How the Oscars Offended Me Today

25 02 2007

MORNING UPDATE – in thinking more on this, I think I’ll go with Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“Language is the archives of history…Language is fossil poetry.”

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I am offended!

FavD has been watching the Turner Classic Movies channel all this rainy day. It’s an Oscar marathon of winners, and before Gone With the Wind started, they interviewed black historians about black actress Hattie McDaniel (Mammy) winning the 1939 best supporting actress. How Olivia de Havilland felt robbed but was told to suck it up, that it was McDaniel’s one chance and America should have this race history moment.

Then the overture started, and we fondly threw the syrupy, dated lines of dialogue back and forth until I wandered off to play chess with the boy. I could still hear the movie even though I wasn’t really listening, the movie I know so well that if ever in solitary confinement, I’d likely choose GWTW to replay scene by scene in vivid and excruciating detail in my mind, to keep from going insane.But suddenly a disturbing note, something was wrong.

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School Socialization Should Shame Us All

25 02 2007

“The injustice of the lies,” she said, “is contemptible.”

The 23 members [evicted] included every woman who was overweight. They also included the only black, Korean and Vietnamese members. The dozen students allowed to stay were slender and popular with fraternity men — conventionally pretty women the sorority hoped could attract new recruits. Six of the 12 were so infuriated they quit.

“Virtually everyone who didn’t fit a certain sorority member archetype was told to leave,” said Kate Holloway, a senior who withdrew from the [Delta Zeta] chapter during its reorganization. “I sensed the disrespect with which this was to be carried out . . .I didn’t have room in my life for these women to come in and tell my sisters of three years that they weren’t needed.”

Ms. Holloway is not the only angry one. The reorganization has left a messy aftermath of recrimination and tears on this rural campus of 2,400 students, 50 miles southwest of Indianapolis.

The mass eviction battered the self-esteem of many of the former sorority members, and some withdrew from classes in depression. There have been student protests, outraged letters from alumni and parents, and a faculty petition calling the sorority’s action unethical.

DePauw’s president, Robert G. Bottoms, issued a two-page letter of reprimand to the sorority. In an interview in his office, Dr. Bottoms said he had been stunned by the sorority’s insensitivity.

“I had no hint they were going to disrupt the chapter with a membership reduction of this proportion in the middle of the year,” he said. “It’s been very upsetting.”

The school’s president is stunned and upset? One could argue this was a very effective object lesson, exactly the kind of learning experience school social systems were originally constituted to deliver and reinforce and have done ruthlessly ever since. If he doesn’t like it, he’s in a position to start changing it. Otherwise he needs to own it.

Everything about college campus life — from getting in to getting along, to getting through, to getting a job through those social contacts — imposes this same lesson *by institutional design and with institutional support* and college presidents must’ve learned it as well as any silly sorority girl or rejected chubbette.

Maybe better! – some university presidents are in practice shamelessly playing for institutional reputation, recruiting by rankings, weeding and culling and shuffling students like playing cards for the next bet, grasping for the top and misrepresenting the truth, all for institutional glorification bigger to them than the import of any individual students underserved, unserved or downright devastated by the “lesson”:

Howard Gardner makes the point less offensively, but he’s saying the same thing. Presidents have lost their way no less than status-focused sorority recruiters from the head office.

. . .the more I have thought about it, the more I have become
convinced that the goal of topping the international comparisons is a foolish one, and the rush to raise one’s rank a fool’s errand. In the process of pursuing a higher rank, educational leaders are ignoring deeper and more important purposes of education.

Not so different imo, from what Delta Zeta’s head office managers and PR administrator foolishly hoped to accomplish by this:

“They had these unassuming freshman girls downstairs with these plastic women from Indiana University, and 25 of my sisters hiding upstairs,” she said. “It was so fake, so completely dehumanized. . .”

School sports, clubs, prizes and privilege, including those passively earned via family wealth and status, from the Duke lacrosse team’s social behavior or FAMU’s marching band hazing mutilations to fresh-faced exclusive fraternities and sororities, carve this lesson deeply into the psyche (if not the very flesh) of America’s collective student body.

It’s never in the mission statement, but School teaches and perputuates such hard socialization lessons more thoroughly than anything else it attempts. . . and while that IS upsetting, it’s hardly a shock, at least not to anyone as well-schooled as I was, surely not to any university president or professor with the slightest ability to see, think, and speak about social truth.

“The injustice of the lies,” she said, “is contemptible.”