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Defining college culture

Cultural touchstones – songs, events, innovations – anchor us to specific times and places, and often serve as instant connection points with others. It isn’t until page 14 that we know the year in which The Marriage Plot is set. However, cultural clues are sprinkled throughout the opening pages to subtly give readers an idea of the time:

  • the Talking Heads epigraph;
  • Patti Smith’s music;
  • New Wave band posters;
  • Elvis Costello glasses.

The most poignant touchstone for me (aka, I started singing it out loud!) was the song playing in the restaurant where Madeleine takes her parents for breakfast the morning of graduation:

So what cultural touchstones define your college years? What songs, events, fashions, books, movies, innovations do you recall? Do they help define your college experience? We’d love to hear about them!

Category: The Marriage Plot

4 Responses to Defining college culture

  1. Hu Womack says:

    I arrived on campus at WFU in the Fall of 1985. I vividly remember the Challenger accident on January 28, 1986 and going skydiving in the summer of 1986. In 1987 I got my first Apple computer, a Mac SE and moved into a house on Stratford road in Winston Salem with 8 other students. 363 N. Straford Rd would shape the rest of my college years. Once I moved off campus I bought an answering machine and my mom gave me an old fax machine to use as she liked to fax me clippings from newspapers and send me notes! That was the apex of technology in the late 1980’s.

    • Molly Keener says:

      Wow, Hu, my family didn’t get an answering machine until 1995! And my parents still don’t have call waiting; they refuse. Email was a challenge for my mom until I studied abroad in 2002, at which point her multi-week phone calls (yes, it really was that often!) were stopped by prohibitive cost. I wonder if she would’ve done better with a fax…

  2. Molly Keener says:

    As Lauren and I overlapped college (I was in from 1999-2003), many of the touchstones were the same, particularly the rise of instant messaging and cell phones. Our college culture will forever be defined by, and understandably overwhelmed by, the attacks on Sept. 11. But I also remember the drama of the Bush-Gore elections of 2000 playing a large role in discussions among various groups. And for some of my friends, blogging and online discussion forums led to meeting future partners and spouses online, a foreign concept to many in the early 2000s!

  3. Lauren says:

    There are so many vivid memories from my college experience that are deeply tied to the era in which I was a college student. AOL Instant Messenger was so new and novel we all used it instead of phones. New ideas about “music sharing” and ownership were just beginning to be tested by college students. I had a professor require we use electronic articles for an assignment because we were all much more comfortable with paper and skeptical of electronic. I remember my first cell phone, the music played, and the clothes. But most significantly I remember the morning of 9/11, how bright and blue the sky was, and how dark the campus was thereafter. I was in college from 1998 through 2003.

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