For God, For Country, and For Fake Yales

MAD TV
Mr. Burns went to Yale, d'ohhh.
Mr. Burns went to Yale, d'ohhh. // Creative Commons

“I think of all Harvard men as sissies,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald in This Side of Paradise nearly 100 years ago, “and all Yale men as wearing big blue sweaters and smoking pipes.” A lot has changed since then — Yale began admitting women, Commons stopped serving hot breakfast — but the popular conception of Yale has remained the same (think pretentious jocks who wear navy and say, “Bulldogs, bulldogs! Rah rah rah!”). Yale-related television subplots are filled with the airs of silver spoon-having stars. Nowadays, real-world applicants to Yale have about a 6% chance of getting in. But the acceptance rate for the one nerd in every high school drama seems to hover around 100% (See: “Boy Meets World,” “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” “Beverley Hills 90210,” etc.). But not all fictional Yales are created equal. Below, a comprehensive investigation of some of television’s most memorable Bright College Years, from most to least realistic:

“Gilmore Girls”

Next time you’re in Commons for lunch, take a moment to look around the room. At least 40% of the people you see decided to come to Yale because of Rory Gilmore. Rory, with her gift of the gab and high SAT scores, has all the attributes of the model Yalie. She’s brunette. She’s from Connecticut. She wears cute sweaters in autumn. Though the show was shot in California, the sets are near-perfect replicas of New Haven. There’s something eerie about sitting in a Durfee Hall suite and watching Rory move into a room with the exact same layout and blue curtains. Sure, she takes an uber-dramatic leave of absence in season 5, but when she makes her triumphant return to New Haven and becomes co-editor of the YDN, it’s clear that Rory is embracing the Lux et Veritas way. Hundreds of undergrads agree: This is Rory’s Yale. We’re all just living in it.

Related quote: “You’re in Yale, not Amsterdam. How you conduct yourself socially is as important as how you conduct yourself academically.”

Realism rating: 8

“The Simpsons”

Depictions of Yale on “The Simpsons” are frequent and typically unflattering (what else would you expect from a show written by Harvard grads?). Most often, the show’s anti-Bulldog sentiment comes from its portrayal of Mr. Burns, Homer’s affected, slithery boss, as the consummate Yale man. He’s old (decrepit, really), and obsessed with wealth and status. He donates an international airport to the school to get the admissions office to overlook the fact that his applicant son “spelled Yale with a 6.” In a time-traveling episode, Future Lisa is about to attend Yale thanks to a scholarship from Mr. Burns. Bart steals the scholarship in order to impress a girl, resulting in anger from Lisa and plenty of jokes at Yale’s expense. Good central conflict, perhaps, though in real life it would have resulted in more long phone calls to Student Financial Services.

Related quote: “Even though McDonald’s owns Yale now, it’s still a great school.”

Realism rating: 5

“Gossip Girl”

For Blair Waldorf, the backstabbing, headband-wearing queen of the Upper East Side, Yale is the ultimate status symbol. In one memorable episode, the whole gang of high school seniors journeys to New Haven, and stereotypical Ivy League shenanigans ensue. The resulting hour of drama is stuffed with the show’s same-old absurdity, this time done up in Yale Blue. While making an official campus visit, Blair has an inexplicably critical meeting with the dean of admissions, a Yale gentleman (in the Fitzgerald sense) named Dean Baraby. In the same episode, a prospective student is kidnapped by members of Skull and Bones. No one on the tour asks whether Yale will accept their 5 on AP Physics. Viewers don’t even have the satisfaction of recognizing the sight of the sun glinting off Harkness Tower or sweaty freshmen returning from Toad’s — the whole thing was filmed at Columbia. To be fair, nothing on “Gossip Girl” was ever all that realistic. But an admissions visit without the overbearing parents? Please.

Related quote: “Yale is mine!”

Realism rating: 1

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