Vile Bodies

Remembrance of Yale’s Past

May 31, 2011

Multiple Pages
Remembrance of Yale’s Past

We love Yale sluts! “No” means “yes,” and “yes” means “anal”—that’s the beastly braying cry at Yale these days. The frat boys from Delta Kappa Epsilon (G. W. Bush’s club) have been accused of taunting female undergraduates in this fashion. Yale requested that the fraternity be shut down for five years.

O, how the mighty have fallen! How can such noisome behavior, base and vile, reek from this once-great flower of American academia? Indeed, lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

In the glory days, no man ever went to Yale to learn anything. God gave us Columbia and Harvard for that. OK, there’s Harold Bloom, but otherwise, Yale was intended for unadulterated gentlemanly pleasure and sport. As Wilde said, “If a man is a gentleman, he knows quite enough.” Is there anyone around who remembers when Yale was the most splendid, elegant, and gentlemanly of Ivy League colleges; when Andover and St. Paul’s sent their best and brightest to New Haven; when, as Fitzgerald wrote, “Taft and Hotchkiss…prepared the wealth of the Middle West for social success at Yale”?

Where are the Yale men who had their soft tweed jackets and their Oxford-gray flannel trousers made at J. Press and Arthur M. Rosenberg; who trod the Memorial Quadrangle shod in the Raywood-model, full brogue, slip-on Peal shoe and the Oxford-cloth, rolling, button-down-collar Brooks Brothers shirt?

“How can such noisome behavior, base and vile, reek from this once-great flower of American academia?”

And what’s happened to the tables down at Mory’s, which the 21 Club wished it looked like? And whither the Fence Club, the swellest undergraduate sodality, where Huggins, the club permittee, the white-jacketed Negro gentleman’s gentleman, brooded over his boys with warm breast and, ah, bright wings? Ralph Lauren would have made a mess of himself had he seen such authentic WASP class and décor: stuffed leather chairs, polished mahogany tables, Turkish carpets, and framed pictures of Y-sweatered Eli captains sitting on the Yale Fence.

O, where is the Yale of Skull and Bones, when it was the world’s most prestigious college underground secret society? Admittedly, it always had a meritocratic, hence slightly middle-class, tinge. The fifteen senior “knights” might include such campus big shots as a team captain and the editor of the Yale Daily News, but its graduate patriarchs became presidents, ambassadors, and, most important of all, partners in Brown Brothers Harriman. And where are the modern equivalents of Donald Ogden Stewart, Gerald Murphy, and Brendan Gill, who represented the lefty, artistic wing of the brotherhood—yet gentlemen all?

O, where is the Yale of Bones’ chief rival, Scroll and Key, whose brothers deferentially referred to themselves publicly as second in fame to Bones, knowing full well privately that they were, in fact, the snottiest of senior societies? Like the Order of the Garter, which Lord Melbourne coveted “because there was no damn merit in it,” Scroll and Key preferred aristocratic and moneyed birth over brash achievement. O, where are the likes of Jock Whitney and Paul Mellon, both cringingly shy, and Scroll and Key visions of the beau ideal? And who remembers when Scroll and Key’s idea of an arty-farty brother was the composer of “Eli Yale! Bulldog! Bulldog!” the über-sophisticate, Cole Porter?

I’ll tell you where all the glory that was Yale has gone—down the toilet, into the cloaca maxima of modern political correctness. Centuries-old tradition has been flushed down the tubes as swiftly as a lowly turd caught in the vortex of a Meyer-Sniffen siphon-jet water closet.

If you want to know all the Decline and Fall stuff about how it happened, you can read The Guardians: Kingman Brewster, His Circle, and the Rise of the Liberal Establishment by G. Kabaservice (2004).

May it suffice to say that it had to do, beginning in the middle 1960s, with a radical change in admissions criteria—no more bottom-quarter-of-the-class, gentleman-C, old Yalie family types from Andover (G. W. Bush notably proving the rule). Then there was 1969’s introduction of coeducation. Also, the administration embraced the anti-Vietnam War protest (ROTC was squeezed off campus) and was sympathetic to the Black Panthers and other insidious liberal movements. Yale was relieved that New Haven did not have a full-bore revolt and occupation of the university offices as they did at Columbia. Instead, it wasn’t just the president’s office that got trashed there, it was the whole college!

Yale lost so much because it has fallen from such a height. Today’s undergraduate student body is considered meritocratic, diverse to beat the band, and progressive as regards both male and female homosexuality. There aren’t enough preppies to fill a decent club. The Fence has shut its doors. Mr. Huggins’s son became a Black Panther.

To graduates’ dismay, the great senior societies are now all coed and “lean toward ethnicity,” writes Alexandra Robbins in Secrets of the Tomb (2002). The ancient “Tombs” have turned into groups of “overly politically correct hyperventilators” who anguish over perpetuating themselves. In one society at an election of candidates, Robbins reports, a Korean American student threw a tantrum, then “sobbed and stalked out of a meeting because he wanted his slot to go to another Korean rather than an individual of different Asian heritage.” A Chicano member threw a similar fit. “Skull and Bones likewise chases down minority candidates…who fill certain society niches. The woman who is also gay and outspoken, and preferably Native American, is likely to be considered.”

Ties and jackets are gone. It’s all jeans, sneakers, and T-shirts. By looking at him, you can’t tell a modern Yale man from a University of Connecticut townie. God knows what the female undergraduates look like, but “Yale slut” hardly bespeaks knee socks, pleated skirts, McMullen blouses, cashmere cable-knit cardigans, and circle pins. Socially, Yale is in the Ivy League basement. Cornell, Penn, and Columbia, once the redheaded beaten social stepchildren of the Ivy League, now laugh at Yale.

OK, call me a reactionary old fart, but as Talleyrand said, “Qui n’a pas vécu sous l’ancien régime ne connaît pas la douceur de vivre.”


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