An Objection to `Where the Old People Bake Their Brains'


To the Editors of The Crimson:

By now you have likely received several letters complaining of Eric A. Morris's piece, "Where the Old People Bake Their Brains." This is another such letter, although I would like to clarify my objection, which is for the most part an esthetic one.

The piece is written on a level other than that of the standard opinion/editorial, in which a writer expresses a well-reasoned notion, say, on taxes, fads, modern thought, whatever; thus it would be absurd to say that because the piece presents an arguably humorous tirade, rather than purporting any claim to fact, it should not have been printed. Of course the elderly of South Florida are not literally "baking their brains into blackened rocks;" this is only a graceful turn of phrase.

I emphasize the clever stylization of the piece simply because I realize that the more creative journalist must regularly hear complaints from some one or other offended faction screaming, "It's not true!" To such denials Mr. Morris might rightly respond, "It's not meant to be perfectly true, only pointed in its essence toward a truth. That is, I am employing the device of hyperbole in order to engage the reader in a daringly venomous attack against the materialism of Dade County." This attack, unfortunately, amounts only to wasted space on your op-ed page, for, both in its reasoning and its esthetic implementation, it is not up to Crimson standards:

1)Decrying materialism in South Florida is not exactly a great undertaking of social criticism. This may be a problem in some circles, although perhaps not all elderly people are quite so "dried-out," crotchety, and inept at driving as those we find in Mr. Morris's hackneyed portrayal. My own Jewish grandparents, who live in Fort Lauderdale, the very belly of Mr. Morris's beast, are actually quite capable drivers and, strangely enough, have even shown signs of outright altruism and intellect. I hope that their virtues might serve as a counter-example to the underlying theory of Mr. Morris's diatribe. As to the other theory proposed in the piece, that which seeks to find a connection among such concepts as banks, stinginess, and "paranoid, bigmouthed, incredibly pushy New York Jews:" what about big noses, wonders one? Well, I suppose "we" have a license to criticize "our own," for, as one Crimson reporter tells me, "a lot of us are Jewish," as is Mr. Morris himself. Naturally--otherwise we would never have seen such references to Jews in a student newspaper, and we would have had to settle for re-reading our Philip Roth. I won't level the charge of anti-Semitism here because I don't think it applies to your newspaper or any of its writers; still, I hope the Crimson does not soon diversify to include stereotypical/prejudicial attacks on other ethnic or religious groups who happen to be represented on its staff, for the result would surely be barbarous.

2)The "statement" of the piece thus does not merit scarce space. What is far worse than whatever offense might come to the reader over the matter of slurs against Jews or the elderly, however, is the offense such pieces are to the notion of quality writing. Materialism might be a problem in South Florida, or in all America, for that matter, but condescension, cynicism and inhumanity are certainly problems among student writers at Harvard, especially when they "roam the real world." I propose that good writing does not intend to shock with every line; nor does good writing rely on a comfortable intellectual chauvinism by which the sophisticated Harvard student can manage to stay at Grandma's only as long as the cable keeps coming and the "high-school-age granddaughters" (presumably of someone else's grandparents) keep crisping by the pool. This is not writing, it's heavy breathing.

It is a great deal, I know, to ask for art on every page, especially during exam period, and it is true that being on the editorial board of the Crimson is a deserved privilege; but couldn't we have some more editing, or perhaps a more open editing process, so that someone might have said, "Why are we printing this?" I know, also, that there is a school of student journalism which loves to see words like "boner" in print, because this is "brash," "bucking the establishment," and all the things that, done for their own sake, render an op-ed page rather pointless. There is a type of piece, moreover, presented under the theory that "if the reader isn't scandalized by this, we haven't done our job;" but such pieces are the essence of brat journalism, and as a reader of the Harvard Crimson, I deserve better. Avram S. Brown '91