It may sound like I am being a snob in this post. I admit to being accused of snobbery before -- and from a friend, who had a lot more reasons to be a snob than I did. Those are the accusations that one can trust! But it was a long time ago, actually when I was in college. I think that I have changed. In this regard, I see myself becoming more like my mother, who had an almost anti-snobbery about the important things in life. She was relieved to become a Catholic at least to a small degree to escape the embarrassing snobbery of the Episcopal Church. She liked the "here comes everybody" aspect of Catholicism. OK, I'm digressing.
Two things in the last couple of days have me thinking about the culture of Vanderbilt. One is Frannie Boyle, the gadfly of Vanderbilt. What are we going to do without Frannie next year? She comments on the culture of Vanderbilt in her final column in the Torch: "I love many things about Vanderbilt, and I especially love the people that I met. I have also seen the worst of Vanderbilt, though, and I can't wait to get the heck out of here." Frannie's offense is that she refused to play the "Emperor's New Clothes" about the predatory sexual culture that the Vanderbilt administration allows to thrive on campus. It is literally killing people, and she dared to speak out. She paid for it, too.
The other is a literal experience of culture. Last night on the way to and from a magnificent student performance of Mozart's Requiem, I was assaulted by Rites of Spring. What is an academic institution doing putting on something like that -- Rites of Spring, I mean? And usually right before exams? The Requiem was an event of true beauty. The excellence and coordination required are the cultural antithesis of the self-absorbed mess offered at Rites of Spring. The audience at the Requiem were drawn out of themselves to encounter the transcendent whereas the crowds at Rites were largely in a stupor. There were few at the Requiem and many at Rites. What kind of culture does Vanderbilt want?
In both of these instances, Vanderbilt is conforming to the predominant culture of radical autonomy rather than challenging it. True culture, however, transforms us and takes us out of ourselves -- it changes us.