The Far Side
In April of 1958, Clifford Geertz arrived, “malarial and diffident,” in Bali. An enormously influential cultural anthropologist, he was there to study a local village, where he was intrigued by, and he found himself studying, cockfights.
Geertz described his findings in the famous essay, “Deep play: notes on the Balinese cockfight.” At these male-only events, broken beaks and bloody feathers flew, onlookers made complex wagers, and kinship ties and social prestige and manly dignity were ripped and clawed along with the cocks in the ring. A participant-observer in the ordered chaos, Geertz famously read the cockfight as a cultural text—a representation of Balinese culture.
When Albert Einstein received a message from a bellboy at Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel, the great theoretical physicist, who was traveling in Japan for a 1922 lecture tour, reached for a tip—and found his pockets empty. Improvising, Einstein grabbed a scrap of hotel stationery, scribbled a short note in German, and gave it to the bellboy. “A calm and modest life,” the tip read, “brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”
As new policies relativize Harvard space and Harvard Time—with the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’s move to Allston in 2020 and the new class schedule slated for next fall—students protesting these changes could use this tip from the man who first coined the idea of space-time in 1905.
Harvard students tend to skip introductions. Too excited to get to the really interesting stuff—or too hard-pressed between classes and extracurriculars to get through the week’s reading—we typically move straight from front cover to chapter one, passing over the history and context in between. I had been reading “Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis” for a good two weeks—having naturally skipped the introduction—before one day, searching for my bookmark, I flipped through the preface and saw an aged yellow sticker on the opposite page:
“In Memory of Wainwright Merrill, Class of 1919. Born at Cambridge, May 26, 1898; Killed at Ypres, November 6, 1917.”
If you’ve ever played the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64, you know the hardest part of the game is fighting Shadow Link. Allow me to set the scene: In this classic fantasy adventure video game, you play as Link, the Hero of Time, who saves Princess Zelda from evil Lord Ganondorf. You have to solve absurdly intricate puzzles and fight endless creepy foes—the worst of which is Shadow Link, your dark evil-twin-mini-boss lurking in the dreaded Water Temple. Shadow Link is nearly impossible to defeat because he fights exactly like you do. He parries every sword strike, mercilessly slices every exposed sliver of digitized flesh, and laughs that maddening electronic cackle every time you die. (The “Game Over” jingle still gives me nightmares.) Shadow Link is the hardest enemy of the game because no one knows how to fight himself.
No one, that is, except Harvard. In her recent op-ed, University President Drew G. Faust denounced the “shadow social environment” created by the College’s “discriminatory and exclusionary organizations” such as final clubs, fraternities, and sororities. The Crimson Editorial Board recently joined Faust in this stand against exclusivity, arguing that such groups perpetrate “outdated notions of elitism, classism, and exclusivity on campus.” These arguments, gleaming in the heroic rhetoric of inclusivity, try to pit Harvard the Hero of Time against his evil enemy, Shadow Social Environment. But no matter how loudly we claim to stand against exclusivity, the truth is that Harvard’s undergraduate culture is still pervaded by it. The administration’s social group-banning sword strikes and community-promoting spin moves are bound to fail—because the exclusive shadow Harvard is fighting against is really itself.
Peyton Manning is a great football player, but what does he know about pizza? Tallying more career passing yards and touchdown passes than any other quarterback in the history of the National Football League, the five-time Associated Press MVP and fourteen-time Pro Bowl selection still holds more than 50 league records. It’s unclear if Manning knows pizza as well as he obviously knows football, but this hasn’t stopped Papa John’s Pizza from showcasing him in their television advertisements.
With that winning smile and down-to-earth Southern swagger, Manning has starred in Papa John’s commercials for the past several years, advertising with red aprons and NFL mascots a product in which he has no professional expertise. It’s all very charming, but it’s downright silly to think Peyton Manning is qualified to tell us the best pizza to buy. So why did Papa John’s bypass actual pizza critics to make Manning, the legendary NFL quarterback, their spokesperson?