Last week the cultural critic Paul Fussell, an English professor at the University of Pennsylvania, died. Fussell was a shrewd observer of many aspects of American culture. One of his more entertaining notes, however, comes from these lines in Class: A Guide Through the American Status System (1983), where he writes of the strange appeal that Ivy League colleges seem to have for Americans:

Archaic and good colleges like Princeton and Yale are used for status definition and support by exemplary Americans like F. Scott Fitzgerald and John O’Hara. Although neither managed to graduate from the top-class college of his choice, and although O’Hara never even got to attend his, pursuing for life the fantasy that he might have gone to Yale and leafing through the yearbook for 1924, which would have been his class, both promoted their colleges to the status of holy places, sacred sodalities to which they could redeem themselves by belonging. Each would have affixed his rear-window sticker with utmost reverence. They were team players both, like so many members of the middle class, and could hardly imagine their identity unless attached to an institution.

Yea, that is a little weird, isn’t it?

Just imagine how generous they’d have been as alumni if they’d actually managed to graduate.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer