20 November 2008

2 crossing the midway

the midway plaisance splits 59th and 60th on the south side of the university of chicago campus. in reality, it's not that impressive. just a random non-numbered boulevard that was initially intended as the university's southern-most border. it evolved into a dumping ground for random statues and an ice skating rink.

but somewhere in the midst of such utilitarianism, in the collective u of c mind, the midway became the arbitrary point that separated the university from the explosive ghetto in its coddled, faux-ivy backyard. an invivisble fence that kept the rapists and murderers and hoodlums at bay. you could go anywhere on campus, but beyond the midway, you were on your own and anarchy was king.

there is a whole world of racism wrapped within this perception.

DON'T GO BEYOND THE MIDWAY. that is what we were told when we lived in hyde park.

never mind that i was egged twice there in a single night, hyde park was safe. whatever lay beyond was hell on earth.

this was the belief with which we were indoctrinated from day one. from the prospective weekend the april before we even enrolled. it quite possibly appeared in the application's fine print. great minds come here, but they DON'T GO BEYOND THE MIDWAY!

from the outside, the midway appears totally harmless. there are no gun-toting thugs patrolling the border. no pickpockets limbering up their hands. now and again, one would emerge from the shadows of the quadrangles and cast a furtive glance toward this lush sunny green expanse that looked less like harlem and more like a fairy-filled enchanted wood. but they said, DON'T GO BEYOND THE MIDWAY, and we did as told.

when an audience member at a doc screening of 28 days later loudly deadpanned, "so that's what it's like Beyond The Midway," it seemed a reasonable assessment and it was an assessment the university did nothing to dispel.

until they bought land Beyond the Midway.

i don't know whose idea that was. probably someone who is no longer a university of chicago employee, because if the barrage of It's Beautiful Beyond the Midway! propaganda was any indication, it was not a popular plan.

in the aftermath, a bombardment of letters began, all along the lines of "dear oline, have you been Beyond the Midway yet?! just forget how three months ago, we told you to pack a gun! today, the greatest u of c minds are Beyond the Midway! thinking big thoughts! and talking big ideas! so you'd better get your ass over there quick! it's all happening Beyond The Midway!"

yesterday, out of necessity, i wound up going Beyond the Midway.

i lived to tell the tale. and here's a revelation: life Beyond the Midway is not scary. it's populated by museum parking and university buildings where great u of c minds are thinking big thoughts and talking big ideas.

it's kind of nice Beyond the Midway, calmer, hushed. beautiful, even.

which leads me to the conviction that there is no institution more effective at brainwashing than the u of c.


paper wren said...

They are going to build a bridge over the Midway.

I'm not kidding. It will symbolically and literally link U of C with "beyond the Midway". How's that for brainwashing?

oline said...

doesn't it feel like we were all immersed in the u of c for just long enough to be deeply appreciative of the splendor of our rather useless degrees and yet abysmally cynical about the school that gave them to us? as my grandmother would say, they're trying, god bless 'em.