I have been getting complaints that, lately, my posts have been much too short for the liking of my readers, (Yeah, I totally just made myself sound cooler than I am—I’ve been hanging in Shoreditch<–if you didn’t get that, read my last post) so I have written a rather exhaustive account/evaluation of my day trip to Oxford.
This past weekend, I ventured to Oxford, home of, arguably, the world’s most prestigious academic institution. Before going, I had a somewhat romanticized conception of the University of Oxford—and I loved what I had dreamt up.
A sprawling yet perfectly manicured campus laced with historic buildings
Meandering cobble stone paths that snake around the campus, not necessarily providing the most direct routes, but ones that seem to have been laid down behind a man walking absently while lost amongst his thoughts
Students who exude this paradoxical energy of being so incredibly worn down by their rigorous studies yet inflated with curiosity, knowledge, and excitement
In a sense, I wanted academia to materialize into one concentrated place—Oxford. But as we find with most things in life, they’re rarely what we expect. Here’s a description of just the first few minutes that I was in Oxford:
I arrive at the Oxford Station with little idea of what I intend to do in Oxford other than, well, see Oxford. So I bee-line it straight to the tourist information desk and snag one of those trusty free maps that always seem to be animated and use a font similar to, if not, “Comic Sans” (grr, WordPress won’t let me use “Comic Sans!” My third grade self would have just freaked out). I figure that I will just head over to the Oxford Campus and then later explore the cozy surrounding town of Oxford. So I unfold the map (sigh at the overly family-friendly animation) and begin to scan the page for the large expanse of green that I assume will mark Oxford campus territory. But I can’t seem to find it. Hmm, where could it be? Is it just so obvious where the campus is located that I am simply overlooking it?!
There is no campus.
I’m not exactly sure how to cope with such information. I begin to envision some barbaric army plowing through my idyllic land of “Academia” and razing it to the ground. I feel pangs of anger as I study the map more closely (really digging my nails into the purple page of animation). I notice that the different colleges of the University of Oxford are scattered amongst the town of Oxford, not concentrated on one campus.
Ugh, it’s one of those schools.
This new nugget of information completely changed my game plan. I had envisioned myself strolling through a campus, wandering in and out of beautiful historic buildings on a secluded campus. But instead, I was walking the streets of some town side-by-side with throngs of other tourists. We all marched the crowded sidewalks snapping photos (the beauty of Oxford is undeniable, but that’s not exactly the intent of my post) of the breath-taking colleges, churches, and gardens that seemed somewhat discordant being that their neighbors were retail stores (e.g. Topshop, Gap, Zara, etc.) and fast food chains (e.g. McDonalds, Burger King, and Pizza Hut, etc.). However, this post isn’t about the commoditization of a historical landmark or the infiltration of consumerism—that would be something of a cop-out in my opinion (and so over done). What I want to concentrate on is an unexpected memory that surfaced when I was in Oxford.
While walking around Oxford, I kept on having random flashbacks to a tour I had taken of the Warner Brothers Studios back lot when I was in Hollywood. At first, I didn’t understand these images. However, the more I thought about it, the more I began to understand what my subconscious had apparently already pieced together. Oxford was eerily similar to a studio backlot. I know that this sounds ludicrous and completely uncultured, especially coming from someone who prides herself in being a student, but allow me to explain.
To begin, I was excited to go to both Oxford and Warner Brothers Studios for similar reasons:
- There were certain people who I admired that spent time and worked at either Oxford or at the Warner Brother Studios
- I was intrigued by the worlds that these people inhabited
- I wanted to see the settings in which some of the world’s most beloved works were created
Now to the topic of aesthetics, I will not even attempt to claim that some contrived Hollywood back lot rivaled the buildings in Oxford in any way. However, that is not to say that they didn’t seem to evoke similar overall feelings.
The buildings in Oxford were gorgeous and when one stands within the walls of one of the colleges, its beauty captivates them. However, because the buildings are interspersed throughout a city, these feelings of awe and captivation are only fleeting. You walk in, are mesmerized, maybe snap a photo, then continue onward. This was quite different from my vision of the “Oxford Campus.” I had imagined that once one entered the gates of the campus, he or she would be transported to an alternate time and reality. Instead, due to the layout of the university, I was only given brief glimpses of this idyllic time and place that I longed for.
Similarly, when on the Warner Brothers back lot, I was able to go onto studio sets of various TV shows and movies, and for a brief period of time, I was transported to a scene of the TV show/movie. Yet, the moment I exited the sets, I was thrust back into reality.
And now, let us consider the people I encountered at the two places. In Oxford, I was shocked by how the students didn’t even seem to notice the hundreds of tourists around them. It was as if they were simply playing the role of Oxford students on a set, rather than real people. I couldn’t decide weather I felt more like an intruder or a voyeur.
Need I really explain how this is compares to the WB studio lot? But I will, just to make my point clear. On the WB studio lot, I came across several filmings and watched as actors played the role of their characters, completely unresponsive to those outside of the world of the set.
Now with all of that said, I hope I haven’t led you to conclude that I didn’t enjoy my trip to Oxford. I think that when things fail to adhere to our expectations our first instinct is to reject them, and that was exactly what I had done. Initially disappointed by Oxford’s lack of campus, I began to critically analyze every aspect of the university, which as you see, yielded my “Oxford as a Studio Lot” critique. However, those aren’t my final thoughts (when is this post going to enddddd?!!?).
Perhaps it is better that Oxford is not its own alternate reality. This way, there is no discernible end to academic life and beginning to ordinary life. It is as if in the university’s voracious appetite for knowledge it accidentally engulfed an entire town. While this diminishes its ability for transport in the way that I imagined, it allows curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge to pervade every facet of life in Oxford. Now that, is more beautiful than any building Oxford could be.