This is the second installment of a weekly column highlighting notable journalism and media content produced at Swarthmore. In chronological order:
The Swarthmore media scene is at its best when it makes a very big deal out of Swarthmore things.
I think there’s this idea that if you write or make something about Swarthmore, it needs to be a yawny news report about cosmetic changes to a classroom, a lugubrious fluff piece about links between someone’s art and their national origin, or a personal essay about how four years at Swarthmore changed somebody into a predictable permutation of their former self.
What all these cliche’d article types have in common is that they are prisoners of bashful self-awareness: they know that all this Swarthmore stuff is inconsequential, so they make no attempt to dress things up or make them more interesting than they deserve to be (but of course they deserve to be infinitely interesting).
The opposite of these articles is the type of content that knows Swarthmore is a place of no consequence, but treats it with the reverence allotted to, I don’t know, the New York fashion world. Swatties playing at global relevance—faking it ’till we make it—is the type of content I want to celebrate this week.
1. “Swat life goes well with a slice of Renato’s” by Laura Wagner ’20 in The Swarthmore Phoenix – September 26, 2016
Everyone’s been to Renato’s, but very few have taken this low-brow pizza place as an institution that can or should be held to the standards of food criticism. Just like the fancy food critics from New York, Laura Wagner knows that a restaurant visit is first and foremost a movement through the social fabric of the world, and she highlights exactly these features of Renato’s.
It also, very wisely, treats the reader as if they know nothing of Renato’s.
Take this line, which audaciously opens a paragraph: “Renato Pizza offers dine-in, carry-out, and delivery.” It feels real to take an obvious fact like this, known to virtually every student, and stick it as a major point in a Swarthmore student press article. But it’s a wise move—to defamiliarize the familiar, only to reconquer it through writing.
2. Gabriel Meyer-Lee ’19’s review of Tiye Pulley ’19’s new EP in The Swarthmore Phoenix – September 29, 2016
Having a music scene makes you a community. Having a music review scene makes you something a little more serious. Take it from me — in the Republic of Georgia, where I’m from, I have never seen someone review an album in the popular press. So writing a Swarthmore music review for the Swarthmore press is really a bit of a cultural claim to statehood. (It wouldn’t be the first!)
The review itself is well-done and answers another burning question: How do Swarthmore students criticize each other’s work in the publicly searchable medium? This is how: “While [Pulley’s] bars, in many instances, snap perfectly to the beat, there are times when he holds a syllable or pause a half-second too long and it shows.”
For all we know (I do not know), Meyer-Lee and Pulley are close friends and the review was approved by Pulley. Nevertheless, the review is a refreshing claim to a kind of cultural autonomy for the college.
3. “DG CRIBS: Our Crib” by The Daily Gazette – September 30, 2016
The “DG Cribs” format is another grab at cultural status, not only for Swarthmore College but for The Daily Gazette. In this case, the direct importation of a national-television phenomenon (MTV Cribs) reveals that attempts to forge a worthy cultural sphere at Swarthmore—one that merits being written and video’d about—are at their core just skillful imitations of the real-world culture industry.
Who’s interested in the small office of a scrappy college publication? This is the wrong question, says the DG: who wouldn’t be?
Honorable Mention: This Column
What better example of taking Swarthmore too seriously than writing a column about its minor media scene?
Featured image by Eduard Saakashvili ’17/The Daily Gazette.