorts displayed, and the struggling "poor" college student of the Kurt Russell films, gave me hope that there was a better world. Sure Animal House came out when I was a child, but it didn't refute that college had these things, it just made fun of them. I could handle that. Little did I know that my visions of college had been tossed into the dustbin of history, abandoned by those who found them trivial and demeaning. As Samuel Blum describes...

SB: Oh, they were phenomenal. Tremendous. For one thing, all the freshman junk went out the window. The dinks. You don't remember that. Freshmen wore a dink. He wore a green tie and he tucked it in. He wore white hose and he tucked his trousers into his socks. He had to carry matches should an upperclassman stopped him for a light. And if whistled at on Queen's campus, he had to run. You carried your stuff in a shopping bag. You wore a button with your name. With these G.I.s coming back after the war, in '46, '47, do you think they were going to do any of these things? They'd laugh at you. You couldn't do it. It went out the window. It just was completely different. And the new guys that came in, ... many of them were guys who in '38 ... couldn't afford to go to college. And that was good. The G.I. Bill was a great leveler and a great thing. I can't say anything bad about it. And I think it was a great thing for the country ... It gave men who never before would have had an opportunity a chance to go to college. Now, college was also something very different. The '20s and early '30s, things like the raccoon coat kind of baloney, and the proms and all was passe.

KP: But a lot of that went out. You could see, that went out.

SB: Right away it went out. Even when I was an undergraduate Rutgers wasn't that kind of a school, they had the freshman
silliness, but I didn't sense anything like the raccoon coat Ivy League stuff. It just wasn't that kind, because it was a more
plebeian school. People came from ordinary circumstances. Look at all the guys you're interviewing. How many of these guys come from rich people? Very few. Ordinary. In that sense, ordinary. But not ordinary in another sense. I'm sure that ...
anybody that sent his kid to school in the '30s had to sacrifice to do it. And that was a commitment and something they believed in and it was good.


Before I was even born, the beanie, hazing of Freshmen, and graduating Seniors carving their names in the belltower had all gone the way of the dinosaur. Gone was the possibility of my dream of "burying the hatchet," and thus ending the war between the Freshmen and Sophomore class, at the end of my first year of college.

In fact, the things that gave me motivation to go to college weren't a part of college at all. I wanted to read Chaucer and was given Bakhtin before I ever saw a page of Chaucer. I wanted to read The Federalist Papers and I was given a standardized Introduction to Politics text. I wanted to go to an "introductory dance" only to endure a formal and processed orientation which discussed the dangers of alcohol and notified us of what constituted sexual harassment.

My Freshman year was a disappointment and a shock. It was no wonder that, for many reasons, I left school for a period of time before returning to college with the desire for learning as my only motivation. The "college culture" I had desired didn't exist, but at least I found out that good professors weren't abandoned like so many of the things I had expected.
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