Five people have now sent me the New York Times article assuring the world that a Brearley girl would never appear on the crass, embarrassing, shameless, and highly unflattering TV show, NYC prep. The article is titled “Who’s Afraid of NYC Prep?” and the answer to that rhetorical question is: not us classy, smart people who went to the “real” private schools in NY.
Yup. In case you’re not from here, let me be clear: In New York City, we have low-class private schools. It’s where kids go if they have learning disabilities, emotional problems, bad tests scores, or some other pitiable problem that prevents them from grasping the Odyssey at age 12. Furthermore, in New York City, if you were capable of grasping the Odyssey at age 12, it is your god-given right to be really effing disappointed if you only get into UPenn. (Penn, for those of you who are slow to catch on, is a “lower-tier” Ivy League School. When I had to bite the bullet and go to Penn, I cried. I apologized to my father. I lost 15 pounds. Please, New York City, please: Just tell me I’m good enough.)
Now, before I get any further along in this seemingly hostile diatribe, let me say: I love Brearley. Sure, it made me slightly insane. It means that all the friends that I made in high school (whom I’m still friends with because they are the only ones who really “get” Brearley) are also slightly insane. I fully believe that I got a better education than the kids at the school on NY Prep are getting, and I also think reality TV is gross, and people who would expose themselves like that have a problem. (It probably stems from feeling inadequate that they didn’t go to Brearley.)
But I should also probably mention that according to the gossip mill, I had classmates that used to get drunk and pee on the street. Once, when I was a senior, I got so drunk at a cast party that I threw up. When I was a tour guide for the school, I occasionally had to avoid certain homerooms because two young women would be on the couch making out. I’ve never watched NYC Prep, so I can’t really say how egregious the sins of the characters are. I’m sure agree with the Times, that the problem isn’t the behavior, but the attitude about the behavior: pride and elitism.
Being high-class is all about pretending you are not high-class. If you have a problem, it is talked about in hushed tones. My older cousin went to one of the best private schools in NY and probably in the country, and I remember years ago, he and his mother panicked about the 30 dollars a day his friends spent on lunch. Those kids didn’t go on Bravo to talk about how elite they were, but of course their dining habits told a different story.
And in the end, for better or worse, it’s all about the story. One of my favorite teachers of all time, my Brearley kindergarten teacher, is quoted in the article, saying, “This is a show that represents a group of kids doing a lot of excessive and risky behavior…This really isn’t representative of who we are.” The key words there are “representative” and “excessive.” Most kids who grow up anywhere in the country engage in some risky behavior. But when there is a show devoted to that behavior, it starts to look excessive, and when it gets excessive, it starts to represent something that may or not be true.
But didn’t we always know that about reality TV? Does anyone think that all Housewives in NJ are the ones on that show? Or that everyone in LA lives like the people on the Hills? The thing that strikes me about the backlash here is that it is seriously, and tragically, about class ism.
When the show first started, a friend called me up panicked to say that “everyone was going to get the wrong idea about the upper east side.” I was baffled. I told her, “Anyone who is forming judgments about you, or the upper east side, based on that show is not someone you need to worry about.” Yes, of course, many people live on the upper east side! Many kids go to private school. No one seems to think the show is anything but entertainment except all the real elitists, the people who are so hyper-sensitive that they fear some 16 year old getting drunk on Bravo will tarnish their reputation.
Last time I checked, these people panicked about bad PR were claiming that the real reason they sent their kids to good private schools was to get a good education, not to solidify their children as a member of a higher caste. Sadly, everyone who is up-in-arms about this has outed themselves. And they’ve also revealed the real dark side of private schools: the superiority complex.
I think I’m only aware of this because about a week ago I had a freak out that started like this: “I bet I’m the first Brearley girl in the history of all Brearely girls to get laid off. Real Brearley girls don’t get laid off.” As I’ve mentioned, I have lots more time for slow, sustained panic now, so rather than having a full-fledged flip-out, I’ve been mulling this thought over quite a bit.
I’m definitely the only person I know from my high-school to get laid-off. I’m also the only person I know from my “lower-tier Ivy” I know to get laid-off. I’m the only person from either institution I know who dropped out of a grad school, not to mention a grad school that wasn’t even Columbia or Harvard. I’ve spent the last two years tirelessly trying convince the world that findingDulcinea was a great idea, probably so that when it succeeds, I can tell the Brearley Bulletin.
The truth is, my beloved Kindergarten teacher, who was kind to me when I had no friends and told my mom I was creative but lonely, would probably tell the NY Times that I wasn’t representative of New York City private schools, either. You only get put under the spotlight insofar as you can make a good impression, and after that, you’re asked to go in the corner and have some quiet time. Come back when you’ve written a book about getting laid-off, and if you can’t, please don’t come back.
The whole time that I believed I was well-prepared and intelligent just because I went to Brearley, I never realized how much my alleged objectively “wonderful education” was contingent purely on the success stories I could deliver-to myself and others. I couldn’t believe it when the people I met thought I was a snob. I was appalled to learn that some people didn’t want to be famous. (“Happiness? What the hell kind of life goal is that?”)
And now, here I am, embarking on Week Three of being an absolute nobody. But before you pass too much judgment, remember: I still read the New York Times. And if this blog entry made me famous, I wouldn’t really be opposed.