We are not lobotomized kittens

Recent books and film unfairly portray college students

by Keri Carlson

College enrollment is up. And because more kids want to go, the competition is greater.

This is common knowledge to anyone who has applied to college in the past five years or so. But this is the opposite image of how college is portrayed in the media.

Somehow the increased enrollment has not resulted in an image of a more motivated generation. Instead, the image of college in movies, MTV reality series and now Tom Wolfe’s latest book in paperback and audio CD shows universities as a drunken playground where class is optional and even a Mötley Crüe drummer can keep up.

Tom Wolfe’s “I am Charlotte Simmons” follows a naïve small-town girl through her eye-opening first year at college.

The novel has earned much praise for Wolfe’s ability to capture the reality of college – which then must mean reality is not far from “Animal House.”

The 74-year-old author apparently spent months at several universities on the East Coast and in North and South Carolina.

Wolfe observed a fondness for swearing, drinking and most of all, sex.

But really, all of Wolfe’s research seems like a waste of time. He could have just as easily made his patronizing assumptions from any movie about college since the 1980s.

At the beginning of “Charlotte Simmons,” Wolfe cites a study where a section was removed from the brains of cats. This removal resulted in the cats’ uncontrollable sexual behavior – all the cats would furiously hump one another. The big twist in this study comes when the control cat (the one with a normal brain) began to act just like the other cats!

Wolfe’s entire premise for “Charlotte Simmons” is based on this case. He seems to think that even the most well-intentioned, smart young adults will become prey to the hypersexed culture, and will too, begin to hump anything that moves.

There is some truth, however, to Wolfe’s observations. Yes, there are wild keg parties at frat houses. Yes, some girls wear revealing clothing. Yes, some college kids have sex.

But the problem is, Wolfe attributes these aspects to everyone all the time – unless the character is the extreme opposite and thus a no-fun, cynical nerd.

Wolfe sees only the extreme side to college life and turns it into the norm. Sadly, Wolfe is not alone in his assumptions.

There certainly are times when it seems like everyone on campus dresses slutty and acts belligerent. A lot of it has to do with the fact that these elements stand out.

If you saw two elephants in Dinkytown, you might think Dinkytown has a lot of elephants. Really though, the elephants are significantly fewer in number compared with squirrels, but because the elephants are more obvious, they triumph over the squirrels.

Most students I know drink on the weekends but never to a state of falling over. And they have sex but with someone they date or have a consistent arrangement with. Most are moderate. They study hard, sometimes skip a few readings, do poorly on some tests, but generally strive to learn.

Wolfe, along with many other entertainments and trashy “Dateline” specials, sees only one aspect of college life.

They never acknowledge the students working toward becoming nurses, teachers, lawyers, scientists, etc., who want to help people and make a difference.

It might sometimes appear that college is just one big orgy, but in my experience we all have more character and depth than sexed-up felines. And we deserve more credit.

– Keri welcomes comments at [email protected].