Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Let the Trash Talk Begin

Harvard-Yale 2005
So...it seems strange that even when you leave Harvard...you can't really leave it behind. :)
No matter how much I might roll my eyes or moan and groan about undergrad, it's important to point out that my spine stiffens a little when a med classmate mentions Harvard basketball's recent...how do i put this delicately...total spanking at the hands of Stanford (111-56) last friday. Even being generously endowed can't seem to help Harvard basketball players. But at least we're well-endowed.
Anyway, I only mention this because I am flying into New Haven this Friday evening for a blockmate reunion at the Harvard-Yale football game (better known as the Game, which is sort of pretentious for two really mediocre football teams duking it out in subzero weather while everyone else is tailgating). Harvard-Yale is only marginally about football and bragging rights to the victor...it's more like Woodstock for the Ivy League...a reason to reunite with friends, drink beer, and take part in a time-honored ritual of pretentious aping and snooty trash talk against the Pepsi of the Ivy League...that annoying younger school, Yale. Boy, I wouldn't miss it for the world.
Here is an Op/Ed from today's Harvard Crimson, not sure that it's entirely correct:
The Real Difference
All universities are equal, but some are more equal than others
Published On Tuesday, November 13, 2007 12:50 AM
Contributing Writer
Every November, Harvard and Yale attempt to set up the impending Game as an epic battle of Good vs. Evil, Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader, or Plucky Underdogs vs. Bulldogs. But every year the actual struggle seems more like Hatfield vs. McCoy, Montague vs. Capulet, or Luke vs. That Masked Vader-Like Figure in Empire Strikes Back That Actually Turns Out to Be Luke’s Psyche (Or Something). Are we just fighting ourselves? Or is this indeed an epic smackdown between the representatives of two vitally different ideals?
Even those who liken Harvard and Yale to twins have to admit that no twins are truly identical. For instance, some twins have different genders or different personalities. Other twins are separated at birth and then reunited in Shakespearean comedies. So, what makes John Harvard different from Eli Yale? Personality? Gender? Or something else altogether, like Eli’s birth defect?
According to Facebook’s Network Top Ten statistics, there are some subtle but meaningful distinctions between the average Harvardian and the average Yalie. On a typical day, Joe “Eli” Yale relaxes to the music of his favorite artists, U2 (Yale’s #1, Harvard’s #2), The Beatles (#3 and #5, respectively), and, of course, Beethoven (Yale’s #7; not on Harvard’s list). He engages in his favorite activities—reading, politics, and music, in that order—as well as some other treasured pastimes—perhaps a little cooking (#7), history (#9) or philosophy (#8). Clearly, he is in no way a pretentious asshole. And just to drive this point home, he pops in his favorite DVD, “Amelie.” (Yale’s #1, Harvard’s #6). He flips listlessly through his favorite book— “Harry Potter,” also Harvard’s #1—and his second-favorite book, “Pride and Prejudice” (Harvard’s #4), and thinks about how much he enjoyed reading “Lolita,” “Crime and Punishment,” and “Lord of the Rings” (none of which made Harvard’s list). He is 20 percent liberal, three percent conservative, and 17 percent of him is in a relationship, a statistic that has been hard to explain to the other person involved. He goes to his computer, where he has been actively following Yale’s top news story of an “Eight-Limbed Toddler Believed to Be Vishnu Reincarnation.”
Meanwhile, John Harvard flips on some Coldplay (#1 Harvard, #5 Yale) and sets about his favorite activity: Music. His room is decorated with posters of his favorite bands: Pink Floyd, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Killers (none of whom make Eli’s top 10; he’s too busy listening to Beethoven), and favorite movies: “Little Miss Sunshine” (#1, Yale’s #5) and “Fight Club” (#2). Admittedly, he and Eli have similar taste in movies—six of the ten titles are the same. But unlike Eli, he enjoyed “Love Actually” and “The Shawshank Redemption,” and felt that “Crash” was edifying, but also thought-provoking. That’s how John likes his movies.
He is not a pretentious asshole either—as some of his favorite books attest: “1984,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “The Catcher in the Rye.” John just loved that AP English reading. Every single one of those books changed his life, as he wrote in his college essay. Some of them changed it multiple times. In his spare time, he reads modern classics with long, paradoxical titles like “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” Also the Bible, although not quite as often as Eli does. He enjoys dancing, photography, and art. He is 17 percent liberal, three percent conservative, and 15 percent in a relationship. Another 15 percent of him is single. As they say, it’s complicated (one percent).
Yet all these comparisons hint at a more fundamental divergence. Yale students want you to know that they enjoy Beethoven. Harvard students want you to know that they enjoy Snow Patrol. Yale students sure love their long important novels by Dostoevsky, Nabokov, or Tolkien. Harvard students sure love their interesting modern novels by people with names like Milan Kundera and Jhumpa Lahiri. Yalies enjoy history and philosophy and put Tolkien books and movies on their profiles. Harvardians enjoy Dancing, Art, and Oscar-winning movies about race. Yale students want to impress you with what they’re doing. Harvard students want to impress you with how cool they look while doing it.
Someone wise once said, “Going to Harvard means you will have to spend the rest of your life proving to people that you’re an idiot.” Yale students don’t have that advantage. That’s why they need to tell us they’ve been reading “Crime and Punishment” and watching “Amelie” again. Everyone has heard of Harvard, and this makes a wider range of people want to come. It also means that your average Harvard student is more—dare I say?—normal than your average Yalie. Harvard’s sheer world fame draws excellent students from all countries and backgrounds while Yale, less-known, still feeds off more exclusive, east-coast-preppy sources. 46 percent of Yale’s freshman class came from private and parochial schools. Only 36 percent of Harvard’s did.
Some people say that by putting an end to early action, Harvard will open floodgates to people who are applying on a whim “because it’s Harvard.” But when these people get in—as they frequently do—it is because they deserve to do so. Everyone praises Harvard “for the students.” But what makes Harvard’s students so great is that they are in many ways a cross-section of the larger world. They are normal people who happen to be excellent, and this sets them apart. People who go to Yale go because they want to attend Yale. People who go to Harvard go because they can.
Alexandra A. Petri ’10 lives in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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