The Peacock Factor


I am not picking on Columbia University, nor on its renowned Barnard College (alma mater to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, among many others). Other bastions of culture, of good taste, of integrity — I know this only too well — are as strong on the Peacock Factor as is Barnard.

But still, it is striking. Barnard is auctioning its good name with a frank, some would say shameless, appeal for big bucks. Specifically, it appears that for twenty million dollars anyone, yes anyone, can have his name attached to a new building up there on Broadway somewhere. (Would Al Capone qualify if a descendant of his were willing to cough up the dough ? Good question.)

But wait, there is more. More “Naming Opportunities,” many more. For a mere five million you can have a “special events space” named after you, and for even less than that, two and half million, the greenroof can be Your Greenroof. For those with smaller fortunes, or perhaps smaller vanities, there are other “opportunities” throughout this building, listed by the floor, for all those interested in buying a spot of honor, or limelight, or whatever it is that tempts them so.

All this was enough for me to reach for my well-worn copy of Thorstein Veblen’s “Theory of the Leisure Class,” which is all about conspicuous consumption and invidious display, and which was published more than a hundred years ago but is as much on the mark today as it was in 1899. (You can download a copy of this book, free, if you click on its link in the right-hand column of this blog.)

In comparison with Columbia’s Barnard, a certain little synagogue in the outer boroughs is smaller than small. And sure enough, the prices in its catalogue of “dedication opportunities” seem addressed to pikers: your name on the Hebrew School program will cost you but a quarter of a million; your name on the elevator the smallish sum of $75,000, and — what a bargain ! — you can get your name on the Rabbi’s Study Mezuzah for no more than $36,000. (Hershey H. Friedman of Brooklyn College, basing himself on the Talmud and Maimonides, among others, writes about ostentation in Jewish life.)

Oh well, we can’t all get into Columbia University, but we can all (well, all those with a modicum of wealth) do what is done at Columbia, and for a lot less.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *