I swapped lectures with an LSE student and almost died
No, I still don’t know what Anthropology is
This week, I went behind enemy lines (to the other side of Aldwych) to find out once-and-for-all what makes the Holborn hermits at LSE tick. Being from the Strand poly, as my fellow students openly admitted to me, I was worried that I’d feel totally inferior and out of my depth. I was pretty much right.
I (stupidly) attended an Anthropology lecture with my friend Alex and only about 30 other people, and as I waited awkwardly outside, the actual professor began asking us what we thought of the reading this week, of this theory, that theory.
“He’s going to find out I’m an imposter”, I panicked, seriously considering running away. Sweat began to drip from my brow. My hand trembled as I quickly attempted to Google who Claude Levi-Strauss was, but I had no signal (turns out the grass isn’t always fucking greener on the other side). Luckily I avoided conversation and eye contact with him, but it was a close shave.
Once I was in the lecture, I was pretty smug because I understood about 20 per cent of what was going on. Unbelievably, I’d had the chance to study theorists like Saussure at the Strand poly, so maybe our education isn’t actually as useless as our rivals make out.
It became clear, however, that the LSE students were deeply involved in their subject on a whole other level. I felt like shedding a tear of pity every time they collectively laughed at some obscure in-joke, or when the guy in the front row spent the entire time vigorously nodding his head at every. last. word.
My friend had made three pages of typed notes within the first 15 minutes. The lecturer was reeling off name after name of dead white men, none of which I could spell (Marcel Mouse? Mousse? Moose?) It wasn’t looking good. I began to imagine myself up against one of these weirdos in a job interview (or a pub quiz) and decided the only option in that situation would be to resort to physical violence.
What’s more, the guy giving the lecture spent most of the time laughing at his own high-brow banter. At one point he said that non-Anthropology students had “no cultural skill” *glances awkwardly around* which put me on the defensive.
But then something changed: I found out he was famous. I’m not kidding when I say he has a legit Wikipedia page – one with an actual photo on it that knows where he lives, and what what his childhood was like, and his favourite flavour of Ben and Jerry’s.
The guy’s an actual anarchist who influenced the Occupy movement and coined the phrase “we are the 99 per cent”, for fuck’s sake. He’s everything I hoped a university professor would be before I arrived in London – he had the moleskins, the red waistcoat and the unwavering enthusiasm we all love to hate.
How can we compete with that? Do we really, genuinely know who Desmond Tutu is? I was having a moment of self-doubt. I mean, at best our lecturers at King’s might have a witty/tragic Twitter account with 25 followers and several selfies which should never have gone public, but never a Wikipedia page.
During the lecture, Dave (I think I can call him Dave at this point) talked about everything from incest to rainbows, and admittedly most of it went over my head. I came out half expecting to see pigs flying through the corridors, this experience at LSE was so bizarre. To illustrate this, some of the best quotes that came out of the lecture were “Sherlock Holmes is asexual” and “rich people are like vampires.” Insightful, but also completely irrelevant in the actual, real, serious world – right?
Oh, and as if it couldn’t get any more abstract and ambiguous, Dave announced to the audience at the end: “all of this is wrong and doesn’t work.” It seemed the sickening LSE pretence was quickly wearing off. What a waste of an hour. Joke’s on you, vigorous-head-nodder with 15 pages of colour coded notes, joke’s on you.
One genuinely great thing I will admit about LSE, however, is the abundance of light. The kind of light that comes in through windows. From the sun. Ok, I’m scraping the barrel, but such luxury has become a distant memory to the average King’s student who spends hours every day threemiles underground, only to emerge at 5pm into yet more darkness.
Oh, they also have multi-coloured chairs. And a man who hands out free Indian food. And at least they don’t have to contend with any architectural catastrophe like the Macadam Building. But they don’t have any sweeping views of the Thames, or those Waterfront curly fries, or a museum full of preserved body parts.
In short, my initial skepticism about LSE was turned into gritted teeth toleration by the end of my visit. Yes, there are a few too many hipsters and Bill Gateses, but a few of them are actually quite normal, to be fair.
The final stage of the experiment was to bring my friend Alex to King’s. My lecture was on Beowulf, which of course I hadn’t read but did watch a mildly disturbing children’s cartoon version of. Basically, so far, I wasn’t exactly making a good impression.
But isn’t the great thing about King’s our slightly laid-back, blasé, “it was only suggested reading” vibe anyway? When it really comes down to it, we could ace that pub quiz/interview/University Challenge episode blindfolded. Probably.
According to Alex, King’s is “more artsy” and “less aggressively competitive” than LSE, and she was impressed by our very own Chapel. She even admitted a mild envy about the young, friendly atmosphere at King’s and told me: “I stand corrected on LSE students’ claims that it should be renamed ‘Strand poly.’’
In all honesty it still feels a little too soon to bury the hatchet, but I’m sure we could manage to divert some more of our contempt in UCL’s direction every now and then.