"To All the Satire Websites Who Admonished Me" - the Suzy Lee Weiss Story

This scathing Gawker article called "Attention Students: ‘Just Being Yourself’ Isn’t a Skill That Should Earn You Admission to College," was just brought to my attention.  It -- in it's perfect, snarky, poignant Gawker way -- skewers a real-life high school senior named Suzy Lee Weiss who wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal called "To (All) the Colleges that Rejected Me," bemoaning her rejection from, it appears, more than one college.

Y'all, Cher gave her skis to the homeless!
Gawker calls the op-ed: "a good old fashioned spiteful rant, flinging glasses of white whine into the eyes, not only of every college that denied her admission, but also every person who has ever been accepted into a college, ever."  Gawker then goes on to pick apart, line by line, Suzy's rude, entitled grousing about how she was "lied to" by nameless admissions officers who told her that she would be golden for the Ivies if she would "just be herself."  To which Gawker responds:
"Being yourself is not a talent. If you worked two full-time jobs all the way through high school and one of them was "being yourself" and the other was "trying your best," you actually worked zero full-time jobs."  
Gawker points out all the pathetic privilege inherent in the piece and their review leaves you with a funny taste in your mouth, like Crest White Strips mixed with Smirnoff Ice and an errant waft of fake tanner -- you know, the smell of rich, bored high school kids.

Well, one of you got into college.
But then I went back and read the original op-ed, and, while Suzy still comes off as somewhat spoiled and lazy, the piece itself is really a sort of misguided attempt at self-mockery.  Suzy is more self-aware than Gawker gives her credit for: she gets that she didn't get into college because she didn't work hard enough; she gets that she didn't commit to unique extracurriculars and charity work and resume-building over the summers when all the Ivy-League "tiger cubs" did.  She blames her family's relaxed parenting in a tongue-in-cheek way for her failures (though she blames her lack of "diversity" in a conspicuously less tongue-in-cheek way...). She ends the piece with a funny little self-reflective line:
"To those claiming that I am bitter—you bet I am! An underachieving selfish teenager making excuses for her own failures? That too! To those of you disgusted by this, shocked that I take for granted the wonderful gifts I have been afforded, I say shhhh—'The Real Housewives' is on."
Cute, right? She gets it, right?  What's unfortunate about this piece is either that Suzy's limited writing prowess couldn't make her satire fully stand out from her sincerity, or that Suzy herself isn't quite sure what she's holding up to be mocked and what she's genuinely bitter about.  And what worries me is that this teenager made some privileged, controversial, immature, vaguely racist statements on a very public forum that are all but guaranteed to bite her in the ass for the rest of her life.

College girl SICK over difficult admissions process.
Imagine the kind of bullshit you said when you were 18, freshly rejected from your dream college, acknowledging -- but not fully comprehending -- that other people have "real" problems and you shouldn't complain but nonetheless feeling pretty crushed and ashamed and embarrassed and a little deceived because didn't Jessica get into college last year and she's an idiot and a slut?  And now imagine all of your bitter AIM chats being published in a major news publication and lambasted by a professional writer on that same internet.  Because, if the occasional deep breaths I have to take before I publish anything remotely controversial on my not-very-popular blog are any indication, the backlash is going to suck.

Another unfortunate part of this is that Suzy's piece left untouched a bigger, hovering issue that lends some legitimacy to her juvenile complaints: should we be concerned about the ever-increasing competition to access higher-education? Sometimes referred to as "credential inflation," i.e., the decreasing value of ever-higher degrees (it wasn't so very long ago when the majority of the work force only had a high-school diploma), the fact that applicants are increasingly qualified means that it takes that much more on your resume to even be part of the applicant pool.  Just last year writer Katherine Ozment posited that the insane competition for colleges has the potential to "ruin childhood," and advocated exactly what Suzy seems to excel at: chilling out a little.

Lifting herself up out of poverty was good practice.
If Suzy's grades were good enough, she might consider herself part of a new niche called "unhooked white girls."   That term was coined last admissions season to describe white girls with top grades and SAT scores who nonetheless faced rejection because they didn't have a notable "hook:" excelling at a sport or instrument, overcoming adverse socio-economic circumstances, or, presumably, starting a (non-fake) charity.  Basically, a "hook" is the crude but widely-accepted term for exactly the type of activities Suzy bemoans not being advised to take up.  And don't just take it from Suzy; take it from Scott Farber, president of A-List education, who told The Daily Beast the "hook" exists
"Because there are so many high-achieving … girls who have studied hard, participated in all the right activities, and expected the top colleges to appreciate their efforts. . . .Do they deserve to get in? Sure. Would they do well if admitted? Absolutely. But colleges are not looking for the well-rounded kid; they want the well-rounded class. And unless you are a superstar in some area, you’re just one of thousands of smart, all-around, but unhooked white girls. It may be unfair, but that’s life.”
So, Suzy's plight may actually be real and sad and indicative of larger problems this county may be facing with regard to education and debt and privilege and class.   But, admittedly, her approach left this analysis untouched, and something to be desired.  I, for one, remain thrilled that nothing I wrote at 18 is readable on the internet.  And I can't wait to see Gawker run rampant with the phrase "unhooked white girls," because I'm thinking it'd be a great "Snooki and JWoWW" spin-off.
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Write comments
Amy Saxon
April 3, 2013 at 2:59 PM delete

Noooo... Alison, not you too! Her essay was so obviously a joke! And it was hilarious.
"I should've done what I knew was best—go to Africa, scoop up some suffering child, take a few pictures, and write my essays about how spending that afternoon with Kinto changed my life."
Come now. Maybe the "funny cuz it's true" stuff or the borderline racist humor will bite you in the ass, yes, but it was still funny. I opened this post excited to see your defense of satire. Bummed.

April 3, 2013 at 3:43 PM delete

"Et tu, Boomstick?"

I really thought my piece WAS a defense of Suzy -- maybe not a wholehearted, 100 percent, this-is-brilliant-and-you-guys-have-no-sense-of-humor-and-I-bet-you-think-The-Onion-is-real kind of defense, but a defense nonetheless. Or at least, I intended it that way. But maybe Suzy can give ME some advice about intending a post to have a certain tone and having people misunderstand you? HAR HAR.

The problem is: I think she's equal parts a satirist and a snob, right? Yeah, this piece was supposed to be a satire, but its satire is belied by enough sincere bitterness that we know she's NOT totally joking about how much "easier" her life would be if she'd spent summers in Africa than at the mall. Which is funny but also kind of... not. And, yeah, she gets that it's totally bratty to say the stuff she's saying but she's also saying it...the satirists' Catch-22?

I do think Gawker went too far with their criticisms of her and neglected to see ANY of the intended humor in it, which is why I was moved to write this response. But there's also a fair bit of unintended humor in her article, and that's what Gawker grasped onto and exploded with their piece. And Gawker's not entirely wrong, either; I mean, she's not exactly Jonathan Swift here.

And believe me, I'm all for off-color humor and hyperbole and I think they both have their place in this discussion especially, but I think Suzy has such a legitimate point to make about the skewing of admissions processes that I just wish she'd executed it with a little more finesse. She undermines the legit arguments about competition and diversity and "points" by sounding like a person you DON'T really want matriculating with your freshman class, which doesn't really serve the true "unhooked" white females out there.

(...Y'all I clearly really feel the need to make Amy hear me out. Talk about desperate for approval.)

Amy Saxon
April 3, 2013 at 5:03 PM delete

You've totally redeemed my faith in your superior wisdom! :) I probably need to reread her article; but no, Jonathan Swift she is not. Ha. Possibly I felt it too easy to relate to that whiny "unhooked white girl" I heard in her voice. (Ew--not an attractive admission) Quite possible I gave her too much credit.

Carrie Marcus
April 3, 2013 at 7:15 PM delete

I can appreciate the seriousness of this being on the WSJ, but after reading it, I don't think it's that bad. I don't think it will deter little Suzy from Plan B, whatever that is. (Might I suggest the morning after pill? Early and often? ; )) I'm sure Stanford will still take her and she'll fit right in.

I also think it's funny that she points out Senator Warren is 1/32 native american. My husband faced a tough call when deciding whether to tell med school admissions committees he is actually 1/64th native american. In the end, we decided no, because what if they ask for a blood test?

Good post Mrs. Alison.

April 5, 2013 at 8:29 AM delete

"Satire" or not, she should go to a state school and start growing up a lot faster. Come to GSU, Suzy, I'll teach you how to write!

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