Or at least they looked like they didn't. Should we trust Bruni's interpretation of the blank expression on their face? Did it mean "I don't know what you are referring to?" or "Boring!"
The school is Princeton, Bruni reveals in paragraph 4, which means, of course, the students aren't dumb. They're just fractured, lacking shared experience, which Bruno concedes might be good:
No single, potentially alienating cultural dogma holds sway.Oh? Young people may not know the grand old actresses that swan about forever in the mind of Frank Bruni....
... but I think the young people are actually quite aware of the sway of a single, potentially alienating cultural dogma.
Cue inevitable discussion of Brendan Eich and Bill Maher's talk of the "Gay Mafia."
Oh, it's only potentially alienating. It's not as though there's a required course on Great Actresses of the Silver Screen. That might be alienating. And it's okay — per Bruno — as long as it's not alienating. Hmm. But isn't the holding of sway manifested by a lack of alienation?
Alienation, a sociological concept developed by several classical and contemporary theorists, is "a condition in social relationships reflected by a low degree of integration or common values and a high degree of distance or isolation between individuals, or between an individual and a group of people in a community or work environment.".... Marx believed that alienation is a systematic result of capitalism....I want to be alone....
ADDED: On rereading, I'm pulling apart Bruni's sentence "No single, potentially alienating cultural dogma holds sway." Take out the words "potentially alienating" for a minute, and you have "No single cultural dogma holds sway." We can question the truth of that statement (as I did, bringing up Brendan Eich), but it's comprehensible: If we are fractured, then there's no single cultural dogma that can hold sway.
Now, add "potentially alienating." If there were one dogma binding us all, it might be alienating. I take Bruni to be saying that alienation is bad and that our fractured culture is good because it safeguards us from alienation. It (paradoxically) holds us together. Lots of diversity and decentralization makes us culturally strong. That's perfectly platitudinous.