March 14, 2007

Welcome to the OC, biotech

lizphairflag.jpg Back when I attended Oberlin College at the height of the PC era — when people still called themselves PC, and thought it was something to be proud of — some friends and I put out a little magazine satirizing liberal excess (among other things). I like to think that in my own small way I helped put an end to the PC era (without resorting to the paranoid screeds of a Horowitz or D'Souza).

Still, every now and then my alumni magazine brings a reminder that not every Obie moved on. In the latest issue there is a letter from one Remi Barber, '83 regarding a report that there are now, get this, Republicans at Oberlin. Well, yes, there were Republicans in my day too. Nearly half a dozen, I think. They were the only people on campus who were more demented and more hilarious than the professional liberals (I can prove that scientifically). But I guess today's OC GOP is more prominent and sophisticated, and Barber is not happy about this.

Here's his letter in its entirety. Frankly, it reads so much like one of our Below the Belt parodies of an Oberlin liberal that at first I thought it was a joke. I'm still not sure it isn't. And I'm not sure which would be more funny. Discussion follows.

Many of us feel Oberlin has a special place in a world gone nuts. So imagine my reaction reading about young Republicans on campus! I wasted no time reading the article. Their inviolate agenda is so clear as to be absurd: to concoct a cartoon of the traditional values that make Oberlin a bastion of tolerance, such as open discourse and an eagerness to accept new and different ideas. Simply put, ideological weapons of mass destruction have no place on campus. By introducing detritus into the pristine intellectual wilderness that is Oberlin, Republicans inflict early trauma on students who may fail to understand what’s at stake: the beauty of peace and respect for all humanoids. Like people who are the products of single-nanny households, young Republicans fail to embrace the wondrous diversity that distinguishes, say, an Arab Sunni from a jihadist Shiite. Nothing is worse than an elite that demands egalitarianism for others while ensuing privilege for itself. It’s not enough to just say no; we need to rise up and challenge them with all manner of retrograde forces. The disabled, the down-trodden, the ne’er-do-well, and other minority voices must all oppose willful adaptation to environmental changes. Just as young Republicans decry the legality of spontaneous genetic mutations, we must staunchly resist outside efforts to diversify the Oberlin community. Finally, a Google search reveals that the covert financier behind the Republicans’ lecture series is Steve Shapiro ’83, president of Intrepid Capital Management … a financial organization that funds the USS Intrepid and other military battleships? Is blood money funding a campus organization? We want answers. Meantime, let’s backlash against the campus Republicans’ exploitation of reality with a contrarian message: When it comes to values, Oberlin doesn’t cut and run.

Remi Barbier ’83
San Francisco, Calif.

So is it a joke?

Evidence for it being a joke: Nobody could possibly write this letter seriously.
Against: Trust me, an Oberlin student could.

For: Attack on classmate indicates an inside joke.
Against: Previous, much less funny, attack on same classmate indicates longstanding grudge.

For: Said previous attack, while less funny, does contain the phrase "gifted people of uniqueness," which could suggest more subtle satire.
Against: Said previous attack ends "Any school whose alumni would, e.g., help fight social injustices of the Chiapas Indians rather than participate in a capitalist system of speculative bubbles, deserves better than getting raked over its ratings."

For: Barbier is the president and CEO of a biotech firm that participates heavily in a capitalist system of speculative bubbles.
Against: Are presidents and CEOs of biotech firms known for their finely honed sense of irony?

For: I just read it again, and it's got to be a farking joke.
Against: Barbier lives in San Francisco.

Anyone want to weigh in before I try to track down Barbier's e-mail address and ask him?
Update. Phew! I'm now convinced it's a joke. See my comment below.

About the photo: While she is an Obie and, evidently, a patriot, Liz Phair is not a Republican. But c'mon, would you rather I ran a picture of Malkin?

Posted by Daniel Radosh


All your posts henceforward may be accompanied by photos of Liz Phair dousing herself with water, as far as I'm concerned.

Question: Did you read the original article on the Campus Republicans and what was the slant, if any in that? That might hold a clue.

For those who can't believe that the Against line held so long in Radosh's head, I offer a recent item from the Antioch Record, just down the road from Oberlin. We Antiochians considered Oberlin to be a sort of panty-waisted liberalism, a bunch of playacting rebels who were anxious to move to Park Slope and procreate while driving a Volvo and working at the co-op (this is not actually an attack, though I know it does seem like it -- it's not my fault that the Radosh clan mirrors some stereotypes too closely).

Camp Trans was organized to fight the unfair and archaic policy that still holds at Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. The policy states that the only womyn allowed to attend are women-born. The women the policy excludes are trans women. Camp Trans' attendees are trans women and their allies, who are mostly trans men and other queers fighting for the rights of their sisters and the general acceptance and inclusion of trans people in our society. Camp Trans is a quarter mile down the road from the grounds of the Festival, and a lot of the festival-goers took advantage of that proximity by coming around and hanging out at Camp Trans.

Monday morning, two days after I arrived, and the day of the beginning of the festival we "walked the line." Loaded up with flyers, petitions, fundraising materials, and yellow ribbons to signify trans inclusion we, in groups, approached the womyn waiting in a line 5 miles long to get inside the gates of the Festival. I waited for them to throw their empty beer cans at us. Instead most talked and listened and gave support, asked what they can do inside the festival to help. A much smaller number was reluctant about their opinions on the subject of trans inclusion, and an even smaller number were not willing to talk to us at all. Some of us went in for a processing session, but a bunch of my newly made friends and I headed for the lake instead.
What I love is the last line. Can you (and in this case I mean Dan or anyone who has been to Hampshire, Evergreen, Oberlin, etc.) what that fucking processing session was like?

BTW: I vote joke, only because it looks like it was overworked a little too much so that people would know it was a joke. Oh, wait, it is Oberlin. Yeah, we're going to have to email him.

Dashiell - holy shit, you're on to something. I was about to say there were no clues other than that Steve Shapiro and Intrepid Capital Management are mentioned in the article, so Barbier wouldn't have to do any Googling to discover that. Then I thought that maybe he'd simply meant that what he'd uncovered was the connection to the Intrepid Aircraft Carrier. And then I thought... DUH! Why would Intrepid Capital Management have anything to do with the ship? My own Googling finds that it does not, of course. So 99 and I can rest easy -- this once. It's a joke.

Actually ten of you may appreciate that similarity between that joke and Michael Tritter's classic letter to the Review about Diana Schlesinger and her father Arthur.

99 -- Ahem! I live in Windsor Terrace. I have forsaken the Co-op of my forefathers. And the Volvo stereotype is just outdated. We all drive Subaru Outbacks now.

I guess Windsor Terrace is what passes for an intentional community these days?

My bad on the Outback. I knew that.

Wait - this Oberline Alumni Magazine of which you speak - when it comes to your house... you open it and read it?

I'll have to try that, if it contains gems of subtle Obie parody such as this.

(Actually, of course, I always read the 1984 Class Notes. But it looks like I should've been paying attention to the 1983s.)

Fuck. Please delete my account. What was the name of that college you were talking about again?

I remember a letter to the Oberlin Review from around 1995 that struck me as quintessentially Oberlin:

"Bongo Playing Hippies Degrade Afrikan Culture"

That's the campus in the mid-90s in a nutshell, isn't it?

Beautiful. One of my favorite memories is from my freshman year, when I didn't know to avoid political meetings like the plague. I can't remember now what the cause was, but the guy sitting next to me was bored and fidgiting with a plastic doll, which he eventually started pulling apart. Suddenly a woman stood up furiously (did she wait for her turn in the "stack"? I don't recall), pointed at him and shrieked, "That's what's wrong with the world! People like you brutally reducing women to their body parts!"

The poor guy looked up and stammered, "But it's a G.I. Joe."

>>I guess Windsor Terrace is what passes for an intentional community these days?

Windsor Terrace is probably as accidental a community as you could find in gentrified Brooklyn.

Even the lesbians went straight to Sunset Park.

I vote "joke." Please, let it be a joke.

I was an undergrad at the very conservative Bucknell in 1980, when Reagan got elected. Bucknell had one of the very few student bodies that favored Reagan. (I voted for John Anderson. Lotta good that did.)

Joke: "Humanoid." A real hippie, or even I, would say
"human and non-human persons."

I'm glad I went to a "college" so politically apathetic and in so politically apathetic a time that I was able to leave after six-and-a-half years with my political correctness intact.

Ha. I went to St. John's College. We get letters from cranky elderly alums demanding that NO WOMEN be added to the reading list. To do so would be craven kowtowing to PC. Sort of like the photonegative of that letter -- but serious.

Fascinating! Glad I keep my subscription to this here blog of yours. I think when we were there, the only "Republican" was doing it to be ironic and clever.

Just noticed that you (maybe) quoted my favorite Overheard in NY ever. That biotech thing.

Egad...that photo of Lizling reminds me of back in the day, circa 1990: an ontological rip in the space-time continuum erupted into a heated discussion of Baudrillard's secondary order of simulacra while transgendered Nepalese drug dealers FORCED me to endure five hits of Jesus acid.
And that was just in Barrows. It is so hard to adorn yourself exclusively in black, when your soul is a hideous kaleidoscope of magenta, burnt sienna, and taupe. Mommy?

Hey- I _was_ trying to be ironic and clever. Succeeded too. But I was an anarchist. Oh well.

How in the hell did I manage to miss the Ohio liberal-arts college reunion post?

Oh, right — like a good Kenyon grad, I was probably shitfaced.

I have read the diatribe by Mr. Barber and I am not amused. If he is really hiding behind his biotech corporate veil while trying to be ironic, it isn't working. Everyone knows that biotech companies are exploiting both other people's money and the environment in the latest era's attempt to discover the magic elixir. Elixir to what you ask - to making more money. I overhead an investor in biotech recently say, "If it works, great, as long as the stock price goes to $20."

I say we start something new at Oberlin. How about a new lecture series to promote social welfare and environment causes. All money could be spent on offsetting carbon credits for Oberlin's excess heat usage. I mean now that Dick Michaels has retired, who needs the swim team?


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