Elitism on a diet

Documentaries – Decline and Fall?

Mystery Image

Normally, I am very upbeat about market forces and their effect on society.  The benefits of allowing the market to define stuff generally results in a net improvement of most everything over time.  For every unintended side effect, we are given ten products or services that make our lives better or easier in some way, or which allow us to concentrate on things that make us happy, as opposed to, for example, peeling potatoes.

Even consumer-driven TV, which is generally set up for audiences with about the intelligence of a hamster has never been an issue for me.  I watch very little TV other than sports, so I’m happy that the drooling masses are cooped up in their houses game shows and Big Brother instead of clogging the streets or committing violent crime.   Or worse, trying to think… that never goes well.  So the boob-tube serves a purpose.

idiot-box

But, sometimes, one is hoisted by his own petard, and suffers karmic vengeance.  While generalizing about TV, I was once under the smug impression that the documentary channels stuck somewhere in the 400s of the cable system were free from that particular plague.  It used to be that the media companies behind them had seemed to simply stick them there, hoping to get an intellectual audience in New York, and resigned themselves to making small profits from that pat of their programming.  Documentaries are cheap to film, as you don’t need to spend money on big stars, so even a small advertising investment is enough to keep the channels viable.

Unfortunately, there came a time in the mid 2000s when someone realized that people will watch stuff with a documentary format if you dumb it down enough.  Reality TV had proved popular enough to have a long run on network TV, just imagine what it could do for the History Channel!  And from there to the current programming grid was a slippery slope.  I did an experiment last night: of the ten documentary channels on my TV grid, only one was showing something that a reasonably bright 10-year old wouldn’t have shut off in disgust.  The rest were showing series about pet misbehavior, celebrity ghost stories, prisoners abroad, crime stories and psychic children.  I do enjoy the show about restoring stuff, but I have to admit it counts as entertainment more than documentary films.

So, out of a grid of ten channels, precisely one – Discovery Civilization – was showing a program actually aimed at teaching something: Time Life Lost Civilizations – a show nearly 20 years old (the Mesopotamia chapter, BTW, is brilliant, balancing the religious and historical themes very well).

Ouch.  Seems like teaching intellectually stimulating programming on TV has gone the way of the dodo.

Of course, documentary film has anything but a pristine, unblemished history (wikipedia entry here).  From its very early origins, it has had its issues.  Perhaps the first major documentary, Nanook of the North, was also one of the the first fictionalized documentaries.  It tells 1920s audiences about the life of an Inuit family in northern Canada.  Sadly, the film doesn’t reflect the true life of those families at the time, but is, instead an idealized picture of how it would have looked decades earlier – but that isn’t explained to the viewers at any time.  In one famous incident, Nanook is shown hunting with a seal with a harpoon, which nearly gets him killed.  What filmmaker Flaherty neglects to mention, however, is that, in real life, Nanook would have done what any sensible person in the twenties would have done: shot the thing with a rifle.

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It got worse long before it got better.  Over the next twenty-five years, documentaries were generally used for two things: basic newsreels and propaganda.  While Battleship Potemkin is perhaps the best known early Soviet propaganda film, straight documentaries – as opposed to historical reenactments – were also a staple of the state controlled cinema industry.

But even the Soviets took a back seat when it came to showing off their ideology in a chilling, powerful way.  The title of most alarming documentary has to go to Triumph of the Will.   Leni Riefenstahl was a brilliant filmmaker (as can also be seen in her other masterpiece, Olympia), but she was in the pay of Hitler’s government, which meant that her talents were used to glorify the Aryan race (although Olympia, surprisingly, hero-worships Jesse Owens, but that is a story for another post).  The images in Triumph are some of the most powerful I have ever seen on film, and the scene with the massed party at night is probably one of the most disturbing things ever committed to celluloid (yes, I know there are more graphic images elsewhere – but if you think it through, the death of millions trumps most anything else).

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This use of documentary film is still alive and well today.  The documentary format is a great platform to push an extreme ideology in a way that, to the uncritical portion of an audience, makes it seem legitimate.  Super Size Me, for example, is based on an extreme, unrealistic premise – and yet was widely hailed as a serious film as opposed to what it was, a cynical publicity stunt aimed squarely at one particular company.  Anything by Michael Moore also uses the format, very intelligently, to lend credibility to ideology.  Modern examples abound.

In fact, it may be impossible to present anything in a way that completely avoids bias, or giving credence to one theory over another, but I think what makes a documentary worthwhile in my book is to at least make the effort, although in critical documentary that may become difficult.

To my mind, the golden era of documentaries started at some point in the sixties, and is only starting to end today, falling to commercial pressure and celebrity, as well as the shining beacons of commercially successful documentaries that are just opinion wrapped in facts that support it, ignoring anything inconvenient.

Don’t get me wrong – critical documentary can be very thought provoking and intellectually stimulating (I can’t recommend Visions of Space enough, the film about Mies van der Rohe is simply brilliant), but that doesn’t seem to be the direction in which we are heading.

Of course, all is not remotely lost.  Despite the impression one gets when looking at the Oscar-nominated documentaries, there are still great documentaries being created all over the world, and if you have access to BBC or PBS, you will probably still get them on TV (we only get BBC news in Argentina, and no PBS).  But for the rest of us, it takes an internet trawl to locate the good stuff.

I recently found a documentary which shows the life of the wildlife that has adapted itself to life in Japanese rice paddies, and the farmer’s planting cycle.  Simply fascinating – but ten years old.

Still, I know there are newer gems out there, too.  It’s just a question of looking for the.

Also, there are bonus points for anyone who can tell me where the lead image came from…  That has to count for something, right?

“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

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As most people concerned about the cultural decline of Western civilization continue to moan in despair* , I would like to take a moment to abandon my own complaining and look at one group, at least, that seems to be bucking the trend.  But before I get to the point, I need to digress again which, I suspect, is why many of you are reading this in the first place.

It used to be, there were places where you could meet the right people, even if you were far from home.

When railroads and a general lack of Europeans from different nations slaughtering each other on sight made travel a lot more pleasant, certain places came to be generally accepted as the ones one went to to meet acquaintances.  Perhaps for the Anglophones among us, the archetypal example is the Pump Room at Bath (below).  Anyone familiar with English novels of manners from the pre-Victorian period will have run into this (even casual readers are likely to have encountered it in Austen).

Pump Room Bath

Essentially, it got everyone who was anyone together in one place, without having to go to the trouble and expense of getting invited to the Royal Gala or whatever.

There are other places (notably certain hotels where one would meet for lunch), which took the anglophone through the Victorians and into the 20th century, but by then, the world had once again become a much smaller place, and culturally relevant people – even insular Englishmen – were no longer meeting exclusively in their own cities, or with people from their own countries.

By now, they were meeting in Paris.  More precisely, they were meeting in the Paris Cafés.  1871 is usually pointed to as the beginning of the Belle Époque.  From then until the first world war, Paris was the place to be seen at, and to meet your acquaintances, French, Dutch, Austrian or British.  There is a myth, an image flying around that this era was overrun with impecunious artists.  It is relatively true, but only tells a small part of the story.

Small, but what a story.  It must have been amazing to witness the birth of a new and major current in art every few weeks, driven not by the established masters but by a previously unknown artist from the countryside, or from Spain or somewhere equally unexpected.  The heady times among the currents and countercurrents in the avant-garde were balanced by almost equally exciting events in what was then considered high culture, from the World’s Fair, to Stravinksy.  Even the now reviled Paris Salon gave us iconic images.  Not all the great works were famously rejected, you know.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Le Moulin de la Galette

But WWI brought it to a screeching halt.  Europe was not really in the mood for it all, and any mingling of nationalities would be best done on neutral ground, so the circus moved to Broadway.

Broadway in the twenties

Eventually, the in-crowds moved to Hollywood,  and then spent some time in Monte Carlo (always at least peripherally on this list), but it also lost some of its melting-pot feel.  The problem is that, as the world became smaller and smaller, the enclaves started catering to the super rich… and no one else.  I’m certain you’ll run into the right people if you snag paddock passes for the Monaco GP, but there aren’t many of them, and you might have to sell a yacht to afford them.  Any Dubai pool party classifies in the same category, too.

The day you sell a yacht is supposed to be the second best day of ownership after the day you buy it, but what about those who either prefer to keep their yachts or simply aren’t in that financial class?  What about the slightly less well-to-do global citizen, who wants to be surrounded by like-minded people, but has accidentally travelled thousands of miles from their usual base of operations?

The answer to that, after decades of traveling in a variety of budget levels is surprisingly heartwarming, and I first got an inkling of it when I bought a pass that saved me money on a variety of New York attractions.  The way it was set up was the clue: each ticket let you enter one of two attractions.  One of the options was something typically touristy, while the other option was generally a museum.  Strangely, the typical things you see on TV were usually mirrored by things that I really wanted to do.

I probably missed out on a lot of people very different from myself by choosing the museums.  But I did enjoy them.  And most of the people I generally have things in common with have spent a disproportionate amount of their time in major cities at the Met, MoMA, the Louvre, the Uffizi, the Prado or the National gallery, and considerably less at the photogenic large buildings / famous actor’s former homes / scenic countryside than others who visited the same places.  Art museums seem to be the one place where you’re likely to run into the polymath and global citizen today.  Even the ones who prefer hiking and hitchhiking aren’t going to miss the city’s big museum(s).  The fact that the great cultural artifacts of humanity also attract much smaller crowds than Graceland is only a secondary consideration to the kind of people this blog is aimed at.

Most of them can tell me which wall this…

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is hanging on.

Which, when you stop to think about it, is kind of nice.

*and yes, I know, we urgently need a nice knock-down, drag-out fight about the relative merits of high culture as opposed to popular culture on this blog – the very nature of this space cries out for that particular battle.

The Grand Tour – Not Just For the 1%

In a world where most travel is vicarious, just a few clicks away, the concept of the Grand Tour may seem wasteful or even immoral.  Something for the 1%, or, much worse, the people who want to be like them, the wannabees, nobles plotting to become royalty (or whatever the 21st century equivalent is).  I believe that it isn’t – but that it has also changed shape, to become almost unrecognizable.

English Gentleman on Grand Tour in Rome

So what, exactly is this Grand Tour thingy? Well, there’s a long, complete article on Wikipedia, of course (which is where the image above of an English gentleman posing in Rome came from), but for our purposes, suffice to say that it was a custom among upper-class gentlemen to take a long trip to continental Europe after finishing their university studies.  It is mainly associated with British gentlemen, but was practiced in most of northern Europe as well as North and South America.

Ah, it’s just like when modern college kids finish college, then, and it’s nothing special.

No, it’s not.

While the purported objectives of both kinds of trips are similar (get to know other cultures), that is where the similarities end.  While a typical modern student trip might involve coming into continued contact with the local populace and seeing the local culture, a Grand Tour would would put one in contact with the creators of that local culture, as well as an understanding of why that culture exists, from the horse’s mouth.

The differences don’t end there…  A grand tour would last months, even years even had youth hostels existed during its heyday, no one on the tour would ever have gone near one.  No, if you’d been visiting the continent, you would have been lodged at the homes of notables in the countries you visited.  You would have been exposed to the top of society, as opposed to the bottom and sides.  There’s a much clearer view from up there, of course, which meant that the Grand Tour would create a much deeper understanding and, in so doing, remove a layer of ignorance and arrogance.  It was a good thing.

It was not universally loved, of course.  Isaac Asimov wrote a story called “Good Taste“, set in a future in which mankind has colonized parts of the solar system.  Essentially, the main character goes on a “Grand Tour” of other celestial bodies, where he gains knowledge and loses some of his prejudices – which eventually leads to serious problems (I don’t want to spoil it for you, if you’d like to read it, the story is available here).  

Fittingly, the conflict centers not on the knowledge gained but on the prejudices lost, and that has always been the Grand Tour’s greatest value.  It takes more than a couple of weeks in Paris to accept the French attitude towards sex (hell, even I was surprised that they show hardcore porn on normal cable channels, completely uncensored) or, on the other side of the spectrum, Arab marriage customs.  You need to understand the people’s quirks, get more than just a passing feel for their beliefs, and see their culture as more than just a tourist.  But in doing so, you will lose part of what makes you similar to the people back home.  It’s the fear of the different, the “contamination” that it brings, that leads to the fear, and this is what Asimov was pointing at in his story.

Of course, there is ample reason to fear, at least in the eyes of the narrow-minded.  On returning home, the attitudes of your acquaintances will seem primitive, provincial and narrow.  Their attempts to right the world’s wrongs will seem basic and one-sided.  Finally, you will not be able to resist speaking out initially out of a desire to help them expand their views, then out of frustration and, finally (if you are too dense to shut up in time), out of self-defense.

I know that among some super-rich families, this is still a custom, but other than that, there are many ways to go on the tour.  Probably the most popular is to get transferred to a job abroad.  This has the advantage that you will be living in relative luxury on company accounts, hobnobbing with the upper crust and other expats, and – though you may not enjoy it – being exposed to other default conditions.  It also lasts long enough to make a lasting impression (three years is typical).

The downside is that people with the experience to deserve a transfer are usually a bit old and set in their ways to be truly moldable.  Maybe the ideal would be to be the child of one of those expats (which has the added upside that you will possibly end up at one of these schools), but that isn’t something you can choose if it didn’t happen naturally.

As a counterpoint, being a world citizen on the internet is just about the worst way to do it.  It gives a lot of information around which to form an opinion, but none of the context that is, by definition, unwritten.  A lot of people believe they have had contact with other cultures or ideas, based on their online adventures.  That is about the same as saying that you’ve climbed Everest because you’ve seen pictures taken from the top.

Anyhow, I think that, if at all possible, everyone should be exposed to an immersion in a different culture at an early age – or at an advanced age.  And never stop teaching what you’ve learned, even if most people won’t want to hear it.

On Words, as they Relate to Worldview

I once had an online conversation with a writer who really, really doesn’t like me.  We were arguing about something and he responded, that writers should be careful of the words and phrases they use, as they need to be precise.

He was objecting to my use of the phrase “knee-jerk” to describe a decision that he claimed had been taken after consulting everyone involved.  While the original discussion that engendered his comment was never enough to really get my juices flowing, his statement about the importance of precise language stuck with me (you may draw your own conclusions regarding what interests me from the preceding sentence).

Of course, it’s probably a good thing for prose intended for publication to be quickly and easily understandable by the widest audience possible.  But is it really that important outside of the confines of a book?  Even within those confines, I’d argue that a certain amount of transcending the rules is acceptable, so you can imagine that precision in daily language is something that I really don’t think is all that important.

xkcd.com recently summed up my view of this:

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Link to the original comic here.

Sums it up, doesn’t it?  It just seems to me that if people understand what you’re talking about, it’s fine.  I have worked with a large number of accountants and engineers in my time and, as you can imagine, many of them disagree vehemently with this point of view.  And yes, I’ve seen a strong correlation between people who need everything to be in neat little labelled boxes and people who think this way – but that’s not the point today.  I really want to focus on the language implications, because these are the ones that have more to do – in my opinion – with being a global citizen.

How often do you find yourself involved in a conversation with someone in which language barriers mean that you have to pay attention to the context of what the person is saying in order to be able to understand a particular word?  If you move in the circles I do – and I assume that anyone reading this probably does – you often find yourself trying to understand some heavily accented English, or even trying to make yourself understood by reviving those old French lessons.  When you are in the latter position, my structured adversary is probably not the kind of person you want listening to you.

Experience teaches one to relax this requirement for others, and eventually brings one to understand that it isn’t all that important. I think what irritated me most about the original discussion was that he wasn’t focusing on the message but on the language, which has in human history led to a whole bunch of stupid (including the once-relevant PC parrots) , and is something I can never understand.

So I have more questions than answers for you.  Was he doing it on purpose to bug me?  I doubt it – he seemed genuinely mad at me for using the phrase.  But it was clear from the context that it was just a place holder for “making an insufficiently reasoned decision and the wrong one, to boot”, which leads me to the conclusion that he chose to interpret it that way, and to take umbrage.

In this particular case, it’s his problem…  But what does he need to get over something like this?

Essentially, the best way to get past this is actually to be truly global in your outlook.  A big-picture approach is required, and you really can’t get that from books or from your peers, and you can’t really get that if your main contact with the larger world is online, with people you’ve never met.

So, you ask, where is my nemesis from?

If you guessed he’s an American who doesn’t move too far from his home in the midwest, you get full marks.  No bonus points this time, because we all know it was just too easy.  Of course, this is unfair to many midwesterners who actually have outgrown the limitations of their geography, but such is life when space forces one to generalize…

Anyway, I promised eclectic, and eclectic this blog will be.  Art, travel and guest bloggers are coming now that we’ve goteen some of the philosphy and our first list out of the way…

Stay tuned.

Understanding Everyone Else (hint, you won’t manage it, but they’ll appreciate the effort)

So, there you are, sitting around a table at a party, or talking to people at work, or even in a pickup bar.  There comes a point where you realize that the people around you are talking about the same things every day, all day (if this happens to you in pickup bars, you seriously need to consider doing something else with your free time) – and the things they say seem to consist mainly of stuff that only a game show studio audience (or mammals of similar intellect) could possibly find interesting.

It’s kind of hard to know how to react in these cases.  Let’s be honest with ourselves for a second: what we actually want to do is to tell them that they should look into purchasing a brain, or getting out and seeing a little more of life.

Try to resist that temptation.  The people you offend may not be worth much as companions, but they can make your life miserable in trivial ways as long as you have to have contact with them.  Not worth the aggravation.

A better strategy would be to try to understand the people around you.  Why, exactly do they insist on talking about Pharrell Williams’ hat (deduct 100 points if you knew who Pharrell Williams is without clicking the link)?

Simple: the people around you have negligible inner lives.  Their idea of heaven is waiting for 6 o’clock to roll by and then going home to watch TV.  On weekends, they get hammered and have sex with strangers who never call them back.

OK, we admit that there’s some merit in this last bit, but still…

Try to see it – or at least analyze it – from their point of view.  It is likely that most people reading this blog will have had structures shattered at an early age for some reason or another; many of those reasons will have to do with travel, but other motives are likely present, too.  That means, essentially, that you will be more flexible to understand other points of view (you may not agree with them, of course, but that’s another discussion entirely).

But imagine that you are not you.  Imagine that you grew up in a small town somewhere – not necessarily in the US, but anywhere.  You went to school there, you spent your childhood summers fishing in the lake with your friends, and your high school summers making out on the shores of that same lake.  You know exactly what’s right, what’s wrong and how the world works.

It doesn’t even have to be a particularly small town.  Hell, I’ve seen this in people who live in ten-million-strong cities.  Many people seem to need to make the world around them as small as possible, even when the evidence is shouting at them that it’s a reasonably big place.

The above doesn’t paint the whole picture.  In that simplified model we are leaving out parents, and the guy at the general store, and the local newspaper.

Oh, and religion.  Don’t forget about religion.

While it’s sometimes fine for young people to wonder if there might be more to life than what they know, it takes a particularly strong personality to face down a bunch of people he loves and admires who are also armed with millennia of experience in the art of telling people what to think, how to think it and even when to think it.  “Normal”, under these conditions, becomes a very limited set of characteristics.

You, of course, are different.  You know that there is more out there, that being flexible, open-minded and learning about everything is a wonderful way of life.  You want to share it, want to expand the minds of people with small horizons, and you get really frustrated at unnecessary mental blocks.  Even slightly structured people can get on your nerves.

So what do you do?  If you’re like me, you can’t resist tweaking them.  You will make little comments based on the exact opposite of their assumptions or (and I don’t recommend this, as it’s a time sink of epic proportions on the comments front) write a guest blog post about how they are wrong about everything on a site with major traffic, in a nicely dismissive tone.  Yes, the temptation to make them jump is very strong… and the situation is made worse by the fact that the reactions are often extremely entertaining as well.

But my advice is to resist the temptation (do as I say, not as I do, and all that).  The reason has nothing to do with getting along with others and playing nice and everything to do with the fact that it’s a waste of time.  Anyone who’s gotten to adulthood with an excessively rigid set of values isn’t going to change, and the fun of watching them grow angry grows old after a while (OK, some people are extremely funny when angered, but even so).  Plus, there’s the added benefit of people liking you more if you do resist.

So, now that you at least have a slightly better understanding of where everyone else has their heads at, I’m certain you will be much more pleasant to be around.

Oh, who am I kidding?  Just send me the anecdotes when you do tweak them.  I’ll laugh at most and probably ask you for permission to post the better ones here.

The World’s Most Awesome Schools

It happens more often than one would think.  In the course of one’s globetrotting life, the question – when arriving in a strange country – eventually stops being “where do they make good caipiroskas?” and becomes “where can we send the children to school?”

If you are moving to the US, the question often revolves around moving to a neighborhood which has a good school system assigned to it.  Very often, that means a high-income area with some kind of top-ten public school which is hugely amazing on the academic side, and has none of the social issues that you might encounter if you happen to get an inner-city district assigned to you.

To many, that is the elegant solution: classless (as in class-blind, not lacking in class) and free.  But to really be considered awesome, I think we have to eliminate public schools from consideration.  They lack a certain style and a lot of panache.

So, apart from being a private school, what does make a school awesome?

I have a little bucket list that I use:

1.  No matter where it is located, English must be the official language or at the very least equally important to the local tongue.  English is the world’s lingua franca, and if you’re lacking here, all your graduates are really good for is the French Foreign Legion (*waves at the angry Frenchmen in back*).

2. It needs to have academic standards that are higher than the schools around them.  One way to measure this is to see which international exams are on offer.  Cambridge and Oxford in the name of the examinations are usually a good sign… lesser institutions get you left off the list.

3. It needs to mix modern progressive teaching methods with quirky traditions brought in by the founder.  This is harder than it sounds, but some places manage it really well.

4. People need to look at you funny if you send your kids there.  They need to say stuff like: “Why would you spend so much money on that?  The Generic School for Boys is nearly as good, and costsa third of what you’re paying”, or “Oh, I could never send little Timmy to a school like that one, he’s a special snowflake, and that school is too structured and traditional for him!”  If you’re getting both, then you’re doing something right!

5. It needs to be co-ed.  Single sex schools are cannot, by definition, be awesome.  Just ask any of the students.  Trust me, I waffled on this one as arguably the world’s most awesome school, Eton College, is boys only.  If this list had been compiled in 1914, and not 2014, it would have headed the list.  I almost removed this criteria just because of Eton… but I didn’t, and we need to live with the consequences.

6. Needs to have an international student body.  Well, just because cosmopolitan and awesome are synonymous on this blog.

7. Arts and extra-curricular activities are an important complement to the academic side.  And by extra-curricular, I am not necessarily linking it to #5…

8. There needs to be a sense of belonging – if there is no sense that people who went to other schools are somehow suspect, no need to apply here.

So how does one go about identifying the very best of the very best?  Easy: research, scientific method, school chauvinism, preconceptions, opinion and if all else fails, a coin to break any ties.

Without further ado, the world’s five most awesome schools:

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#5 Zurich International School.  This one loses a few positions by not being British in inspiration (it’s a former American International School), but regains them by virtue of being in Switzerland, having its kindergarden on the shores of the Zürichsee and being the Zurich repository for expat kids.  It also teaches German– but only as a second language.  Also contributing here are the fact that you’re never more than half an hour from a decent ski slope (nor more than a couple of hours from really world-class hills).  Now, if anyone suspects a bit of a chauvinism factor at work here, because, just maybe, I might have received part of my primary school education here, I will leave that question open.

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#4.  Harare International School.  We mentioned panache, right?  Well, a second cousin, twice removed of panache is suicidal insanity, which is my definition of putting a prestigious school in the country that Cracked.com ranked #2 in the list of the worst places to be (we had a hard time finding a school that met the checklist in North Korea, so we settled for Zimbabwe).  But you might end up here someday, so if it falls to you, you need to know that this institution has been an International Baccalaureate partner since 2004, and has a beautiful theater in a beautiful setting.  So, setting + bravery + perseverance means awesome.

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#3 St. Andrews School Bahamas.  It has Sir Richard Brandsen on the website and it’s in the Bahamas.  I really shouldn’t need to go any further, but I will, just to rub it in: remember when you played hooky and smoked behind the gym?  Well, odds are that hookies from this school are smoking on the beach which is a comfortable walking distance from the campus – of course, I would never speculate on what, exactly they are smoking.  Whatever it is, it has to be awesome.

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#2 Tanglin Trust School. Location, Location, Location.  When you combine the fact that Singapore has one of the world’s highest standards of living with the further fact that Buzzfeed tells us that it contains the some of the world’s happiest children, you are probably already well placed by being here.  When you combine that with a British curriculum, lengthy waiting lists and a bias towards British and Commonwealth students on the waiting lists, you almost don’t even need to take into account that it was closed during WWII because of Japanese occupation and British internment in camps. The fact that this school is still with us after that?  Awesome.

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#1 Eton College.  What the hell, Eton is Eton, so screw the rules.  This is the one that established the template for awesomeness the world over, and has been referenced in literature and in culture since its founding in 1440.  It would have gotten onto the list just on the merit of being founded as “The King’s College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor” by an actual king, but mainly appears here because it’s been teaching the western world how a gentleman should behave since then.

Yes, I’m missing some of the world’s more expensive boarding schools, (especially, this one – holy crap, that campus!) and I’m also missing my own alma mater (which was awesome by the checklist standards, but is based in a city a bit too boring to count), but that’s what comments are for, especially the ones that call me out for outdated elitist attitudes!  Stand up for your school, and convince me, and maybe we’ll feature it in a future article.

We might not, of course.  We’re easily distracted here…