August 26th marked the 25th anniversary of the so-called “Preppie Murder.”
In 1986, Robert Chambers, a former student of Choate Rosemary Hall, left the Upper East Side bar Dorrian’s Red Hand with 18-year-old Jennifer Levin, whom he later strangled in Central Park behind the Metropolitan Museum.
The story became a tabloid sensation, was eventually made into a television movie, and earned Chambers the nickname The Preppie Killer.
Earlier this week NBC News remembered the crime, writing:
They were fleeting friends, Chambers and Levin, not a couple. Two prep school kids from New York’s affluent Upper East Side, who made their way to Central Park after meeting up at Dorian’s Red Hand, a bar popular with Manhattan’s young and privileged.
During the trial and the investigations that led up to it, Chambers was exposed as a thief who stole from many people, including a teacher at an elite private school that expelled him. It was also revealed that he had a serious drug habit since the age of 14.
After initially denying involvement in Levin’s death, Chambers later pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served 15 years. Several years after his release he was convicted of selling cocaine and is currently serving a 19-year sentence.
Dorrian’s, still known for its preppy crowd, has remained notoriously associated with the crime ever since. — CC
We’re halfway to Labor Day, so if you’ve been neglecting your seersucker jacket, now’s the time to start wearing it all the time — even while riding the bike you stole from the new dork in school.
After all, doesn’t this model from Rugby’s website remind you of someone?
Click “continue” to see his pop-culture predecessor. — CC (Continue)
Slate Magazine recently posted a long-winded and at times insufferable meditation on snobbery by a prep who came of age in the ’80s.
The author’s resumé would certainly suggest the presence of snobbery:
Mark Oppenheimer writes about religion for the New York Times. He is the author of a memoir, Wisenheimer; is an editor of the New Haven Review; and on Feb. 13 debuts Paper Trails, his new public radio show about books, on WNPR.
In fact, he reminds me a bit of Tad Friend, another smart and educated writer full of snobberies and insecurities, also prone to the public confessional, whose book “Cheerful Money” I wrote about here.
After 5,000 words, Oppenheimer doesn’t reach much in the way of conclusions, save that snobbism may be a vice but he can’t help himself. Here’s a condensed version with highlights in pink and green.
The author’s sense of superiority, that would later become realized in his Northeastern establishment/media elite/PBS-NPR moral superiority resumé (bolstered even more by his religious nature, putting pretty much 99 percent of humanity beneath him), began at a precocious age:
By the time I graduated from New North, I was preening about more than my verbal ability. I had become, in my mind, an aristocrat, my superiority evident in my bloodlines, my parents’ education, my clothes, my pronunciation of words, my taste in reading, and even my haircut (I had a goofy bowl cut, which I deemed nobler than my classmates’ buzz cuts or proto-Kid ‘n Play creations). Even though I was happier than before, I was, like all 10- or 11-year-olds, still very much unbalanced, unsure of where to plant my feet in the world. So I looked all around, and steadied myself with fragile certainties that whatever I did, it made me better than those around me.
In the following passage, Oppenheimer contrasts himself with a bow-tied pal:
Snobbery is the most self-aggrandizing of dispositions, but it is not self-centered. Somebody who truly does not care what other people think—we might call her an eccentric—is not a snob, even if she bears traces of elitism. My friend George, for example, is famous for wearing bowties and blazers everywhere, even to casual brunches. He attended all the fanciest schools, was a fencer in college, and is a partner in a white-shoe Boston law firm. But he is so clearly more interested in self-expression than in what other people think of him that nobody would dare call him a snob. He’s not trying to prove anything by how he lives; he just cannot imagine living otherwise. A man who wears a bowtie to brunch on a Sunday morning is almost inviting derision, and it is a sign of his supreme self-confidence that he persists in doing so. The snob, by contrast, can never quite forget what other people think of him.
Last year, during Preppy Week, we examined some of the spoofs created by opportunistic cash-ins thanks to the success of “The Official Preppy Handbook.”
But the preppy cash-grab went beyond mere words and drawings. To wit, a video game for the Atari console that allowed hoi polloi to sit in front of its TV sets and imagine a Lacoste-clad private school twit getting his comeuppance be being eaten alive by alligators.
Preppie, released in 1982 by Adventure International, is not only a Preppy Handbook cash-in, it’s a Frogger rip-off. It also gives a whole new meaning to the term “gatoring.” The description on the back of the game reads:
Teeing off on the course may be delightfully fashionable, but it can be pretty dangerous on this crazy green! Preppie is a graphics tour de force that dares your preppie to cross an alligator-filled river and recover his wayward golf ball. Dangers lurk everywhere — from speeding golf cards to monster frogs. Only a true Ivy Leaguer could face up to this kind of punishment!
The game extols various features “mummy would most certainly approve of,” and notes that it showcases 28 Atari colors “that will delight and thrill the most fashion-conscious gamester.
“So why go slumming with lesser simulations?” it concludes. “You’ll be the toast of the country club with Preppie.” (Continue)
With this post Ivy-Style bring Preppy Week to a close. Click here to have the Dead Kennedys’ “Terminal Preppie” play in another browser window as you rejoice in the demise of Biff and Muffy.
Every trend carries within it the seed of its own negation. The hype and expectation over “Take Ivy” has made it fashionable to take a blasé attitude towards the book, complaining online how the photos aren’t in HD. The middle road, as usual, is the best: The tome is neither the Rosetta Stone of Ivydom, but nor does it warrant flippant dismissal. Likewise, perhaps the current Preppy-Ivy-Trad-Americana trend will give birth to a hippie revival in a few years, the very trend that followed the original heyday of the Ivy League Look.
In the early ’80s, the immense success of “The Official Preppy Handbook” saw an immediate backlash by would-be humorists looking to cash-in by lampooning the new popped-collar zeitgeist. Kate Reed’s “101 Uses for a Dead Preppie” came out in 1981, followed by “The Joy of Stuffed Preppies” by Randall C. Douglas III and Eric Fowler the next year.
If you want copies, better act fast. I picked mine up for a few bucks each several months ago — about the same price I paid a few years ago for the Preppy Handbook, which is now commanding a premium on eBay. (Continue)
Preppy Week continues with this impressive bit of research from Greg Moniz, a student at Connecticut’s Trinity College, who brings back our “Somewhere in Time” series by compiling highlights from Time Magazine’s coverage of the ’80s preppy trend.
“If one more person comes in here and asks for Bass Weejuns, I think I’ll scream,” says an Atlanta saleswoman in a 1980 article from Time Magazine. A more muted but equally frustrated voice can be heard from a Time writer in an article several months later while writing about New York’s soon-to-be-closed Biltmore Hotel: “Years before alligator shirts covered every second American torso, long before artifacts of Ivy League style were mass-merchandised, before anyone dreamed of writing an ‘official handbook’, Manhattan’s Biltmore Hotel was the premier place for preppies.”
The writer goes on to paint a dazzling scene: “Within its vaulting rococo spaces, numberless Princeton boys leered at an endless parade of Vassar girls, while Dartmouth seniors, a little tight, chatted up Smithies. The bubbliness was swell and incessant.”
Both the saleswoman and the writer express a certain anger, but for different reasons. The saleswoman can’t keep buyers from flooding the gates in search of “Oxford-cloth shirts and Shetland sweaters, khaki slacks and tartan skirts.” (After all, the reason she’s interviewed is because of a burgeoning preppy America.) But the writer sees the demise of a stale, previously grand hotel as representative of the state of prepdom in the 1980s. With the Biltmore gone, what do preppies have left to define themselves? Certainly not the clothes on their back, as every Brad and Tiffany now have the same.
How is it that one single media outlet was painting two vastly different portraits of prepdom? Because just as it was making its grand appearance on the national stage, with its lifestyle glorified, replicated, exaggerated and mocked, classic prepdom was also on its deathbed — its subtle, idiosyncratic, authentic self mourned by its faithful, destiny-driven band of originals.
A review of Time articles from the 1980s reveals the two parallel storylines, with death and a culturally dominant, more egalitarian rebirth as two prevalent themes.
So here’s the best of Time‘s coverage and commentary as the old preppy order was dying off and a new one was being born. I’ve provided some of the more colorful excerpts; you can click the links to read the complete articles for free at Time.com. (Continue)