Hey, first years: screw ipecac, concentrate in Classics
…or so says Ted Turner’s daddy.
As school begins anew, let the father of one of our most illustrious alumni give you some ammo to help you pursue your own unique Brown goals. Ted Turner ’60, the man who founded and built CNN, made the oh-so-liberal-arts decision to concentrate in Classics during his short time on College Hill in the mid ’50s. Yes, before he switched to Econ and was expelled in 1960 for, um, “entertaining a female guest past curfew,” his dream was to read only from authors whose works can be found in those black and orange books Penguin puts out. Great histories, wars, heroes, and a Sesame Street-like worship of triangles — all of these infatuated the future mastermind of CNN.
Of course, his first mistake was telling his old man.
So Dad wrote to his son, furious and confused and apparently nearly puking, and gave him a paternal whipping that stood as the standard of fatherly might for a full 23 years. The full letter can be found here, but here are a few highlights:
- “I was amazed that [Plato and Aristotle] had so much time for deliberating and thinking, and was interested in the kind of civilization that would permit such useless deliberation.” Mr. Turner, did it ever occur to you that, for the majority of human history, life could only be taken S/NC? Ancient Athens was one big homoerotic subtext —what else could they do but ponder life?
- “It is not necessary for you to know how to make a gun in order to know how to use it,” referring to Ted’s interest in the influence of classic texts on English literature. Here Mr. Turner drifts off topic but, to his credit, succinctly explains the waiting period debate.
- “If I leave you enough money, you can retire to an ivory tower, and contemplate for the rest of your days the influence that the hieroglyphics of prehistoric man had upon the writings of William Faulkner. Incidentally, he was a contemporary of mine in Mississippi. We speak the same language—whores, sluts, strong words, and strong deeds.” Ah, Daddy-o, how well you speak the dialect of College Hill. Care to join in the next pledge class of our wonderful frats?
- “If you are going to stay on at Brown, and be a professor of Classics, the courses you have adopted will suit you for a lifetime association with Gale Noyes. Perhaps he will even teach you to make jelly.” My god, man, what does that even mean?
The high point of the letter is this truly spectacular beatdown, which, depending on the type of concentrators you talk to, is the bane/point of a Brown education.
- “I suppose everybody has to be a snob of some sort, and I suppose you will feel that you are distinguishing yourself from the herd by becoming a Classical snob. I can see you drifting into a bar, belting down a few, turning around to the guy on the stool next to you—a contemporary billboard baron form Podunk, Iowa—and saying, ‘Well, what do you think about old Leonidas?’ Your friend, the billboard baron, will turn to you and say, ‘Leonidas who?’ You will turn to him and say, ‘Why Leonidas, the prominent Greek of the Twelfth Century.’ He will, in turn, say to you, ‘Well, who in the hell was he?’ You will say, ‘Oh, you don’t know about Leonidas?’ and dismiss him, and not discuss anything else with him the rest of the evening. He will feel that he is a clodhopper from Podunk, Iowa. I suppose this will make you both happy, and as a result of it, you will wind up buying his billboard plant.”
Okay, who lent him our prefrosh diaries?
Needless to say, Ted wasn’t feelin’ the family love, so he did the 1950s equivalent of tweeting his dad’s cell phone number and gave the letter to the BDH, which, in keeping with its absurdly high standards of journalistic integrity, printed it in full. After all, if you can’t beat ‘em, ridicule ‘em publicly.
In closing, though it threatens to stroke our superiority complex even further, we feel the need to point out that one of Ted Sr.’s main arguments is just plain wrong. He wrote, “I am a practical man, and for the life of me I cannot possibly understand why you should wish to speak Greek. With whom will you communicate in Greek?” Clearly he never bothered to read our parent publication.
So godspeed, new and returning Brown students. Follow your dreams, but call home about them at your discretion.