Hi welcome to another installment of “Things I Read That I Love,” wherein I share with you some of the longer-form journalism/essays I’ve read recently so that you can read them too and we can all know more about serial killers and labiaplasty! This “column” is less feminist/queer focused than the rest of the site because when something is feminist/queer focused, I put it on the rest of the site. Here is where the other things are.
Also this week the thing I read that I loved the most was THE HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY. I feel like my life is empty now that I’ve finished reading it, like I’m lost in a sea of words that are not the words of the three books of The Hunger Games. Now I’m just like the rest of you, waiting for the movie.
Love in 2-D (July 2009), The New York Times: About a subculture of male anime fans in Japan who have foregone 3-D “reality” relationships for relationships with body pillows bearing a rendered depiction of a character from popular anime games/movies/books/etc.
Shock and Awe: Racially Profiled and Cuffed in Detroit (September 2011), Shebshi: This piece opened my eyes really wide. A writer who describes herself as “a half-Arab, half-Jewish housewife living in suburban Ohio” had just landed in Detroit on a commercial flight when she was taken into custody on 9-11, along with two Indian men, on “terrorist”-related suspicions that had nothing to do with anything besides, clearly, what they looked like.
My Hard-Core Porn Obsession (Nov 2011), GQ: “Threesomes, fishnets, dirty talk—those are the vanilla sorts of fantasies we admit to. Then there’s the truly filthy porn we actually watch when we’re alone. Shalom Auslander discovers that everyone has his guiltiest pleasure.”
What Made This University Professor Snap? (Feb 2011), Wired: “Every once in a while, though, brainy weirdos turn out to be brutal killers.”
Shattered Glass (Sep 1998), Vanity Fair: I’ve read a few stories and seen the movie about Stephen Glass, a New Republic reporter who made up like ten billion stories in the 90s and then got caught, but this one I found this week (via the writer who also wrote the book/article that became Friday Night Lights) I feel is an especially good overview.
Straight Time (Dec 2011), Los Angeles Magazine: Many of LA’s most prominent families thought Steve was helping their kids stay sober at his nonresidential rehab-ish facility. Then he was arrested on drug possession and sexual assault charges! It’s like Running With Scissors meets Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Miss America’s Crown of Thorns (Jan 1985), Rolling Stone: Following Vanessa Williams in the aftermath of the Penthouse photo scandal that led to the first African-American Miss America getting de-throned.
Inside the Bloody World of Illegal Surgery (Nov 2010), This Magazine: This story begins in a solarium owned by a piercer/”body modifier” who is giving his friend a labioplasty because she wants one and it’s too expensive to obtain legally. Totally freaked me out.
The Disadvantage of an Elite Education (Summer 2008), The American Scholar: I stumbled upon this article again this week, having already read it in 2008, but I read it again because it’s just that good and makes a number of brilliant points.
How the Plummeting Price of Cocaine Fueled the Nationwide Drop in Violent Crime (Dec 2011), The Atlantic: Freakonomics attributed the nationwide drop in violent crime to the legalization of abortion 20 years prior, but actually it was because of “the collapse of the U.S. cocaine market,” maybe.
The Muppets in Movieland (June 1979), The New York Times Magazine: A profile on Jim Henson and the success of The Muppets just before the first muppet movie came out – “That day in the taxi, beneath the controlled calmness of Henson’s conversation one could detect an undercurrent of anxiety lest the unity that he and Jane have so carefully maintained over the 23 years of Kermit’s magical life be undermined, not by failure, but by a sudden flood of big successes.”
How The GOP Became the Party of the Rich (Nov 2011), Rolling Stone: The modern GOP has undergone a radical transformation, reorganizing itself around a grotesque proposition: that the wealthy should grow wealthier still, whatever the consequences for the rest of us… With 14 million Americans out of work, and with one in seven families turning to food stamps simply to feed their children, Republicans have responded to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression by slashing inheritance taxes, extending the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, and endorsing a tax amnesty for big corporations that have hidden billions in profits in offshore tax havens. They also wrecked the nation’s credit rating by rejecting a debt-ceiling deal that would have slashed future deficits by $4 trillion – simply because one-quarter of the money would have come from closing tax loopholes on the rich.”
Hey riese? You’re the best thing ever. Just sayin.
The article about the The Disadvantage of an Elite Education is absolutely amazing, thank you. My sister and i were wondering though, how much importance does money have in applying to Ivy League universities? Do insanely rich but mediocre students have chance on getting in? I know the acceptance rate is 10% but how much of this 10% is really smart as opposed to really rich? I’m from Europe so i have no clue :)
All of that 10% is really smart, generally speaking. Being rich/ being related to an alum is helpful, however, because (if you are wealthy) you get exposed to a lot of things that increase your cultural capital and opportunities to stand out from you classmates. Additionally, you have an advantage if you are related to an alumnus– this doesn’t mean you will get preference if you don’t have the qualifications, but if you have them you will get put ahead of an equally qualified candidate with no “hook”. Does that help?
Yes, thank you, it’s good to hear that the intellectual capacity has priority over money :) Its sad though because i believe family relations are of no importance in university admissions.
They shouldn’t have any importance, but it’s easy to see why they do – a particular wealthy alum is less likely to donate if you don’t admit their kid. And courting donations like that ends up helping the lower-income kids who get accepted, because there will be more for them in scholarship money.
Do insanely rich but mediocre students have chance on getting in?
Yes. Look at George W. Bush! Also, there’s a huge business around standardized tests, with tutors and the like, which give kids who can afford it a giant upper hand. Also, not having to work frees up a lot of time to do more extracurriculars.
Excellent, George W. Bush was exactly my point during the argument with my sister. She said that he did become president so that he couldn’t be a complete imbecile. However i think they are not mutually exclusive. Anyways great article, thank you :)
I don’t know, the current crop of Republican candidates makes Bush like less of a “complete imbecile,” which really says more about them than it does about him.
I loved that Disadvantages of an Elite Education essay, although I think it is oversimplistic in its own way. Even the liberal arts schools that the author praises can create their own, different kinds of bubbles from the ones that Ivy League schools create, and someone who is a “true intellectual and question-raiser” isn’t necessarily going to have an easier time relating to someone who doesn’t value education than an overachiever type will.
I agree, I’ve attended two different alternative-style liberal arts schools, and while they definitely have no shortage of intellectually curious and self-motivated students, there is no denying we live in a bubble. My current school is just 300 students, living on top of a hill in the woods in Vermont. Almost all of us are hopeless idealists who learn for learning’s sake. But in a sense, we live in a fantasy world. We are just as disconnected from the realities of working class people, maybe moreso, since our school doesn’t have the money to give full scholarships.
Still, I’m personally much happier in a bubble of freethinking hippies than I would be in a bubble of future lawyers.
From My Hard-Core Obsession:
“I can’t stop thinking,” I say.
“That could be bad for your health,” says Layla. “Thinking too much.”
Yes. That. Guilty. Totally.
I am so excited to read these!
I’m pretty sure that one about “the House” was turned into an actual episode of SVU.
what i kept remembering was that weird episode where there were those twins, but one of them had been raised as a girl even though he/she wasn’t a girl because of something that happened at birth with ambiguous genitals or something, and then they had this insane psychologist who had made them simulate sex on each other? then one of the twin kids shot the psychologist at the end, i believe. and one of them was raped or pregnant. i don’t even know.
This is the episode I was thinking of.
Creepy dude runs a rehab thingy for teenagers, sleeps with some of the girls and also gives kids drugs.
So, the problem with this article is that I don’t know what to read first…waahhh
Thanks, Riese! I love reading longform articles, and was very excited when the websites longform and byliner came out, but i find i’m too overwhelmed with choice to really get into them, so this article is perfect for me. On my last day off, i spent most of it reading your recommendations in TIRTIL #1 and 2, and i see today being utilized similarly..
god that article about cocaine prices plummeting = less violent crime just makes me want the wire to happen again and for bodie to not die this time.
I remember reading that article Shattered Glass in Vanity Fair and it was very good, probably the best one. Now I am going to read it again, thanks for posting it.
yeah, but it was in WIRED, so everyone reading it and whomever wrote it was also a weirdo
I read that article when it came out. Wired is the only magazine I subscribe to. I’m definitely a weirdo, but far from dangerous.
Yeah, their bar for “weirdo” is probably a lot higher than most people’s.
gosh do i like that “disadvantages of an elite education” article. though i wonder if i like it mostly because i am currently attending a “second-tier” liberal arts college and need some way to justify to myself the staggering tuition price being shouldered by my parents. but i do know that i really really REALLY wish i had been able to read the following paragraph while in the throes of post-college-application-depression, when i was receiving rejection after rejection and hating myself for all the wrong reasons:
“Some students end up at second-tier schools because they’re exactly like students at Harvard or Yale, only less gifted or driven. But others end up there because they have a more independent spirit. They didn’t get straight A’s because they couldn’t be bothered to give everything in every class. They concentrated on the ones that meant the most to them or on a single strong extracurricular passion or on projects that had nothing to do with school or even with looking good on a college application. Maybe they just sat in their room, reading a lot and writing in their journal. These are the kinds of kids who are likely, once they get to college, to be more interested in the human spirit than in school spirit, and to think about leaving college bearing questions, not resumés.”
Girl, I feel ya.
There are things I like about the elite education article, but there are things about it that I think people just want to be true (and that I find offensive and mis-representative). The author didn’t realize he was elitist and entitled… most of my friends and I not only acknowledge similar issues, but discuss them all the time both inside and outside the classroom
I go to college “in Boston” and I’ve seen this article before, and Many of the authors little epiphanies, like “I never realized that smart people don’t go to elite, precisely for reason of class” are things I’ve not only understood, but also taken for granted as common knowledge, and certainly never had to be taught (although we learn and talk a lot about class issues, so the author may have majored in something lame like econ…)
I certainly haven’t had an endless string of second chances with regards to schoolwork. Some teachers are relaxed, some are strict, and none appreciate handing things in late (ranging from a 5% lower grade to an instant 0%). I know my schedule ahead of time, and have (rarely) asked for extensions if necessary, and received them about half the time. It is nearly impossible to get an excuse for late work from your Dean or Advisor, and we get many e-mails every semester explaining the rules (basically the death of a parent or best friend), leaving Deans refusing to write notes in most cases (including people genuinely ill)
And, I don’t know how to say this without being rude, but my classes are HARDER. They are unbelievable challenging… I’ve compared/studied with my good friends at other schools, and we cover so much more with such higher standards. Average work here might get a higher grade than at other institutions, but average work here is much better. In fact, even with grade inflation, most graduate schools at 0.2 percent to GPAs of people from ivy schools when considering them, implying that there should be more inflation at ivys before GPAs are comparable.
Most people who graduate from here probably (I’m assuming) don’t end up being rich, and many go on to be school teachers (Certainly numerous teachers at my high school had gone to ivys…). This article seems to propagate false stereotypes… the student culture is much more flamboyant, varied, and nerdy than most friends I’ve visited at college, involving Drag Balls, naked parties, Dungeons and Dragons, and much much more…
So, I guess this article is about a very silly, closed minded man who went to an ivy school and fell into an elitist crowd. It doesn’t reflect my reality or experience at all…
Yes, some students sit in their room and study all day and have rick parents. But the rest of us judge them, are more self-aware, and are very involved in extra-curricular and our friends…
Yeah, I would say that I agree with parts of the Disadvantages of an Elite Education article and I’m with you that I agree with parts of it a lot, but there are other parts that are really oversimplified. Just to make one point, if you’re talking about socioeconomic diversity, you’re actually more likely to find that at the Ivy Leagues and similar universities that have massive endowments – and therefore tons to give in scholarship money – than you will at tiny little liberal arts colleges that have similarly high tuitions but way less donors. State schools will have more of both of them, but they also have the bureaucracy and career-focus that is what this author laments in the Ivy Leagues, so it’s telling that he doesn’t focus on them…
There’s also something that I think that a lot of people who lament the loss of “learning for learning’s sake” (which I lament as well, to an extent) tend to overlook – that a lot of that was only the case in the past because at the time, education was only restricted to the economic and social elite, i.e., people who didn’t need college as a way to advance their careers and could spend those four years just reading the “great books.” The trend toward a vocational approach has been a side-effect of making a college education more accessible, which means there are more people going to college who need to get something tangible out of it, something that will advance their careers and not just their intellectual development.
Anyway, to paraphrase Mark Twain, I fail to see why your schooling should interfere with your education, and certainly, being in a more specialized program as I am (music major which requires scant in the way of non-music programs) has not prevented me from studying other things on my own time. The kids who want a more well-rounded education will always be able to find that outside of school.
Dammit that first sentence is redundant, I really need to proofread these comments before I submit them…
I agree with a lot of what you’re saying here – while I think the article made some good points, it seems like the author is too quick to blame his school for his own personal failure to look outside his bubble, and therefore he assumes that his faults are shared by ALL Ivy League students.
Then again, I recognize a lot of what he is saying in my own upbringing. I went to a highly rated public school in an upper-middle class town in MA. The school system was designed to funnel students into the most elite colleges possible. Basically, we were grooming us to follow in our parents’ footsteps. I was one of the few artsy queer kids and I felt helplessly alone in that environment. So I followed my passions and went to a tiny, alternative college with self-designed majors. All of the students are highly intelligent and driven, but not all of them got As in high school – the thing we share is curiosity, offbeat life goals, and of course, the willingness to live in the woods in a community of 300. I think I would be unhappy in an “elite” environment for many of the same reasons as the author. Being surrounded by people who are motivated by curiosity rather than outside standards of success is priceless to me.
I believe you when you say that work at your school is hard compared to that of many other schools, but I’m also not convinced intense coursework is limited to the Ivies. I’ve had the same experience comparing coursework with friends – we are often given twice as much reading and writing, and our senior theses are closer in length to a graduate school dissertation than a typical undergraduate thesis. The trade in for having so much academic freedom is that we are expected to work nonstop. When I talk to students at more conventional schools, they seem to have a lot less work and more free time. Basically I don’t think it’s necessary to go to an elite college to be truly challenged, there are ways to get the best of many worlds if you look outside the box in your college search.
Yeah, intense coursework definitely isn’t limited to the Ivies. I go to what I would classify as a mid-upper level large state school and find answers to my homework problems on MIT’s website all the time.
I think at any school, how challenging a class is depends on the department. I’ve never taken a humanities class here that challenged me, but my science classes have the same content as Ivies… You can’t really dumb down quantum mechanics. (although my grade may be higher due to grading on a curve and there being a wider range of intelligence here?)
I’ve had the opposite experience – most of the humanities classes I’ve taken have been incredibly challenging. But I think that’s because I go to a humanities-focused school that values effective writing and independent thinking above all else. Plus, most of our classes have fewer than 10 students (and in senior year, classes are usually 1-on-1), so it’s impossible to slide by without actually doing the reading or contributing to class discussion. But I can imagine that taking humanities courses in a huge lecture setting, with final exams instead of long papers, wouldn’t be anywhere near as challenging.
Your argument is that because your classes are hard for you, mine cannot be more difficult.
I’m actually in a unique position, having transferred here from a “second-tier” college.
Firstly, I found physics answers on MITs web-site also. Obviously there is some overlap in material taught in a physics course. I can honestly say that, in my experience, the difficulty, depth, and standards of the physics I’ve taken here are much much harder/deeper/higher than at my previous school.
In fact, I thought my classes were hard before I transferred. Then I transferred, and I’ve struggled and started to learn how to work much more Efficiently. Looking back, we did cover and struggle with much less depth than students here do cover and struggle with.
Secondly, Robin, I understand your point, but its based completely on assumptions. Humanities classes do have long papers, either exclusively or alongside finals.
We have recitations for big lectures (and the caliber of TAs ranges from life-changing to sleep-inducing)
We have to do all the reading and contribute. We start taking more and more seminars as we get older (cap of 12-16 students), not to mention 1-person independent studies or research (surprisingly? very common) and all final papers.
Your experience may be potentially more challenging (and your school sounds unique and awesome), but at the same time, my annoyance is that you are completely underestimating / falsely caricaturing ours…
“But I can imagine that taking humanities courses in a huge lecture setting, with final exams instead of long papers, wouldn’t be anywhere near as challenging.”
I think you misunderstood me, I wasn’t talking about elite schools here. I was summarizing what I’ve heard about larger state schools from classmates who have transferred.
hi! i went to sarah lawrence (a tiny liberal arts school/seven sisters/not an ivy) and then transferred to the university of michigan (a “public ivy,” which is a contentious term and weird but whatever, obviously not on par with actual ivys). most of my friends from high school went to ivy league schools or to nyu or to exclusive conservatories for various arts things.
i had WAY more work at sarah lawrence than at michigan (i transferred to michigan because i couldn’t afford SLC financially, not ’cause it was ever where i wanted to go, but the price was right for in-state tuition) TONS! HEAPS MORE!
The reason is because my classes at SLC had about 15 kids in them at most. The teachers had time to meet with you individually and they had time to read 15 20-page papers every week. once i got down to the cw sub-con for my ‘thesis’ at umich, I had a tiny class and a ‘thesis advisor’, but prior to that most of the classes were just too large for any teacher to assign so much work. So I concur that smaller liberal arts schools, like the ivies, tend to have more work than state schools regardless of ranking.
Hmm. I guess I’m in the minority here. I’ve been having 20 person classes in my major since freshman year. Probably because no one wants to major in my major.
I will freely admit that there are majors at my school that are complete BS.
@ purple – “So, I guess this article is about a very silly, closed minded man who went to an ivy school and fell into an elitist crowd. It doesn’t reflect my reality or experience at all…”
absolutely, but i don’t think he’s talking about EVERYONE or you. i mean for starters he’s an old straight white guy so i already assume that whatever group he feels a part of; isn’t my group (i don’t really find very many essays that seem to speak to/about me directly for that reason).. but there are people like him, lots of them, and i think a lot of other valid points that did ring true for me as well.
i read “the disadvantages of an elite education” ages ago (probably linked from your blog) and have thought about it a lot since then but was never able to find the article again. thanks!!
I have always been an avid reader of novels, memoirs, and blogs. I dont think until you started this series that I had ever read a longform essay.
Thank you, Riese, for introducing me to something else to be healthily addicted to.
I love this website for the fabulous way it presents queer culture, it is truly the only specifically-gay website I follow on a daily basis – so I find it amazing that my now favorite column is the one that is not really even queer related.
you all are amazing in your own ways.
and I might be slightly medicated and sappy.
Riese, thank you so much for enabling my terrible procrastination! I’ve learned so much. Also, I remember in the first Things I Read there was something about college admissions, and I was thinking that you might be interested in the NYC high school application system. It’s extremely stressful and it’s pretty much like applying for colleges, but you’re being told that you have to make a huge life-changing decision in middle school, and 10% of all applicants didn’t get into anywhere at all.
I tried to read the Disadvantages of an Elite Education, but I got too angry at the author. This paragraph made me give up:
“You can live comfortably in the United States as a schoolteacher, or a community organizer, or a civil rights lawyer, or an artist—that is, by any reasonable definition of comfort. You have to live in an ordinary house instead of an apartment in Manhattan or a mansion in L.A.; you have to drive a Honda instead of a BMW or a Hummer; you have to vacation in Florida instead of Barbados or Paris, but what are such losses when set against the opportunity to do work you believe in, work you’re suited for, work you love, every day of your life?”
I am shocked you liked the “Disadvantages of an Elite Education” article. The author lacks even a basic knowledge of how the majority of the country lives but instead of attributing that to the privileged gated communities he’s been locked in his whole life he blames it on his educational institutions. Institutions where he could have easily spared 3 credits to learn about privilege and class and race and gender from the best scholars in the world. The guy is a joke, his entire thesis is a parody of himself. I know people who went to Yale (though not Harvard) and they are nothing like this guy. I went to a top tier school and I promise I am the OPPOSITE of this guy. It makes my skin crawl that he is taken seriously.
When I finished reading The Hunger Games series, I started reading The Hunger Games series again…
And I usually don’t re-read books. I just wasn’t ready for it to end and I just wanted the words in the book to keep filling my head for a little longer.
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