Saturday, July 18, 2009

Meanderings: On Elitism

So the hubster and I are watching O'Reilly being hosted by Laura Ingraham when there is a Special News Bulletin, the kind they have when an airplane goes down or Jacko bites the big one. This time, however, the interruption is due to the death, hardly surprising, of a 92 year old Walter Cronkite. Fox now launches into long and lauditory coverage.

Only the press thinks that the death of one of their own merits the kind of coverage given to, say, assasinated presidents. As for me, I remember my Cuban-American father who absolutely loathed the man, saw him as emblematic of the reason we lost in Vietnam. This much is sure: at some point during those years, the objective stance of the reporter began to shift. The results are all too obvious today. But that's old news. So just before hubby, cursing, changed the channel to Modern Marvels or some such, I caught an interesting tidbit: Cronkite only did two years of college. What?

Coming at the end of a week of Sotomayor hearings when we were supposed to prostrate ourselves before the altars of Princeton and Yale Law, which in and of itself echoed the required response to Obama's academic pedigree, it seemed paradoxical. The question is natural. Would Cronkite have stood a chance at a journalism career today without that journalism degree, or some variety of previously established celebrity?

The answer leads to all sorts of ruminations. There is at present on the airwaves a near veneration of the Ivy degree. The extension of this academic worship is that no one without that particular variant of sheepskin is to be taken seriously, a view that might be true if there were enough seats and scholarships for the truly deserving in these institutions.

Each year, these bastions of higher learning turn down thousands of valedictorians who do not need to perfect their English and who can actually write a serious, meaty thesis, and who might not be near Olympic swimmers with B averages, or serious ballerinas. They are, however, no less intellectually gifted than those invited into the inner sanctum.

So while I take nothing away from Sotomayor, or Obama for that matter- both have ably demonstrated their intellectual gifts- they were lucky. For those who are born into families without connections, this is about the only way to gain entree into elite circles. That the possession of a degree from Harvard or Yale or Princeton, etc. is the only indicator of a superior intellect, I reject. The pervasiveness of the belief itself is yet another example of the ossification of our society.

Think of a past in which you could start out sweeping in the newsroom and work your way up, or you could finish your novel and dash it off to a publisher who would actually read it, or better yet start off as a haberdasher and rise to the presidency. Do these scenarios seem likely in the present? How would Abe Lincoln fare?

No comments: