Subscribing to a culture of materialism
I recently found myself weaving through the library's first-floor periodical
section in my never-ending attempt to feel productive while procrastinating.
Two magazines caught my eye as rather strange additions to Bowdoin's subscription
list. The first was New York, a magazine with a cover displaying half
a dozen multi-racial, upwardly mobile young professionals in a semicircle
looking up into the camera with grave concern.
The headline read, "The Big Chill: New Yorkers Learn to Live with
Less." A caption was placed beside each person indicating what he
or she had given up in recent months. My two favorites were "Just
ate his last $16 appetizer" and "Giving up her trainer, but
can she live without her shrink?"
Continuing down the aisle, I discovered Yachting-a magazine entirely
devoted to multi-million dollar yachts and the many exotic and wonderful
places where you can sail them. Not quite ready to return to my reading,
I reached the end of the alphabet and found myself with some unanswered
questions about why the library would subscribe to such vapid crap that
so shamelessly promotes excessive material wealth.
Descending to the basement in hopes that the magazines' back issues would
reveal the answer, I discovered that the library has subscribed to New
York since 1968, and Yachting since 1948.
If the magazines are vestiges of a time when Bowdoin was a thriving chapter
of the good-old-boys club, what were they still doing populating the shelves
of a College revitalized by 30 years of reform?
The answer is an obvious but important one. While the era of white male
privilege may have been glossed over by a new period of socioeconomic,
gender, and racial sensitivity at Bowdoin, the magazines' endurance is
tangible proof that the same lifestyle expectations of that time remain
an undercurrent of Bowdoin's culture today.
Although students are fond of saying that success is not measured in
dollars and cents, these magazines suggest that there is more tension
in that common understanding than we often like to admit.
They represent a college culture where deciding to live a simple life,
with a simple occupation and simple comforts, is laden with a certain
amount of guilt for not living up to the potential Bowdoin has provided-that
you have somehow betrayed the institution, and even worse, yourself by
choosing a life where cruising into New York on your 150-foot yacht is
not an option. I realize that I may be overstating the point, but on some
level these types of feelings operate for each of us.
As Bowdoin continues to attempt to transcend the baggage of its past and create a new cultural landscape, ending its subscription to these magazines would be a useful step in that larger process.