In Which We Recall The Hazy Day When A Simple Newspaper Column Incited Rage and Despair in the Hearts of College-Aged Women

We have time for a quick story today before I go help Will move into his new Williamsburg apartment.

So back in 2004 (DAMN those were the days weren’t they? No?) I was finally coming to what I wanted to say about that particular year’s presidential election. Mind you, nobody was exactly waiting on the edge of their seat, but I did have the forum of the Brown Daily Herald as I was a junior at Brown at that point.

At the same time, my friend Rahim was completing his term as the head of Brown’s Undergraduate Council of Students, which amounted to him being the student body prez. Since Rahim’s not exactly William Burroughs–

Two great human beings, or two huge 24-style villains threatening our national security? The former.

–I was seriously scared by some stories he told me about this big dude from Brown’s Secret Society intimidating him one weekend. Calling out a secret society in the newspaper, let alone one at Brown, isn’t exactly breaking the Pentagon Papers, but the important thing was I would get my jollies and slam a disgusting human being at the same time. (Win-win.)

With that in mind, I set down to write one of my favorite columns of that period.

Presidential candidates in all their nauseating, college-age glory.

by Alex Carnevale

Issue date: 9/14/04

In George W. Bush’s first year at Yale, there was a little baseball and a little studying. He ended up near the bottom 20 percent of students after the conclusion of his freshman year.

“Excelling in that was not, I think, at the top of his list,” Bush’s Yale roommate Terry Johnson told CNN. “What he did naturally and excelled at naturally was personal relationships.”

Despite Bush’s personal appeal, it’s difficult to believe a man of no real intellectual heft could be at the same time so ambitious. Then again, once he stopped drinking it’s not like he had all that much else to do.

Senator John Kerry, on the other hand, was a debate champ and not much of a hit with women. His college roommate Harvey Bundy once said of the future presidential candidate, “It was hard to find a woman for him.” Sure enough, Kerry’s first marriage was to his friend David Thorne’s fabulously rich sister Julia.

We go to college to find ourselves. Bush found a fratboy – a king of the frat boys – a young man who had “a ragged nervous energy … he could be a bully,” wrote Evan Thomas in Newsweek. Kerry, with only a ridiculously rich great-aunt, almost immediately saw public service as a path to power.

Of course, the candidates did have some formative experiences after they left college; Senator Kerry in the Vietnam War, President Bush in the drug war. But to a large extent, the party animal and the president-in-waiting are pretty much as we left them in 1974, the same people they were when they were our age.

Even at laid-back Brown, folks preparing for political office practically have it stamped on their forehead. And while a small personal fortune is helpful in running for the presidency, the main qualification, it appears from the credentials of Bush and Kerry, is participation in a college institution where naked mud wrestling matches are as standard as vacations in Cabo.

I’m talking about the secret society where both Bush and Kerry found a home, the infamous Skull and Bones, which has made national headlines again and again. New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote of the society: “It has gays who got the SAT scores, it’s got the gays who got the straight A’s. It’s got the blacks who are the president of the right associations. It’s different criteria. More multicultural, but it’s still an elite, selective institution.”

Brown’s secret society, Pacifica, has managed to remain more of a secret, although I would wager they would prefer a little more publicity. Even without any serious notoriety, this group reeks of the same elitism I have come to expect from the two rich, privileged men running for the Oval Office.

Pacifica at Brown is mostly composed of white-collar thugs and ne’er-do wells – the kind of people who wear Deerfield flip-flops, but not ironically. One of my favorite anecdotes about this racially diverse group came during last year’s Spring Weekend, when the organization sent one of its Polo-shirt-wearing heavies to harass a member of the Undergraduate Council of Students, standing at his side for the entire weekend in a vague attempt at intimidation. A young Bush in the making, to be sure.

Pacifica’s saddest moment came at the end of last term, when UCS rep and erstwhile Pacifica member Justin Sanders ’04 resigned from his UCS post in protest over election rules. On the last meeting of the year. Even Bush has better political timing than that. (He subsequently held a press conference in his New Dorm single, though I don’t think anybody showed up.)

I discussed this kind of asinine, all-important behavior with incoming UCS President Joel Payne right before we left for summer break.

“Would you join if they asked you?” I asked.

“No, never,” Joel quickly replied. “Unless they rolled up in a Mercedes. Then I’d have to think about it.” These sad

Pacificans will have a hard time intimidating Joel, because Joel is (most likely) bigger than their daddies.
How can we entice good men and women like Joel to want the most powerful office in the world? How can we end up with the good guys instead of the cretins who can’t run a successful business or even bother to show up to vote in the Senate?

The lack of gravitas of both candidates simply hasn’t hurt them in a climate of low expectations. Bush’s cocaine and alcohol-addled past is not only not a disadvantage, Bush is thought to be more likeable than the stilted John Kerry. That’s correct: our fratboy president, who memorably called his treasury secretary Paul O’Neill “The Big O.”
Possibly attempting to best that, Kerry’s major attempt at a Cheney-style colloquialism came when he told Rolling Stone, “Did I expect George Bush to fuck it up as badly as he did? I don’t think anybody did.” Two class acts, ladies and gentlemen.

As in Brown student government, we often have to settle for the Justin Sanders of the world. There might not be a whole lot of difference between these two Elis, but there’s going to be a lot of shouting to find out exactly how much.

I like that column, especially when I bring pseudo-journalism to the fore by actually quoting someone. In the hours that followed the column’s publication, I was expecting some feedback. For example:

To the Editor:

(Herald Opinions Editor) Alex Carnevale’s guest column (“Boyz II Men,” Sept. 14) establishes its argument by maligning Justin Sanders ’04. Justin is a friend of mine, a hard worker and a singular gentleman. This character assault is entirely wrong-headed and inappropriate. I am disappointed that The Herald would publish a column of this nature. I would like to see the writer issue an apology to Mr. Sanders in a future column.

Ferve O—— ‘04.5
Sept. 14

Hilarious. But then there was this letter, which I need to preface with a short note. You see, when I penned this line

Pacifica at Brown is mostly composed of white-collar thugs and ne’er-do wells – the kind of people who wear Deerfield flip-flops, but not ironically.

the bit about the Deerfield flip-flops had not exactly come out of that blue. I was taking a class with the extremely boring wife of a dean about Maryse Conde and Toni Morrison. There were sixteen females and myself in that course. I got a B–needless to say, I deserved better. Anyway, there was this girl who wore Deerfield flip-flops every day and I found myself staring at them for much of the semester being like, “What are you thinking?”

Unfortunately, she was a reader of the Brown Daily Herald.

To the Editor:

It is unfortunate that Herald Opinions Editor Alex Carnevale felt the need to include an indiscriminate misrepresentation of my high school, Deerfield Academy, in the recent column (“Boyz II Men,” Sept. 14) about the current presidential candidates and Brown’s “secret society.” While I respect his right to the opinion that he holds, I would like to respond to the assertion that “Pacifica at Brown is mostly composed of white-collar thugs and ne’er-do wells – the kind of people who wear Deerfield flip-flops, but not ironically.” I am unfamiliar with “Pacifica” but I resent this categorization. I am the type of person who proudly wears my Deerfield flip-flops without a bit of irony because I have the same pride in Deerfield Academy that I do in Brown University. I consider neither myself nor the other Deerfield Academy students who have matriculated at Brown “white-collar thugs” or “ne’er-do wells.” I would like to apologize with the deepest sincerity if any Deerfield Academy student has ever given cause for that impression, but I also know that the Brown community has more respect and understanding than to categorize students by the high school they attended or the sandals that they wear.

Jennifer S—– ’07
Deerfield Academy ’03
Sept. 14

Clearly I personally don’t have more respect and understanding than that. Poor girl. I wonder if she ever connected the two incidents.

You know what’s weird…her milkshake kinda does bring all the boys…to the yard. OK, I got that joke out of my system forever. Thank you for your time.

“Forever Love” — Anna Nalick

“She’s Got Standards” — The Rifles

“Relief” — Chris Garneau

(website)

“The Book of Love” — The Magnetic Fields

“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” — Amy Winehouse

“Honey and the Moon” — Joseph Arthur

 

6 thoughts on “In Which We Recall The Hazy Day When A Simple Newspaper Column Incited Rage and Despair in the Hearts of College-Aged Women

  1. I’m still waiting to be invited. I thought my creds were legit. Timpanist of the orchestra! Come on. Middle-intensity basketball team captain. Beat that!

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