Monday, August 27, 2012

Shame on Yale, Shame on The Times

When I told my father I was becoming a Catholic, his first words were, “My mother would roll over in her grave.” Yesterday evening, when I read the lead article in the New York Times Book Review, my first thought was, “My father would roll over in his grave.”

He would roll once for the book reviewed, Sex and God at Yale, and he would roll a second time for the review itself. Dad was a Yale graduate who stopped contributing money to his alma mater because the university had fallen over on its left side. He might have canceled his subscription to the Times for the same reason, but he lived in the New York suburbs, wanted to know what was going on in the world, especially with his beloved Mets and Giants, and loved to moan and groan.

Memoirist Nathan Harden (pictured) was home-schooled and married before arriving on campus at the New Haven Ivy. In his own words, he “had clawed and scratched and fought my way into Yale,” only to discover a campus that seemed given over to sex—especially during “Sex Week at Yale,” when “experts” like porn stars gave how-to seminars on things that I don’t want to write about here. “Yale had been like some kind of drug,” Harden writes. “It was a blast, and then I came down with a crash.”

If you want unseemly details from the book, you can read Hanna Rosin’s review here. What struck me about the review was (a) the way Rosin reduces Harden to a stereotype, and (b) her casual attitude toward what the author describes with such horror.

(a) Stereotype—The first sentence, the very first phrase, puts Harden in a box where liberal readers can taunt and mock him: “The conservative movement loves an innocent.” The reduction of Harden continues in the next paragraph: “Like many home-schoolers, Harden is a true American eccentric.” And we all know who home-schools their children, right? Those nutty Christian conservatives! Couldn’t one equally say that home-schoolers are independent-minded? That their parents are trying to instill values as well as information?

Instead, Rosin establishes that Harden is a conservative eccentric. She completes the picture by explaining that at Yale “Harden finds himself much in the same situation as Brad Majors at Dr. Frank N. Furter’s convention in ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’: that is, a choirboy type faced with a cast of characters he had not at this point in his squeaky-clean life imagined existed.” With one deft analogy, Rosin has made Harden the butt of her review, as Brad Majors is a butt of the film.

(b) Attitude—After eight column-inches of sexual details passed along from the book, Rosin shrugs it off: “Drinking the Ivy League poison is, of course, a great conservative tradition, a way for Young Turks to show they could be accepted into the elite even as they choose to set themselves apart.” The of course in that sentence is a wink to like-minded readers who will agree with her that what we’re watching here is just another case of predictable conservative antics. She goes on to cite William F. Buckley’s first book, God and Man at Yale, whose title Harden’s memoir echoes.

Rosin allows Harden a couple of points, just to show that her review is fair-minded:

“As a parent, I don’t really want to think about one of my children attending [one of the Sex Week] instructional sessions. And I have reservations about Yale’s decision to host Steven Hirsch, the chief executive of the pornography enterprise Vivid Entertainment.” But Rosin immediately reverses field: “On the other hand, Hirsch’s presence gives the students, who have no doubt already logged dozens of hours watching online porn, a chance to think about what they are doing and how they feel about it.” Ah so there might be some educational value in this after all!

Rosin calls Harden’s arguments against pornography and the loose sexual culture “protective and patriarchal,” and after all, she notes, “Sex Week has always had the sound approval of campus feminist groups, with an exception or two where a film has proved a shade too violent.” I wonder what a shade means in this context.

But so the author is not only a conservative and a nut job, he’s a chauvinist to boot. If feminists like Sex Week, who’s to argue?

1 comment:

  1. Hi There. Thanks for your thoughtful comments about Sex & God at Yale.
    - Nathan Harden

    ReplyDelete

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