In Which I Lose My Patience; or, The Princeton Social Scene, Continued

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.

12 thoughts on “In Which I Lose My Patience; or, The Princeton Social Scene, Continued

  1. I came to your blog from Allysa Rosenberg’s. Having come from a similar environment in undergrad (University of Richmond), I can relate to being alienated from the dominant social culture at school. I also had a great social life despite the culture, not because of it. By my junior year, we were completely comfortable with our scene and regarded the frat scene as a pathetic sideshow. By senior year, we had a large group of folks gravitate to us nerds. As I look back on the 10 plus years since I graduated, I can hardly believe I made such a big deal of it at all.

    Post-bachelor’s social life has its own travails, but that’s another story.

  2. Thanks for the comment, scottstev!

    I expect I’ll feel much the same way in ten years. I already look back on my high-school self with a certain degree of distance from that totally alien teenage creature. Woo personal development!

  3. How can you feel like an “outcast” if you choose not to go to Lawnparties and are, in fact, disgusted by them? You’re making the choice; you’re leaving yourself out (which, by the way, is completely fine IMO). I agree that in order to enjoy Lawnparties, you do have to play a role to a certain extent, but I have friends who don’t go to Lawnparties AND don’t feel excluded, because it’s just not their scene. They’re accepting of the people who enjoy partying, and the people who enjoy partying are accepting of those who choose not to. Those two groups just don’t socialize very often for obvious reasons. Princeton is beautiful because there’s a place here for everybody, and even if it’s harder for the less social to find their niche, it’s there to be found. As long as you enjoy your scene and what you’re doing, why begrudge others their scene, if they’re not actively excluding you and you don’t want to be included anyway?

    P.S. You write really well. I came here via The Ink and I think I like this counterpoint. If you do check out my blog, I hope you won’t find it too reinforcing of the privileged culture. Also, please excuse my grammar and syntax.

  4. S,

    What I find problematic is the extent to which Princeton culture is defined by Lawnparties, as the commenter below you less gracefully suggests. (I should mention that the commenter below you gave their email address as cotclub@.) The implication to me is that if you don’t participate in Lawnparties, you are a misfit. I know that’s no one’s intention, but that’s nevertheless how it comes across. I don’t begrudge anyone their scene–but the commenter below you certainly seems to begrudge me mine.

    To K FUCKING A, I would argue that “drinking,” “music,” and “fun” are all subjective terms. Also, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Brown, but in my limited experience with the campus, their mainstream interpretation of “fun” is probably much closer to yours than to mine.

  5. I probably should have stopped trying to fit in at some point in college.

    I joined Terrace, and loved it, though it’s still a club and therefore has soft inclusion/exclusion issues, if not hard ones, like Bicker.

    But by the end of Princeton, I was an angry bitter mess (I’m not blaming this on the school, really, since, you know, I’m a human and can make my own choices). I am glad you seem to have found an outlet for your socializing, and that Campus (which was just an empty building my last two years) and other things are being promoted.

    As it stands, whenever I go back, it seems all i do is go back to Terrace and hide from the rest of the school. Wish I had a do-over on some of that stuff.

    As an alum, I’m glad to see the sundress/polo kids aren’t the only kids on campus today. It’s the different kids who are going to change the world.

    And now that I can call a 19 (20? I’m just guessing) year old a kid relative to my 23 years of age, I’m going to go cry about being elderly.

    Peace and love,
    Justin G ’07

  6. (I did have a solid amount of friends at the end there though. Let me not pretend I didn’t actually enjoy college.)


  7. Thanks a lot, Jason! I appreciate your perspective. And I’d be hard-pressed to find anything really systemically wrong with Terrace; it’s the others–and this pretension that Lawnparties is all-inclusive–with which I have problems.

    And yeah, I’m 19. Nearly 20. So young. ;)

  8. Shit, I fail! I’m so sorry! I’ve been mixing up the names “Jason” and “Justin” all my life… please forgive me!

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