Thursday, September 09, 2010

Unrelated to anything.

Hi again, Internet.

This is my quarterly post.

I don't mean to make my posts as infrequent as "quarterly" but such is life these days. Hang tight and all will be right in the end.

But this is not the purpose of what I'm talking about today.

I want to discuss books today.

Especially a new book: True Prep.

This book, written by the editor & co-author of The Official Preppy Handbook (Lisa Birnbach, on whom, I must confess, I had a bit of a crush back-in-the-day) seeks to both update and follow-up TOPH.

While I await delivery of mine -- and I reserve the right to amend this if, upon perusal, I change my mind -- I wanted to share a few thoughts on both books and their differences in feel.

For the purposes of discussion, I want to place a few boundaries. I want to take you back to 1980 when TOPH came out, and its impact on those who read it then. Not that it doesn't hold up today (it pretty much does) but the impact today on a first-time reader isn't the same impact it had back then.

Basically, there were two groups of people who read and enjoyed* that book in 1980. Those who were preppy (and, quite often, didn't truly realize this) and those who were not, but all of a sudden were inspired to be. Native-born and naturalized, if you will. A very simple way to determine who was who is this:

1- If you received -- unbidden -- 3+ copies of the book, plus assorted merchandise such as the decanter and whiskey set, the cheese plate, the brunch plates, the set of mugs, the scrapbook, the jigsaw puzzles, the stationery set, the cooler glasses, the old-fashioned glasses, the t-shirts (polycotton? really?), the photo album and the various sets of Christmas cards...you are likely one of the native-born Preps.

2- If you read this book in 1980 and a lightbulb flicked on in your mind, and it changed your life you probably are a naturalized Prep.

Here's where things get dicey.

While LB goes to great lengths to highlight the inclusive tone of TP, it must be remembered this is merely an expansion of TOPH's manifesto, as stated in its introduction. Which is all good.

But, like in any society where there is a sudden influx of newcomers, there is bound to be some tension and some miscommunication and some misunderstanding.

To a lot of people arriving on the welcoming shores of Prep Island, the "whole preppy thing" is purely an ├Žsthetic. Which is fine. A colossal swarm of consumers clamoring for madras and seersucker is good, as it assures us of sufficient supply to tide us over during the next drought. That whole seven fat years/seven lean years thing.

But I have a wee bit of difficulty accepting Prep as a self-identified thing. Come to think of it, I generally find it difficult to accept anything on the basis of self-identification. Standing in your garage doesn't make you a car. Even if you are wearing red head to foot with a Ferrari logo on your flank.

There is a certain ethos that comes with the Prep thing, whether you are born or naturalized. Accept it and live it out and you're in, or don't. This is not, as LB (correctly) asserts about being from a Grand WASP Family, living in a Grand Manner in a Grand Manor. There is some of that, of course, but it isn't even a chemical trace of a requirement. Prep, as a distinctly American thing, has always been surprisingly democratic. LB is Jewish and nobody ever whispered against her PrepCred.

I, myself, am not Anglo, Saxon or Protestant. Yet those Preps who were, readily acknowledged my membership in the tribe. Preps, in general, are an inclusive bunch. If you ever want to see right-wing Republicans having a terrific time, cheerfully cooperating with left-wing Democrats, go to a black-tie charity event for some semi-obscure cultural institution. Their non-Prep equivalents are usually only found together waving opposing placards and shouting.

The point that I'm making is that those people who treat Prep merely as a sartorial plaything of an idle hour, weaken its currency. Here's hoping more of them embrace the whole thing.

-J.

* There were, naturally, those who read that book, hurled it with great force announced "these will be the people first up against the wall when the Red Dawn arrives!"

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