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A Sunny Place for Shady People

Pithy, contrarian, politically incorrect and curmudgeonly rants on sex, money, power and politics and religion and philosophy. In short: Nothing matters, everything changes and there are no guarantees. The rest is rationalization and bribery. (c) Tom Milner 2002-2003. DIRECTORY of offensive POSTS at Archives: 07/09/03. RECOMMENDED BLOGS: Archives: 07/29/03. email: theoldbuzzard AT sunnyplaceforshadypeople DOT com.

Thursday, May 29, 2003
Monday, June 02, 2003

(This is the sixth of eight installments of a reverential review of iconoclast Paul Fussell's Class: A Guide Through the American Status System. New York: Dorset Press, 1990. Out of print but available discounted on line.)

"The lust of all classes to acquire status by attaching themselves to universities, learned societies, 'science,' and the like -- anything but commerce and manufacturing and 'marketing' -- [is illustrated by how] the Morgan Library attracts contributors of money by designating them not Donors or Benefactors, but 'Fellows'."

And "[t]he most naked lobbies in Washington, those most deeply dyed in the practices of bribery and coercion like to call themselves institutes ...."

Apparently so much prestige has attached to American colleges and universities that they have been remarkably immune to criticism.

But they deserve disdain and worse for the way in which they have swindled their customers -- their students.

For example, if your college isn't "selective," or has no academic clout, then the awful truth is that your degree confers little or no income advantage over a high school graduate.

This happened, in part, because every state college, or "ag" school, or teacher's college, decided to call itself a "university."

Unearned promotions indeed.

Fussell wryly notes that "[o]ne frivolous but not entirely untrustworthy guide to college quality might be the absence of a given college from national basketball tournaments."

All of this begins, of course, with admission to tony kindergartens and prep schools which lead directly to the "Ivy."

Even what you read (or whether you read) marks your social class.

Prole literature consists of commodities like Reader's Digest, TV Guide, People, New York Daily News, and the National Enquirer.

"The uppers don't care what you think about their reading, and neither do the proles. The poor anxious middle class is the one that wants you to believe it reads 'the best literature....'"

Middles are addicted to how-to books, sets of "Great Books," and noncontroversial periodicals like the National Geographic, Smithsonian, and House and Garden.

Middles also aspire to be thought readers of matter above their station, like Fortune, Forbes, and Barron's.

"[T]he middle class reads to have its notions confirmed ...."

Uppers, having few ideas anyway, read hardly at all.


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