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September 17, 2003

Lesy on Rich Kids, Publishing

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Friedrich --

Remember being amazed by how "entitled" yet how touchy so many kids at our Lousy Ivy University seemed to feel? And remember the indignant blogosphere fuss I kicked up when I dared to suggest that publishing a book wasn't all champagne, caviar, and horselaughs with good friends? Michael ("Wisconsin Death Trip") Lesy, interviewed by Robert Birnbaum here, touches entertainingly on both topics. Er, that's privileged kids and how rotten publishing is, nothing to do with me. Lesy teaches writing and journalism at Hampshire College.

Robert Birnbaum: You scare 'em [your students]?

Michael Lesy: Sure. At Hampshire College -- and this is probably true at a lot of schools like Hampshire -- these kids have been privileged. As a result, they have both very large and very frail egos. You and I both know that the world of publishing is brutal and shitty and unfair. The students think that all they have to do is really mean what they say and things will work out for them. That's not true. It's terrible and painful and sad. And it's shitty. So the students sit there, thinking that they can be writers -- and my job is to try to tell them that, in the end, it's like a bar room fight. It's who's left standing. They don't even suspect that. They think, of course, "I'll be left standing." It's so funny. They come with more experience than you would imagine kids in their twenties might have. But they are also very shy. So when you say to them, in a course, "I want you to go home or I want you to go to the neighboring town, and I want you to find something that really interests you ... The response is that they get very uneasy. It turns out that, in spite of all their vacations and their, shall we say, 'recreational experiences', they are very timid. Very shy.

RB: Why do you think?

ML: I don't know. Because they have had it their way.

RB: Because they haven't had to reach out?

ML: It's like you go to one school and go to another and camp is arranged for you and vacations are arranged for you. Your friends have interesting adventures and do naughty things. You think that's life. For whatever reason, they both imagine themselves to be more able than they often are and more experienced than they really are. But it's an interesting process of growing up. And that's what this work at this level of education enables some of them to do. Which is to grow up and to bear witness and to understand that all the shit that they read and listen to on NPR or in The New Yorker or in The Atlantic has taken tremendous effort and tremendous work to make it just a good read. They don't understand that. They think it's like salted nuts at a bar. Right?



posted by Michael at September 17, 2003


Well, the shit that they read and listen to on NPR or in The New Yorker has taken some effort and a bit of work to make it a sort of earnest but not very terribly insightful read.

Not to stand up for rich kids, or anything, but it's not as if most of the "culture" these kids have been exposed to, certainly including NPR and The New Yorker, is setting them a terrific example of how to hang tough in the face of adverse circumstances. Maybe we could assign biographies of Lincoln as required reading.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 18, 2003 12:43 AM

"The students think that all they have to do is really mean what they say and things will work out for them."

That's generous.

Don't get me wrong, some of my best friends are former rich kids. But...

Many many rich kids haven't even bothered to have thoughts that mean anything - despite having a large investment in the notion that they are bright shiny thinkers and creative and all that mess. As the saying goes, if you want to express yourself, start by getting a self.

Slightly digressing, a group on my floor has a recently arrived crop of eager, aggressive interns. They are all the same age. They all went to the same schools. They all wear the same clothes. They all have the same hair. They all have the same non-fat latte every morning. Being an evil bitch, I mentally sorted the "rich kids" from the few who seemed to have brains and personalities on day one. So far, as biographies are revealed, I find that my snap judgments were accurate. Rich kids are much of a muchness.

Posted by: j.c. on September 18, 2003 10:47 AM

FvB -- From the rest of the interview, it's clear that what Lesy's talking about isn't the content of the articles but the amount of work (as well as toughness, persistence, etc) that goes into making a life as a writer, as well as putting together such articles. I wonder what he thinks of the content of 'em, come to think of it. I take his point to be that privileged kids think the world ought to magically behave and pay heed to them, even in the writing field, and that in fact the writing field is as much a job-field (ie., competitive, tough, etc) as any other.

J.C. -- Hear, hear. What do you find the telltale giveaways are -- the signs that a kid's too privileged for her/his own good? Funny too, your observation about how they all dress alike etc. Same in my neck of the woods -- they all seem to have been beamed in from some flawless, photoshopped alternative universe. The Universe of Banana Republic, or some place like that.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 18, 2003 11:13 AM

M. Blowhard - I've been wondering what the mark of the non-beast is. One thing might be .. perhaps approach? The "rich kids" tend to assess people according with their "will the be on the test" approach to life. And they tend not to they rely almost entirely on labels and are, often, frankly (subtlety, but obviously) annoyed when the brand names aren't in big bold letters. For instance, this firm has many "consultants." When rich kid are introduced to a consultant, they are frustrated by the lack of org-chart clues in the title - there is no way to automatically determine if a "consultant" is in a position to hurt or help- and if you aren't a potential threat or "mentor," then you are scenery. (They don't have allies.)

It would be interesting to figure out if the recent grad uniform was created by rich kids, non-rich kids, or is a weird blending of their styles. In any case, Kenneth Cole shoes seem to play a smaller role, which is good

Posted by: j.c. on September 18, 2003 4:20 PM

Also being an evil bitch, I enjoy seeing youngsters sort out who "can help them" and who "can't." Mostly because one of the first real world lessons is that usually totally miscalculate on this. They tend to be drawn to people in an organization who look and act like them, thinking they've found their "element" and they'll "stick together" like a college sorority or fraternity. They have, indeed, found their element---people often just as selfish and shallow as themselves. No mentoring there. They look pained when it dawns on them they've dissed the people who be able and willing to help them or, God forbid, teach them. They are utterly unabashed about attempting to change course midstream and start cozying up elsewhere. Then their fun and punishment (and growing up, maybe) really begins!

Posted by: annette on September 18, 2003 8:11 PM

I was sure that if this Lesy talk incited any interest it would have something to do with 1) his belief in the"truth" and 2)that what he was doing was providing a "moral" education.

You never know...

Posted by: Robert Birnbaum on September 18, 2003 9:40 PM

Let's begin a HOT discussion :))))

Posted by: подарки on April 4, 2004 7:28 AM

Very interesting article.

Posted by: подарки on April 4, 2004 8:02 AM

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