Yesterday the local university, self-described as an “Ivy League-parallel” institution, published an intriguing story in the student newspaper. I heard about this story through a friend and while it is easy to be interested in this news, I find the entire situation riddled with more telling problems than the story itself. Six months into her college career, one of the university students realized that she did not quite have enough money to meet the tuition payments, which approach $60,000 a year. Yes, that’s right. One year at the school costs far more than the majority of American citizens earn from a year of work. Having not planned ahead, seemingly at all, the student needed a way to make money. Work at the library? Or the field house, like I did as an undergraduate? Nah, why not do the modern thing and copulate on camera with a stranger and get paid handsomely? That is more like it! Sex sells, and it also alarms. Her peers are predictably worked up, as demonstrated by comments on the newspaper article and those posted in online forums. My initial reaction was to wonder how different my college experience would have been if everyone had a device in their hand that could post images, and videos, to a global web of wi-fi servers. College is inherently an experimental, and excessive, time in the life of many students. Or, at least those fortunate enough to attend college as a cushy eight-month camp, full of partying, cutting classes, sleeping in at every opportunity, and generally not acting like the adult the time is intended to train you to be. Live it up, on someone else’s tab. But, this soul didn’t have quite enough money to attend the “Ivy-parallel” university so she did what just about, er, what most people would not do – she turned to one of the oldest trades available to women, which is trading their body for money. Interesting choice. Secondly, I wondered how the wi-fi and smartphone culture had shaped her sense of self and privacy. If you’ve been photographed, video recorded, and plastered on the internet for the majority of your life, is it a major step to then allow strangers to record you, as long as they pay you well? You’ve been doing as much for free, so why not cash in on that experience? Sure, not everyone makes this choice, but I think the parallels between a lived life and a recorded, posted life draw closer and closer when you have come to feel completely comfortable operating in front of a camera. I wonder how this modern existence shaped her decision. Aside from the troubling myopia of the student, and the fact that she’s likely changed her life for the worse forever, I was deeply troubled by the reaction expressed by many of her peers. And her own contradictions expressed in the interview were disturbing as well. She claimed she needed money for tuition, but showed the journalist her designer handbag and expensive, new laptop. She also decried those students who would judge her and place labels on her. But then she immediately turned around and labeled her previous job as a waitress as humiliating and exploitative. Hmm, are those not labels? College is promoted as being training for life, but in fact I realize it is actually an escape from the reality of life and a synthetic experience, especially when it is a top-tier university (sorry, Ivy-parallel) with the brightest, and richest, young adults around. It is not a microcosm or a training ground, but an escape from the wide world. Yes, many of these students will in fact go on to inhabit a small world that has little, or no, correlation with the wide world and the experience of the majority of humans. Still, I could not get over how narrowly she, and her peers, saw the world and interpreted their place in it. A fellow journalist bemoaned the Scarlet Letter of attending the university, since it has made scandalous headlines in the past. The poor guy. Tough, tough breaks, having to fly home to California for holidays and feeling the stigma of attending his “Ivy-parallel” university. What became apparent is that despite the ultra-expensive education most of these students have received, from grade school through the “Ivy-parallel” university, is that they still perceive their lot in life as being unfair, the world stacked against them, and have the nerve to ask for special treatment, which they have no intention of return to the rest of humanity. They inhabit a bubble of extreme privilege, yet don’t want to be judge, don’t want to be labeled, but cannot get beyond thinking that attending their “Ivy-parallel” university should provide a label of intelligence, future success, and being smarter, and somehow better than, the masses. If these teenagers, benefitting from all the finer things in life that money can buy, can’t relate to the world in a conscientious, compassionate way, how can the person who truly has been disadvantaged operate in such a fashion? The horrors of attending, say a state university, meant the only option this first-year student had was to sell her body for money. Talk about living in a fantasy land where one is unable to see beyond their own conceptions of how world operates!

Advertisements