Some universities work their way into the pop cultural oversoul. Harvard and Yale are shorthands for “prestige,” of course; those are obvious. Chronic over-achiever Rory Gilmore assumed she would go to one but then at the last minute went to the other. Schools are aware of their reputations, too, which makes it fun to watch them bicker with and backhand each other, like so:
Popular culture suggests that Harvard is the place to be. U.S. News & World Report places Harvard at the top of its college rankings. Films like Legally Blonde purport that we can be smart, glamorous and happy all at the same time. Platitudes tell us we should be having the time of our lives. And yet … Perhaps #1 can learn something from #2.
Early “Simpsons” writers came fresh from The Crimson, so they injected lots of pro-Harvard sentiment into the show. The cretinous capitalist Mr. Burns, for example, is a Yalie. Lisa Simpson, like Rory, naturally wants to go to Harvard. When she dreams that the doors of Harvard are closed to her, the University President promises to forward her application on to–snicker–Brown. Being an iconoclast and a feminist, though, she also has more character-appropriate aspirations: in a different episode, she wails, “There go my girlhood dreams of Vassar!”
Sarah Lawrence in Bronxville, NY, is the most expensive and, according to the experts at Gawker, Most Annoying College in the country (or did the crown end up going to Wesleyan?). It has become shorthand for “Small Elite Northeastern Liberal Arts College,” showing up so often in TV shows, books, and movies that the college even has a section of its Wikipedia page devoted to fictional alumni. Notables include Kat Stratford, in the movie 10 Things I Hate About You, Allison “Allie” Hamilton, in the movie The Notebook, and Remy “Thirteen” Hadley of the popular Fox medical drama House.
Recently, Oberlin has also gotten some time in the spotlight through the insecure narcissists on “Girls” and characters like Lutz on “30 Rock.” It is built into the character of Twofer that he’s a Harvard man and it feels similarly real that Liz Lemon went to the University of Maryland “on a partial competitive jazz dance scholarship.” (Perhaps she was friends with fellow alum Dana Scully from “The X Files”?) Jack Donaghy, like Sideshow Bob and other famous fictional Republicans, as well as, reportedly, God, is a Princeton Tiger.
It’s much more fun when authors and show-runners send their characters to real places rather than “Accidental College,” or “Hearst,” or “UC-Sunnydale.” It gives us in the audience more information about them, like that Buffy applied to and got into Northwestern (?!), and an opportunity to say, No way she would have gotten into / gone there. It also allows for exciting Fictional Alumni Face-Offs between the likes of Duke and Syracuse. After the jump, even more of our favorite fictional folks and their alma maters. Any of these not ring true to you? Is your school well-represented or not at all?
Ester: Hello! They’re doing road work on Flatbush outside my window so it smells like the Elephant House at the zoo in here. How are you?
Rachel: Hot! It is very hot in my apartment, overwhelmingly hot. The thing about how heat rises — it’s true! I live on the top floor and it is as hot as 7th grade science teachers everywhere said it would be.
Ester: That’s rough. At least your apartment isn’t defying the laws of physics, though. That might be dangerous. Ok, so, you and I were talking about starting a business! Perhaps you’d like to introduce yourself briefly before we launch into it?
Rachel: I’m a writer who was until recently a staff writer and has now become a freelance writer, which has been alternately exciting and paralyzing. But I just got a “standing desk” (a bar table, whatever), which I feel is really going to turn things around.
Ester: Totally. And you and I met for coffee yesterday to co-work and also commiserate about how many jobs we’ve had and lost since college even though we are smart and hard-working Good Girls because New York chews people up and doesn’t even bother spitting them out most of the time, so we’re like lodged behind a molar in New York’s mouth and will be until the city decides to floss. Whew. So we were like, maybe we should start a business!
Rachel: We were! Given that we have had All the Jobs, we are obviously in a strong position to start at least one of the businesses.
+ 7251.11 Euro + A new city manager + A man’s watch. “‘Buying a nice watch is not about status to me, nor is it about impressing others. I am buying it because it is a beautiful creation,’” sayeth the investment banker. AskMen approves: “Besides the great choice in aesthetic, going to a brand where the timepiece is an absolute investment is the best thing Paul could have done with this amount of money.” I might not taking further financial advice from AskMen.
+ An un-retouched photo of Lena Dunham + A college degree in Texas. More info here. Sorry I ragged on you earlier, Houston! + A tiny, tiny home + The beginnings of a fortune + The ability to coax Jonathan Adler from bed + The ability to pay off your fine for posting “revenge porn” + Um, a wife?
Yes, I am offering a $10,000 reward to anyone that introduces me to the woman that I propose to. She does NOT need to say yes for you to get the reward. No, if you yourself call and we marry, you don’t get $10,000 but you do get me. In that case, I’ll donate it to a charity that promotes parenthood as being the most important job in the world.
Or you could, you know, write The Goldfinch. And then buy a watch.
We’ve been talking a lot about college on the Billfold lately, which brings up an important question: How do you know if you chose the right school? People in our society make a fetish about picking the place that’s right for you as though there’s only one correct answer, and as though “the place that will give you the most aid” or “the state school closest to home” isn’t the guiding principle behind the way a lot of us make this choice.
Universities seem to serve as kind of a “You complete me” soul-mate stand-in. And for maybe the same reason we talk about “the one” in a romantic context, we take for granted that “the right” college exists out there for everyone interested in higher education. Doesn’t that raise expectations to an unreasonable level? After all, how do you evaluate the choice once you’ve made it?