Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Wow. It’s A Tough Talk, But I Like It

with 5 comments

In 2009, GQ magazine named Duke America’s second-douchiest college, a distinction that came with a caveat: “They’re probably number one. But we’d rather not rank Duke number one at anything.” It’s difficult to argue with GQ’s thinking on either score; something ugly is going on at the university—a mercenary intensity that has been gathering strength for the past two decades, as the institution made the calculated decision to wrench itself into elite status by dint of its fortune in tobacco money and its sheer ambition. It lured academic luminaries—many of them longer on star power than on intellectual substance—built a fearsome sports program, and turned its admissions department into the collegiate version of a head-hunting firm. (I was a college counselor at a prep school in the ’90s, and the zeal with which Duke gunned for our top students was unseemly.)

In some respects Duke has never moved on from the values of the 1980s, when droves of ambitious college students felt no moral ambivalence about preparing themselves for a life centered largely on the getting and spending of money. With a social scene dominated by fraternities and sororities (a way of life consisting of ardent partying and hooking up, offset by spurts of busywork composing angry letters to campus newspapers and taking online alcohol-education classes), with its large share of rich students displaying their money in the form of expensive cars and clothing, and with an attitude toward campus athletics that is at once deeply southern (this is a part of the world where even high-school athletes can be treated with awestruck deference by adults) and profoundly anti-intellectual, it’s a university whose thoughtful students are overshadowed by its voraciously self-centered ones…

Written by gerrycanavan

January 5, 2011 at 1:13 am

5 Responses

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  1. NO MATTER WHAT your opinion of the now notorious online “thesis” of the recent Duke graduate Karen Owen—a comprehensive and often pornographic report on her sexual encounters with 13 athletes, most of them lacrosse players—you have to admit that it was a terrible PowerPoint.

    I thought it was a pretty damn good PowerPoint if its aim is to be read rather than presented.


    January 5, 2011 at 10:55 am

    • Yeah, that’s a good point.

      Also, the title of this post is a quote from Arrested Development, not an endorsement of the piece. I actually think they should just leave the poor woman alone.


      January 5, 2011 at 11:15 am

      • seriously. this article has the worst take-away ever: ‘sure, be sexually empowered, but do it my way, and don’t be slutty about it!’


        January 5, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    • I approached this article thinking it would be a critique of Duke, its anti-intellectual elitism, and its culture of narcissistic self-indulgence, with the Karen Owen PP as its jumping-off point. Turns out, it’s mostly just a critique of Karen Owen and hooking-up culture, an essay we’ve read a thousand times before.


      January 5, 2011 at 3:17 pm

      • i think i have to agree. around the time of the lacrosse scandal, rolling stone published an ‘expose’ of duke ‘hookup culture’ that was more prurient, but neither piece really explains much about why duke is the way it is. it’s slightly better on this than other articles i’ve seen, but when are pundits going to stop using the sensationalized sex lives of (mostly white and privileged) 20-somethings as evidence to criticize contemporary feminism?


        January 5, 2011 at 3:35 pm

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