In old photographs, one might catch a glimpse of something great. They’d almost certainly have to be in black and white or maybe sepia. Young men, uniformly white, mostly Anglo-Saxon or from monied, Germanic families, with oiled hair and if there is to be any facial hair found among them, it would be in the form of one or two well-trimmed mustaches. In some photographs, they might be wearing suits, in others, sports blazers. This was the era that gave America’s old institutions their gravitas, their ability to invoke a quiet sense of awe in everyday people. This was the era that made names like Yale, Cornell, and the Columbia School of Journalism glow with glittering, angelic light.
To some people, these names still mean something. But in the minds of many Americans, the light is getting dimmer, the glitter not sparkling quite as brightly as before. The Anglo-Saxons are out and the Chinese are in. Patriotism is considered kitsch among today’s elite, unless of course it’s Chinese patriotism — the Chinese are free to take America’s research and technology back home with them, with no tangible gain to America, and the intelligentsia remain curiously silent about it. Indians are also in, and their patriotism is cheered from all corners because of their independence from Britain. Jews are in, too, and their holocaust narrative is spoon-fed to our children like a bitter tonic of guilt and caution. It’s a sad, slow realization that dawns on earnest thinkers: the institutions that were once quintessentially American are not American anymore.
The American aristocracy slit its own throat somewhere along the line. The bow tie, the cocktail party, and the Mid-Atlantic accent are gone and along with them went Harvard, the New York Times, and Detroit’s automobile industry.
Just look for one moment and that once vaunted prize, the Pulitzer, doled out each year by the Columbia School of Journalism. Its recipients have included figures like Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, John Updike, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway. Say what one will about these men, I’m personally not much of a fan of Williams and Sandburg, but at least they all had talent. At least they had style and wit and a certain knack for the written word. There’s a lesser known prize for music, one that still carries the name of Pulitzer, and it has been won by respected composers like Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber, and now, we can add to that list, the name of one stocky, excitable black man, Kendrick Lamar. The album that won him the prize is very cogently named, DAMN.
I find the expletive very accurately sums up my thoughts on the album, much like how the expletive very accurately sums up my thoughts about stubbing my toe in the dark or banging my head against a cabinet door. There’s something awful about the sprawling lyrics, the disjointed samples of songs that others wrote, and the utter pretentiousness of the whole thing. It’s like a prolonged car wreck with none of the acute soul searching that comes after the collision. There’s so much art still being made in this world. None of it is to be found among Lamar’s work.
The lyrics don’t need to be presented at length.
I’ll prolly die anonymous, I’ll prolly die with promises
I’ll prolly die walkin’ back home from the candy house
I’ll prolly die because these colors are standin’ out
I’ll prolly die because I ain’t know Demarcus was snitchin’
I’ll prolly die at these house parties, fuckin’ with bitches
I’ll prolly die from witnesses leavin’ me falsed accused
I’ll prolly die from thinkin’ that me and your hood was cool
Or maybe die from pressin’ the line, actin’ too extra
Or maybe die because these smokers are more than desperate
The lyrics continue on like this for about 100,000 more lines. It’s like the Illiad of bad lyrics. There was a time when art was supposed to have some art to it. There was a time when cleverness counted for something. But I can’t criticize Lamar too much, because he’s just an angry black man doing angry black man things. Columbia, however, I can’t spare at all.
The institutions that once kept America’s upper echelons stocked with thinkers, innovators, and artists have done something bizarre. Instead of humbly accepting their role as the movers and shakers of America, they have decided that America, at least America as we know it, has to die. And so now they have brought in the Chinese, the Indians, the Jews, and the Nigerians riding their coattails to the top, and in the process, they are tainting the glow of their own halos. The working classes of American society, the mestizos, the blacks, and the trailer park whites couldn’t care less about the Ivy League. The Chinese and Indians are going to scuttle off back to their own mother countries or perhaps to California. The Jews always have Israel as a backup plan. Without the adoration of middle-class whites these institutes have nothing. America is starting to look more like a political dinosaur, a historical novelty like the Austro-Hungarian Empire or the USSR.
At this point, the inevitable question has to be asked — well, so what? A lot of Americans might be inclined to think that if the American aristocracy has died and now the Ivy League is joining it, so much the better. I can’t help but see this as a very shortsighted opinion. All nations need elites, and if there are no clear watering holes around which the elites can gather to wine and dine one another, then the nation is headed straight to its demise. It’s with a very heavy heart I admit that America needs the Ivy League more than the Ivy League needs America.
So as we watch Columbia make a fool of itself over Kendrick Lamar, as we watch the New York Times peddle in flagrant yellow journalism, as we watch Harvard look the other way over dubious Chinese credentials so that they can pocket the cash from Beijing’s nouveau riche, as we watch the warm glow of respect that once hung over the Ivy League get dimmer and colder, we must admit that inevitably the Ivy League is dying. And it’s taking America down with it.