On One Hand

April 21, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 10:16 pm
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I used to hope Chelsea Clinton would get into politics. She is remarkably intelligent, and has earned private-sector credentials that many lifelong Democratic politicians – especially those from big political families – skip over. She faced GOP Clinton-bashing during her father’s presidency, and in her sensitive formative years was at ground-zero in the biggest sex scandal in American history – winning the sympathy of nearly all Democrats. Unlike her parents, she’s never been responsible for any of the scandals and blunders that have tainted the Clinton name, and unlike other famous first-daughters, she’s never been caught up in an underage drinking scandal.

Chelsea disappeared for nearly a decade, gracefully bowing away from media attention to complete her education, proving yet again her class as a high-profile figure. We never heard anything about her for years, until she appeared suddenly out of the mist to stump for her mother’s presidential campaign. When I first saw footage of her college tour on MSNBC, it struck me then that, unless she gets a job at a laundromat or lives in rural Texas for a while, Chelsea Clinton will never win public office outside Massachusetts.

Chelsea Clinton has the thickest Harvard accent I’ve ever witnessed, either on TV or in person. You can hear it before she even opens her mouth; Harvardiosity practically leaks out of her pores. It is in the way she dresses and the way she carries herself, careful to keep all hand gestures within a seven-inch bubble around her chest, and a perpetually surprised expression on her face; her composure is more reminiscent of a speaker at a city Water Board meeting or prep school debate team than a tumultuous and empassioned political campaign.

Allow me to take this opportunity to discuss something I noticed recently, when a 50-something blonde woman with big, bushy hair and glasses discussed animal rights as a guest speaker in a sociology class. When she uttered the words, “I first became Vegan at Harvard,” it was of no surprise; she may as well have posted her alma mater on a name tag.

If you live in a college town you can learn to identify professors and grad students who went to Harvard. I imagine they’re scattered through university campuses across the United States, usually bitter that the school they’re working in now isn’t as good as the one they came from – either that or they think they’re successfuly of-the-people, able to blend in among the inferior, blue-collar crowds at Michigan State or UCLA. They are unaware of how sorely they stick out, most immediately identifiable by their clothing, which comes in the form of expensive earth-tone slacks, layerered vests and ribbed turtleneck sweaters. They like cocking their head to one side and speak in a gentile, soft-spoken, yet subtley condescending tone, and are immensely proud of having stood up for veganism or feminism or gay rights in a culture that is uneducated and backwards on those issues.

There’s one layer of Harvardiosity for academic elites in general – which is constituted by most Humanaties professors and grad students who do not smoke weed or roll their own cigarettes – a second layer for those from one of the top 50 American schools, and a third layer for Ivy Leaguers specifically. Those who actually went to Harvard, meanwhile stand at the shining pinnacle of Harvardiosity, elite, excessively cultured, strong-willed, mild-tempered and gut-wrenchingly self-critical. They are a bizarre, ground-zero synergy of old money, extreme liberalism, East Coast cutthroat professionalism and a profound sense of superiority, which even the more laid-back Berkeleyites pale in comparison to. Their politics – and this applies to most white-collar Democrats from the Northeast – are steered towards compassion for social groups, but that doesn’t mean you have to be compassionate toward any one person in a competitive world – there is no excuse for intellectual laziness or ignorance.

I don’t think people from prestigious schools mean to make you feel unintelligent, but you can tell that somewhere in the depth of their souls, they get a kick out of it. Even if they respect your unconventionality, creativity or oppressed minority status, they will find a way consider you naive or disrespectful. Within five minutes of talking to them you know they’ve evaluated whether or not you could have gotten in to Yale or Princeton if you were more ambitious, and decided that, if you are of sufficient IQ, you took the path you’re on either out of despair or because you grew up persecuted by a Christian church setting. You often wonder if they’re using unnecessarily big words on purpose, or if they realize how annoying it is when they drop lines like “if you’d gone to Harvard you would have read from….” or “at Harvard we discussed the…” etc.

I don’t know if the way they discuss Chomsky’s latest thesis like you were clearly all over that shit is more patronizing than had they prefaced, “Noam Chomsky is a famous liberal academic,” assuming you’d never heard of him at all. In the case that they do mention the MIT professor’s recent lecture at Columbia, you know they know you hadn’t heard of it and were just discussing it to show what world they come from.

I’ve had professors or met grad students whose Harvardiosity was slathered so thick you wanted to drop the names of French philosophers just to avoid seeming like an idiot by comparison – then praying you didn’t reference a brand of European cheese by mistake. “As Reblochon argued,” you continue, “identity is a composite of what the society wishes it was not.” The Harvarder will not embarrass you, but will instead politely feign ignoriance – “hm, I am not familiar with that line” – then whisper about it to a colleague before selecting another toothpick of port salut at the campus museum’s Persian flowerpot exhibit’s public opening.

I, along with so many Americans, used to feel sorry for Chesea Clinton. We’d lament how unfair it was that she had to grow up with the pressures of living in a political family, and curse at Rush Limbaugh who compared her looks to a that of a dog when she was just twelve years old. How unfair that she was isolated from her peers and –

– wait a minute, her father is the president, former slave. Lets face it, Chelsea Clinton is one of the most priveledged people in the United States and the world; I’d certainly rank her among the top 100. She met virtually every important world figure and traveled with Secret Service protection while growing up. Warner Brothers made a movie staring Mandy Moore based on Chelsea Clinton’s life, but only after Disney made one for TV first.

Chelsea Clinton is priveleged among the priveledged, and it comes through in her voice. Neither of Chelsea Clinton’s parents reek of East Coast elitism, though they went to Yale – they are more accultured to the life of populist politics, while Chelsea is fresh out of it.

Barack Obama doesn’t have the Harvard accent, though he graduated from Harvard Law, but John Kerry does, even though he went to Yale. Michelle Obama, who also went to Harvard, has a bit of a Harvard accent.




  1. Um, have you ever actually chilled for any substantial amount of time with anyone who goes to Harvard? I used to have that attitude about the Ivy League also, until I met more of a cross-section of people who attend the Ivy League, and realized that most of them are just normal students like you and me. Sure, there are elitists, but elitism exists everywhere, and it takes a different kind of arrogance to ridicule people for visibly displaying their intelligence or because they don’t embrace Boulderite values (which by the way, coming from someone who lived in Boulder all her life and now lives on the East Coast, can be just as insufferable as “East Coast elitism).

    Comment by acerbic_wit — April 22, 2008 @ 1:10 pm | Reply

    • yes, I wrote this based on personal experiences with real grad students and professors I’ve had class with.

      Comment by ononehand — April 22, 2008 @ 4:19 pm | Reply

  2. Goddamn it, Matt, she went to Stanford and Oxford, not Harvard.

    Comment by erichowens — April 22, 2008 @ 4:03 pm | Reply

    • Then she has a Stanford accent then – it’s like the difference between Boston and Rhode Island. But she still reeks Harvardiosity.

      Comment by ononehand — April 22, 2008 @ 4:22 pm | Reply

      • As an “oppressed minority” who went to a public school in Memphis, TN and not an elite prep school on the East coast, I feel like I should stick up for Harvard. It’s true that those type of people exist at Harvard (as they do everywhere, really…) but it would be completely unfair to describe that type of elitism as “Harvardiosity.” So many people are down to earth and do not automatically judge people within the first 5 minutes that they meet them. If anything, the people that you describe constitute a minority of Harvard’s undergraduate population. There are so many people who go here that do not come from the New York-DC corridor and who do not come from old money and are not legacies. This may have been true of Harvard 50 years ago, but (whether this is commendable or not) Harvard has made a conscious effort to recruit students from diverse backgrounds (racially and socioeconomically) in recent years. We also don’t all go around dropping the names of social theorists and philosophers 24/7. And I’m wearing a pair of jeans and a ratty Of Montreal shirt right now. No earth tones.

        (This is not to deny that Harvrad is very much an elite place that exhibits many signs of privilege. Just saying that to assert that “Harvardiosity” is representative of the average student here just isn’t true).

        Comment by staryeyed213 — April 22, 2008 @ 6:38 pm

      • I’m sorry if I offended you. I’m not bashing Harvard, I’m making fun of it…the same way I make fun of Unitarians…I think there’s a difference. Clearly Harvard is a stand-in for an elite academic culture you find in many places, and clearly since I am personally an upper-middle-class white liberal I’m not going to wage any bias against someone who went there.

        Besides, my point is that you can identify people who went to Harvard, which is true, I’ve been able to do it several times and since they constitute less than 1 percent of Boulder’s population, it couldn’t have been dumb luck.

        Comment by ononehand — April 23, 2008 @ 3:24 am

      • What’s my Columbia accent like? Boston Brahmin?

        Comment by erichowens — April 22, 2008 @ 6:51 pm

      • Your Columbia accent is witty and condescending. Columbiaites are known for competitive, intellectual oneupedness and a freakish obsession with fact checking.

        Comment by ononehand — April 23, 2008 @ 10:24 pm

      • Touche, my half-naked Italian, touche.

        Comment by erichowens — April 23, 2008 @ 11:43 pm

      • By the way, Columbia’s not in Boston, it’s in NYC OOOH GOTCHA!!!!

        Comment by ononehand — April 23, 2008 @ 10:25 pm

      • Also, shit, Stanford’s in California.

        Comment by erichowens — April 22, 2008 @ 10:15 pm

      • I never wrote anything about where Stanford was.

        Comment by ononehand — April 23, 2008 @ 10:22 pm

  3. Maybe physicists are immune?

    Everyone I know from Harvard is pretty cool. My labmate (PhD from Harvard) is one of the more laid-back physicists I know.

    Or maybe it’s that our institute (JILA) is just as good as Harvard, for what we do. And we have better weather. 🙂

    Comment by 477150n — April 22, 2008 @ 11:47 pm | Reply

  4. wow, how embarassing for you, that you wrote all of this about how CLEARLY EVIDENT it is that chelsea clinton went to harvard, IT’S IN HER HAND GESTURES OMGOMG … except she went to two schools, one of which is on the opposite coast of harvard and one of which doesn’t happen to be on the same continent.

    she never, however, made it to harvard.

    awkward …

    Comment by Anonymous — April 23, 2008 @ 6:23 am | Reply

    • It could have been embarrassing if I was writing a serious editorial. Thanks for the empathy.

      Actually, no, go read this post again. I think it’s clear enough that 1) this is satire, not to be taken seriously, 2) “Harvardiosity” does not actually require you to have gone to Harvard, therefore Chelsea’s Harvard accent is not intended to imply that she went there.

      Wow, you tried to make a witty, condescending comment about something you barely glossed over, and it turned out you didn’t read it close enough. That must be embarrassing!


      If you’re going to flame someone’s blog anonymously, don’t expect anyone to take you seriously.

      Comment by ononehand — April 23, 2008 @ 10:26 pm | Reply

      • wow, you and max karson should get together and talk satire … because you both are clearly operating from the same warped and incorrect definition.

        better luck next time, kiddo.

        Comment by Anonymous — April 24, 2008 @ 8:06 pm

      • OH, damn, you caught me, Harvard elites are actually an oppressed minority group and I hate them. Carson is such a good comparison to me because Max Carson made fun of Asians and going to Harvard is practically the same thing as being Asian. Next thing you know I’ll have the media up in my ass for being prejudiced against graduate students.

        And it’s not like I voted for John Kerry, the “elite” candidate, in 2004, and Barack Obama, the “elite” candidate, in 2008. I’m not a college student who would be, you know, half making fun of myself or my own political background or anything like that.

        Man, you and the Campus Press team sure know how to hold a grudge. How about signing your name next time, Holmes.

        Comment by ononehand — April 24, 2008 @ 8:22 pm

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