Saturday, March 12, 2005

When a headline appears like the one currently running on Slate's homepage -- "Shut Up, You Whiny Harvard Brat" -- it's not difficult to discern the author's take on the subject at hand.

Typically, I'm only somewhat put off by headlines as abrasive as that. But in this case I'm especially so. Not only do I know the "brat" in question, but all that that headline does is mindlessly confirm the stereotypical image of Harvard kids being a bunch of, well, whiny brats. Never mind that Ross Douthat's new book, Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class, is an indictment of just such kids; Ross is complaining about them, and therefore he must be just as bad.

The irony of this is that I, too, don't happen to agree with much of what Ross has to say. His criticism of Harvard is, as other reviewers have already noted, more a symptom than a diagnosis. Yet eviscerating his work from the start -- and in such a spectacularly condescending tone -- only attests to his point about the pseudo-intellectual character of the new "meritocratic" class.

That said, I am as mentioned one of the brats in question, and worse, I'm also personally acquainted with the author being reviewed. But even if I hadn't attended Harvard, and even if I didn't know Ross, I have to believe my take would remain the same: when accusing a writer of condescension, it's best to avoid altogether infantile lines such as, "As with many a promising young fogy, no adults have interposed themselves between Douthat and his first book contract."

After all, substitute "magazine" for "book", and much the same could be said of the reviewer and his review.

Note: Ross and I were never close friends, but I lived in the same hallway with him my freshman year. He struck me as someone who was incredibly brilliant, but also clearly uncomfortable with his new social environs; behind his wonderfully witty, if often caustic, ripostes, there was always a distance I was neither willing nor able to breach.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the truly curious, Douthat refers to Meserole and his suite-mates only once, as "...hulking, monochromatic jocks who smoked pot and stacked beer cans in their windows until no one could see in..."

Perhaps not the most fitting tribute, but still a fleeting moment of infamy for our author.

7:15 PM  

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