In Which I Lose My Patience; or, The Princeton Social Scene, Continued 21 September 2009Posted by Emily in Blog, Personal Life, Princeton.
Yes, I (very clearly) enjoy two-clause post titles. At this point, I think you’ll just have to cope.
The Princeton University Press Club is a long-standing institution that has made the names of more than a few professional journalists. They have a slightly less long-standing blog which occasionally picks up an interesting story not covered by the Prince, but which more often than not is really quite fatuous. I’m sure all the writers are solid reporters for the local, state, and national papers where they string/intern, but on the blog, quite a lot of them are frequently guilty of either not understanding snark or of assuming that everyone on campus comes from a privileged background and thus fits totally seamlessly into a dominant culture that further privileges privilege. The most recent offender, wherein the author argues that Princeton’s twice-yearly bacchanalic prepfest isn’t alienating at all:
Lawnparties was never really about the band. It’s a wonderfully weird celebration of Princeton, honoring both what it is and what it could be.
Yes, Lawnparties is an anthem to the Princeton stereotype – loud music, louder pants, drinking before 10 a.m., and preppy bacchanalia. But it’s not just day drinking that makes Lawnparties a special day.
For all its elitist trappings, Lawnparties is Princeton’s egalitarian party. For one day, it doesn’t matter who you know, or what club you’re in. For one day, the bouncers don’t care if you’re on the list, or have two salmon passes. If you go to Princeton, for one day the eating club lawns are your lawns. Seniors and freshman stand shoulder to shoulder in the sun, drinking warm champagne and rocking out to Journey.
The writer of this post, of course, misses the key point that letting anyone listen to a band in the backyard of a usually-exclusive bicker club is only an act of egalitarianism if someone who is usually barred admission from said bicker club fits well enough into the culture to feel welcome there once admitted. Thinking this while reading, I got frustrated enough to comment on the post:
Egalitarian? Since when? Lawnparties elides the stratification between bicker and sign-in, between the haves and have-mores, the populars and the more-populars. But it doesn’t do anything to include people who don’t own a single pastel Lacoste polo or sundress, who don’t like to get shitfaced, or who for a variety of other reasons are just disgusted, not entertained, by the preppy Ivy League stereotype. Believe it or not, 30% of this university’s juniors and seniors aren’t in an eating club. And for many of them, all the clubs could be on PUID and they’d still feel like losers and outcasts. For some of them, Lawnparties is an excuse to go out of town for the weekend, or else an insufferably hot weekend spent indoors with all the windows shut, trying to drown out the sounds of someone else’s party to which, supposed “egalitarian” nature aside, it’s still perfectly clear that those who don’t conform aren’t invited.
Last spring, I went and sat in the basement of the library to work during Lawnparties afternoon, knowing that I would feel awkward and miserable and outcast if I dressed up and went down to Prospect Avenue to stand in a yard getting drunk, but also knowing that if I could hear the strains of Lawnparties music from my room, I would be so tortured by my outcast status that I’d be unable to work. This past weekend, a trip I’d planned happily coincided with Lawnparties weekend, so that I didn’t have to watch debauchery going on all around me to which I am implicitly not invited. Instead, two friends and I high-tailed it to Rhode Island to visit another friend, and I had perhaps one of the best weekends of my life. (While I am given to hyperbole, this is not hyperbole. At all.)
If it hadn’t been for Princeton, I wouldn’t have met the friend I was going to visit, nor the friends I made the trip with. If it hadn’t been for Princeton, I wouldn’t have managed to parachute into a subculture that isn’t interested in what the rest of Princeton is doing Lawnparties weekend. This school has a lot screwed up with its culture, but it also gives you the tools to subvert that culture, the resources to make your own choices, and of course some of the best academics in the world that you can take solace in whenever (if you’re like me) your essential state as a loner can get just a little too depressing. And that’s why I’m a Princeton evangelist, and why I care enough about Princeton to invest my time and efforts in making it a place where I and people like me are as much at home as the people who feel like Lawnparties is the great equalizer.
But for all that to work, the people who feel like Lawnparties is the great equalizer need to realize that although they are the dominant force in Princeton social life, they are not the only force. They need to realize whom they’re alienating and whose insecurities they’re reinforcing. They need to recognize that they speak for a world of privilege and social posturing that is inaccessible, undesirable, or flat-out disgusting to a lot of people with whom they share a campus.
And with that, it’s back to work: I have to read Rousseau’s Discourse Concerning Inequality for tomorrow.