Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Collige, virgo, rosas

A couple years ago, some people around the internet started a “meme” (a word coined by Richard Dawkens by analogy with “peen”) about the New Yorker Caption contest. Specifically, they made the following discovery:

The answer to the New Yorker caption contest is always “Christ, What an Asshole!”

(As far as I can tell, the original source is this site. It’s no longer functioning; presumably David Remnick had the owner killed when he realized his cover was blown.)

To illustrate:

Bunny

Diving
suit

Clown

The lesson of this discovery is that New Yorker readers are critical, jaded, and comfortable with casual blasphemy. Pretty much.

Anyway, I was reminded of that by this:

The Chinese College Entrance Exam, or gaokao, is a grueling test which takes place over the course of several days each June. Everyone hates it. It’s terribly difficult. It is the sole factor in Chinese college admissions. RECIPE FOR FUN JUST ADD WATER AND SELF-LOATHING.

And then this kid Wang Yunfei comes along, and writes one of his essays in Classical Chinese, a language that hasn’t been “hip” or “used” for 2,000 years. One scholar of Classical Chinese who read the essay said it contained over 40 characters he’d never seen before.

Just for context, here’s an example essay prompt from the SAT website:

Do we put too much emphasis on self-reliance and independence, and are we afraid of admitting that we need other people in our lives?

Please respond in Latin (Greek or Aramaic for half credit). Feel free to take all the time you need.

So while American students are spending 25 minutes on the SAT “thinking” about a Dr. Phil prompt about our inability to admit that we just need help, Wang Yunfei composes an 800-character essay in the ancient language of the literary elite. What does he win? Admission to a top Chinese college. Also probably 5 solid extra years of virginity. You win some you lose some.

Wang
Yunfei

Christ, what an asshole!

Honestly, I do find this kid’s efforts admirable in a tragically precious sort of way. Also, honestly, I’m a pretty big fan of this sentence from the China Daily article about his work:

Despite a lack of original thought or deep insight, Wang’s essay was widely circulated on the Internet over the past couple of weeks.

Silver linings!