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June 4, 2013

Uncultivated indulgence

Ability to enjoy simple pleasures should not be hampered by our university’s culture of refinement.

In two weeks’ time, I’ll return home for the summer fresh from a weeklong detour into Tennessee. Upon arrival in my hometown, my first order of business will not be to see my parents, my sister, or my dog; I will not head straight to my home to unpack and recuperate; I won’t go to any of my friends’ houses to hang out. Instead I will make a beeline to a dusty gravel parking lot on the near south side of town, amble purposefully up to a run-down silver trailer, and order some tacos. I’ll order my usual—three “Trailer Parks,” all trashy—and sit down on a picnic bench in 100-plus-degree heat to ingest three flour tortillas filled with fried chicken, green peppers, pico de gallo, and queso. Once the last bits are gone, and I’ve wiped off the queso that’s inevitably clung to my face, then—and only then—can my life at home begin.

This order of priorities might seem a bit strange, and probably even unhealthy. Admittedly, it is unhealthy, given that I haven’t seen my family in six months. Three Trailer Parks, all trashy, can’t really be healthy either. But I have a need for great tacos, and a truly great taco is something I just haven’t found at UChicago, in Hyde Park, or in Chicago as a whole. That’s really not the point, though: There’s nothing less sophisticated than queso-covered fried chicken served out of a trailer, and that’s the point. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve learned anything I actually need to know in my eight months of class here, but I certainly have learned that I am an incredibly lowbrow individual. And that’s what I miss, more than just tacos. I miss an environment where the unrefined is embraced and celebrated.

UChicago is one of the finest universities in the world, and our student body’s IQ is undoubtedly far above the world average. Being intelligent students, we study sophisticated things—Plato, Kant, quantum mechanics, Hegel, fractals, and so on. Thus we come to be and come to think of ourselves as refined and sophisticated people, with refined tastes and ideas. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. We are intelligent people with the ability to understand and enjoy complex forms of entertainment, food, culture, etc. But I feel like we forget sometimes that just because we’re capable of understanding complex and highbrow things doesn’t mean that we can’t also enjoy the lowbrow ones. Even worse, I feel like we have this idea of ourselves as intelligent, intellectual, and sophisticated, and we eschew unsophisticated things not because of a lack of desire for them, but rather because we hold ourselves to some illusionary higher standard. We wouldn’t dare enjoy listening to the bubblegum pop the Katy Perrys and Justin Biebers of the world churn out—not because we don’t think it’s catchy, but because we’re better than that, or perhaps, even worse, just wouldn’t want to be caught enjoying it. While I’m not saying that phenomena like these are ubiquitous within our student body, I do think they exist, and are concerning in any concentration. Being a UChicago student and enjoying Fast and Furious 6 will and does not make you incongruously dumb or undeserving of enrollment here; it just makes you capable of enjoying the simple things as well as the complex ones. And that certainly isn’t harmful—it’s probably beneficial.

What is harmful is keeping ourselves from things we like simply because we’re supposed to be sophisticated. This inhibition of baser desires is not without a social element: The pressure to maintain perpetual refinement is one that originates not only from our own thoughts, but the thoughts and words of those around us. Judging each other for our guilty pleasures is what makes them guilty when, really, they needn’t be. Externally imposed and unnecessary guilt is something we’d all like less of, and if we stop allowing our status as intelligent students to dictate what we’re allowed to enjoy, we just might have less of it.

So when I get home and head straight for that trailer, it’s not because I don’t love my family or like my friends; it’s because I need to remind myself that I’m back in a place where I can proudly eat whatever lowbrow form of delicious trash I want without worrying that I’ll be thought a barbarian. Then again, maybe I am a barbarian. Maybe my love for things that are a little simpler is just an indication of my inferior intelligence. Maybe I can’t hold myself to a higher standard because I can’t reach one. But I don’t think so. I don’t think I’m the only UChicago student who has the urge to indulge in the unsophisticated, but I do think that, sadly, I’m in the minority that succumbs to that urge. I wish more of us did. You may call me unrefined or just plain stupid for saying so, but I think we should all just relax and have a taco every once in a while.

Liam Leddy is a first-year in the College majoring in economics and psychology.

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