Not walking under the arch is a campus tradition at Wabash College. Every morning as students walk to class, an invisible force keeps all from walking underneath. The ground on either side of arch is matted down to the soil due to this traffic. “Why is this?” a prospective student may ask. The story goes that a senior Wabash student failed comps and hanged himself from the brick supports of the arch. Ever since, the arch has been cursed, and if a careless student walks underneath, he is doomed not to graduate Wabash. But, as a post-structuralist would argue, the symbol of the arch changes with the times and no longer holds the same meaning. It is safe to say that today, the arch tradition remains a tradition only for the sake of tradition. Wabash College is built on tradition, and the arch only adds to its tradition count. I have seen students walk under the arch before, even students that are incredibly smart. I have even seen students who have passed comps walk under the arch. After almost a decade, the curse is dead, but the tradition lives on as a statement of Wabash history and pride. The arch is also used as a commercial tool, reeling in prospective students who come to Wabash looking for a home for the next four years. What better way to persuade a high schooler of the family atmosphere that Wabash fosters with a tradition as visually blatant as students circling around the dreaded arch. I remember watching current students walk around the arch when I was a prospective student, and it gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Today, the arch is much more than a living curse.
Monday, February 28, 2011
There exists at Wabash College an archway that no dares pass under. The myth comes to Wabash students in the form of a story of a past Wabash student hanging himself from the archway after failing his comprehensive exams. It is said that if a student walks through the arch, that said student will fail his comprehensive exams at the end of his four years of study. Students that give no credence to superstition have been seen walking through the archway, these students are given warning, heckled, and looked at as odd. Many students refuse to walk through the arch not because of superstition, but out respect for college traditions.
The archway can be seen as a symbol of a fear that, to some degree, exists in every Wabash student. It stands as a constant reminder that hard work is not enough; that one must truly learn and understand his education here in order to earn that Latin scripted sheet of vellum that is Wabash’s diploma. But one can look at it another way: one can see it as a symbol of the College itself. It’s supposed desire to “devour” students, a manifestation of the college wanting students to fail. The archway can be seen as something dark, like the sad depressing story of the student who committed suicide upon it.
One of the more important traditions here at Wabash College is the ‘ringing in’ ceremony that every freshman partakes in. This represents the start of a challenging four year, yet fun journey through Wabash. During freshman weekend our president holds a mandatory chapel for the freshmen and their parents. He introduces and explains what it takes and how to become a Wabash man. It represents all the other young men before us who sat in the same seats we did and how their journey led them to become a Wabash man. This signifies a challenge that we need to uphold so we can pass the torch to the freshmen who come after us. The ‘ringing in’ ceremony represents a new beginning and a pledge to our parents that their sons are in good hands. This Wabash tradition is most important, because it represents a ‘passing of the torch,’ to young men who are just beginning their journey through our all male institute we call Wabash College.
A tradition at Wabash College is Homecoming, in which the campus gets together to watch the football team play while fraternities participate in events to celebrate the school. From a structuralism standpoint of what occurs, there would be respect for tradition and an emphasis on these values would be apparent in the analysis. The freshmen of the fraternities make large Wabash banners that are viewed at the game, and students dress up as women to support the all-male concept. All of these aspects would contribute to a tradition of meaning with regard to a structuralism interpretation.
In contrast, a poststructuralist may be inclined to describe the meaning behind the competition between houses as ridiculous, as it appears visually that it’s nothing more than a football game with fraternal hazing blended in. They would view the creation of the banners and other aspects of the Homecoming program as a requirement for freshmen for pledgeship. They wouldn’t find value in fraternities exposing freshmen to these events as a way of appreciating Wabash College. There wouldn’t be much deeper interpretation of the fight song played after a Wabash touchdown, as students and alumni stand and sing the nation’s longest fight song. To students of the school it appears disrespectful of tradition to think that Homecoming is just a game. While it gives the chance for graduates to support their school on a day dedicated to them, it also represents an appreciation of Wabash’s traditions and values. A poststructuralist interpretation, however, would deny that a football game could represent the traditions of a college. They may argue that an event like this occurs every Saturday in the fall at other schools, and merely for the enjoyment of sport.
One of my favorite traditions from my time here at Wabash is campus guard. Campus guard entails two living units splitting up and guarding various posts across the campus for most of the night in order to stop any possible pranks from the dastardly DePauw Tigers during Monon Bell week. It is usually freshmen who are expected to stand guard during this week and it is one of many rites of passage that freshmen do. When Wabash has the bell this guard also involves making sure that no DePauw students steal the bell from us. A structuralist would say that campus guard symbolizes the unity between everyone at Wabash during Monon Bell week. It symbolizes our great yearning to beat DePauw as we set aside any differences we have in order to make sure that the dannies do not try to get the best of us. A structuralist would realize that campus guard symbolizes Wabash unity, school spirit, the rivalry between Wabash and DePauw, and the masculinity exemplified in some of the Wabash traditions. A post-structuralist would look at campus guard from a different aspect. He would question whether these symbolic meanings are good interpretations and would probably find that they are not. A post-structuralist would question whether there is a real basis for guarding the campus or if it actually shows any kind of unity between Wabash men. In this examination he would also look at the Monon Bell game and its history to see if campus guard is necessary and for what reason it is or is not.
The Arch is a perfect example for a post-structuralist to use as an example on the Wabash campus. If you walk under the Arch, supposedly you will fail the senior comprehensive exams. Traditionally, the seniors walk together under the arch as part of their graduation ceremony. If I were to analyze this superstition through structuralism, I would say that the Arch is a signifier. The signified is the concept of graduation, or moving onward. Therefore, the sign itself is success. You cannot walk under the Arch before graduation because you are, in a sense, assuming success prematurely. You are not ready to walk under the Arch, and therefore, bad things will happen if you do. The evolution of this myth will raise many post-structuralist eyebrows, though. It may interest my fellow students to know that this legend is not actually very old at all. At one point in the very recent past, the Arch had a different meaning for the students. Nothing. I had a discussion with an alumnus, who graduated in 1987, who proclaimed that this was one of the silliest superstitions he had ever heard (on a side note, not stepping on the seal in the library was not silly to him at all). Walking under the Arch means different things for different students. Some say that you will fail comps. Some say that you will die. All of these people justify this superstition by referencing a (yet to be proven) story about a guy who failed his comps and subsequently hung himself from the Arch, cursing it forever. This sign has changed its meaning over time. It has been a silly, test-taking ritual. And it has been a fear of some odd ghost story.
The Gentleman's Rule is one of the hallmarks of Wabash College as the campus's sole rule--and its easy to see how the rule opens itself up for deconstruction. The rule shows an implicit categorization between the student and through the presence of an indefinite "authority" that will certainly punish the student for any transgressions. This authority's power can be subverted though, because the students' ability to define the "conduct" appropriate of a gentleman can combat the stricter interpretation professors or deans might adopt. The language itself is also a subtle display of power--the rule shows that the campus faculty wield a power over the students by insinuating that responsibility and gentlemanly behavior is preferable--thus inculcating a value system that the students will replicate in their own behavior and transfer on to new students.
And besides all that already mentioned, the deconstructionist would point out what empty words "responsibility" and "gentleman" are--the words don't even get the chance to gain meaning through differentiation with other less desireable behaviors. A "gentleman" could be a scholarly, bright individual, but the world could also mean a licentious, snooty, stuck-up individual who condescends to his peers. The rule implies the first meaning, but the ability of the word to portray poloar opposites exposes all the varying interpretations the word could take in the varying middle grounds.
But a post-structuralist must remember that Wabash College is not a single-minded entity that wishes anything, and the email wars it appears to sponsor do not exist suspended in objectivity. Any meaning behind email wars is created through each subjective viewpoint of its participants and observers. Some students face matters of dire importance to them while others subvert them with the idea that email wars are a playground for comedic wit and criticism. Yet these all are subverted by an outsider’s possible opinion that Wabash’s email wars (and its close-knit atmosphere in general) signify students’ desires for attention. Attempting to be “big fish in a little pond,” perhaps students who subvert the importance of the original email’s topic are turned into signifiers of ostentation. In this way there is no single sign because the signified is always subjectively interpreted differently from different perspectives.
Wabash College has a lot of traditions. One of the most popular traditions on Wabash’s campus is Chapel Sing. This event is only done by freshman students in their fall semester. It consists of students lining up based on residence, wearing white t-shirts, and singing the college’s fight song for a set amount of time. While they are singing a group of students walk around an monitor the participants to make sure that they know the song. To me the event is somewhat of a welcoming into Wabash and an introduction to the college’s traditions. Not only do I view it this way, but I feel that it is also a representation of the pride that we have in our school. Students at other colleges do not normally take the initiative to learn their school’s fight song, and the fact that we learn ours freshman year signifies our love for our school, and makes us interested in other Wabash traditions.
When looking at this event a Post-Structuralist critic would disregard what everybody says that it represents and just look at the event without any outside opinions. The critic would start off by saying that there is no definite answer to what the event symbolizes. They would then point out that maybe not all of the participants want to be there (and that not all of the freshman actually participate), and those that do participate do so because they feel obligated because of the big deal that is made about it by their peers (and not so much that they are proud of their school). Another point that they would argue on is the role of power during the event. Would it be the monitors who are in control, or the participants? They would say things like, “If there were no monitors would the participants actually learn the song?” but would also say things like, “Without the participants there would be no Chapel Sing.”
From the moment they step onto the Wabash campus, prospective students are told NOT to step foot on the “W” in the College’s athletic center or on the College’s bronze seal in the floor of the library lobby. For current students as well, stepping on the “W” remains anathema. The predominant, structuralist construct entails avoiding the W as a sign of respect for the College and its traditions. Per this reading, stepping on the W equates to disrespecting the College and all that it stands for. Indeed, stepping on the W may in fact bring bad luck. But a poststructuralist would dismiss all of this interpretation as nonsense. Can a College and its essence really be distilled into a measly symbol in a floor? The W cannot possibly convey all of the College’s traditions. The W is merely another linguistic/visual construct devised to attempt to express an otherwise inexpressible ideal. Thus, the W proves to be an interesting “text” for analysis that, like any other text, is subject to Derrida’s concept of différance. The W in the floor as a signifier is stable. But the signified is always evolving; it is inherently unstable. The College may have a fixed mission statement, but how that mission statement manifests itself in practice varies from administration to administration and from student to student. Thus, some students do not buy into the “myth.” They may walk on the W because they refuse to believe that stepping on a letter in the floor makes them unworthy of The Gentleman’s Rule—the sole rule that governs our College. And they may refuse to believe that all of the College’s students are worthy of the respect that avoiding the W entails.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Here at Wabash we live in a culture that prides itself on traditions that have been passed down for decades. One of the most common traditions here on campus is not walking underneath the arch on the west side of the mall. There are many stories that accompany this tradition, some that are true and some that have been glorified over the years. The underlying meaning behind avoiding the arch is that if you walk under it before you graduate, you will be blanketed with bad luck (some say death) to the point that you won't graduate. No one wants to be plagued with such bad luck, even if nothing has ever happened and this tradition is completely made up. It has been instilled so deeply into the population here on campus that the college has put special walkways in place that go around the arch in order to accommodate the students.
A structuralist would look at this tradition by breaking it down into the signified and signifier which come together to form the sign, in this case the arch which represents the tradition here at Wabash. The signified in this case is the concept the words "the arch" refer to here on campus. Although it can be a wide range of things, the most common would be the avoidance of the arch, and the bad luck that is associated with walking under it. The signifier is the arch itself, or again the words "the arch." These come together to form the sign which would be the tradition I explained above, that it is bad luck to walk underneath the arch. This sign is something that is understood and accepted by Wabash students. It is rarely questioned or tried, but rather taken for what it is and left at that. However a post-structuralist would look at it a bit different. First, by accepting this notion of bad luck if we walk underneath the arch without questioning why or for what reason, we also accept a whole host of other principles on how we should walk around all arches for fear of bad luck. An arch is often seen as a sort of gateway to new possibilities. By passing under an arch you leave behind the past and are accepting whatever it is that lies ahead of you as a bright future. However, by twisting this usual portrayal of an arch around, we at Wabash have blindly taken this passage into new possibilities away from ourselves. Maybe that was the intent of starting such a tradition here at Wabash. After all we are a school that prides itself on tradition and not changing the way things are done. By eliminating students from walking under the arch we are taking away their metaphorical chance at leaving the past behind and looking ahead. We are forcing Wabash to stay true to its time old traditions.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Monday, February 21, 2011
This commercial has clearly excited many people with its possible racial connotations, but I think it is all a bunch of bologna. Why are so many things these days taken as a personal attack? Obviously, it is hard to ignore someone's race regardless of who he/she is or what he/she is doing. A difference in skin color (for example) is very distinctive but only in the visual sense. Clearly, race has deep cultural and historical connotations, but “race” is really just a physical quality (or qualities) that differs among the broader human race, no different then the color of one’s hair or the size of one’s feet. Why this issue of race is continuously brought up as an issue, even in this day and age where cultures are totally and complete intertwined and people with different racial backgrounds live with each other, boggles my mind. I find it offense that others would find this commercial offensive. The reason why these problems exist in the first place is because it is continually brought up. People create the problem because they say that there is one. When we initially watched the video before the race issue was brought up, I did not see an issue whatsoever. Race had not even crossed my mind. Drawing the conclusion that Pepsi was purposely trying to make black women look violent, over-bearing, or what have you is irrational because, with that line of thought, one could have just as easily drew the conclusion that Pepsi hates joggers since the women was hit in the head with a can. The race issues would go away, to a large extent, if people stopped insinuating that there is a problem. There is no problem. Those who find it offense are trying to bring these “issues” to light because they want to strive for equality where they believe there is inequality, but their efforts are extremely counterproductive. The very first step in the effort for the racial equality in the media and beyond is to ignore race entirely. Race should never be brought up at all because if it isn’t, the problem disappears. After all, wear are skin color wherever we go, as we do our knees, ears, and fingernails. Racial differences should be celebrated as the beautiful variety of humankind, not an excuse to separate ourselves from each other by insisting that (for example) the portral of a someone in a commercial is directly correlated with these differences. Those offended people are selfish for drawing these conclusions because they only divide us. Pepsi obviously was not trying to be intentionally offense considering that the purpose of their commercial is to sell their product to as many consumers as possible, so let us drop this idea altogether and laugh at the commercial because it is pretty damn funny.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
The Pepsi Max commercial has certainly garnered a lot of attention as people question its possibly racist undertones. It's relatively easy to assume that Pepsi did not intend racist undertones, but it's very difficult to pick apart whether or not the commercial is implicitly, subconsciously racist--at least through its portrayal of stereotypes.
The obvious examples are the "angry, black woman" stereotype--this is clearly portrayed by the controlling, dominant attitude of the woman in the commercial. She controls her husbands' dieting habits ruthlessly, until at least he is allowed to imbibe "Pepsi Max," whispering "maximum taste" to himself as the white woman jogs by and catches his eye, implying that the "white" woman is more attractive than the "black" woman. And it's debatable or not whether the image of the black couple running away at the end of the commercial is suggestive of "blacks" as "criminals and wrongdoers," or perhaps a subtler but highly unlikely reference to pre-emancipation American slaves running from their "loftier, nobler" white lords.
Either way, I think I disagree slightly with the notion that the commercial is racist if you want it to be, and I think there's a finer point to be made about perspective. Honestly, when watching the commercial, I saw nothing wrong with the commercial, and this made me start thinking about why others would see a problem with it. Who would see a problem with it? It seems the issue at hand is a matter of perception: as a middle-class, white, non-minority, youth, the commercial seems largely inoffensive. However, a black individual watching the commercial, who has experienced some form of racism in the past or in areas where race issues are prevalent would be more likely to immediately perceive the commercial as racist. Meanwhile, a middle-class white individual raised in a suburban environment where race issues weren't prevalent and where whites were the overwhelming majority would not be conscious of race issues, or have them on his or her mind, and would then completely miss the possible racist connotations.
While I attempted to tackle this issue, a thought experiment occured to me: imagine sixty years from now as you approach old age, if the immigration issues were solved and the Mexico-America borderline and the word "immigration" itself was no longer a hotbed issue, and the concept itself was deceased, as deceased as slavery is today in America. A commercial pops up on the TV, and it shows an unusually thirsty Hispanic individual stealing a box of Pepsis as he runs from the store and escapes from the store owner by scaling a wall and escaping to the other side. To the eyes of our generation, the commercial does not "appear,", but is blatantly and grossly offensive and disrespective, but to the eyes of the generation below us the commercial would seem humorous as an individual goes to incredible lengths just to satisfy raging thirst.
I think, likewise, that a black individual living in an area of the United States where race issues are tense would see the commercial as irrefutably racist, not possibly racist--there would be no question of "possibility."
I'm not sure the example is perfectly analogous, and I don't intend it to be, but it gives food for thought. The perspective from which you approach the commercial seems to determine the extent to which you interpret the signs to have a certain meaning--the signified varies depending on the ethnicity and life experiences of the viewer.
One last thought: while bouncing ideas off a friend and discussing the commercial, he mentioned to me a video interview Morgan Freeman on his stance on black history month: www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeixtYS-P3s
This might be old news for some, but I hadn't seen it before. I think it's also interesting in that it shows raising awareness of existing social issues to some extent encourages them. Because, in truth, what we all desire in reality is for everyone to be able to watch the commercial without having feelings of resentment at possible racist tones--what's being questioned is the motive. As long as motive is in question, it seems unlikely that racism can disappear.
I do not take this Pepsi Max advertisement to be offensive. It is supposed to be a funny commercial which focuses on aspects of relationships. Although it can probably be taken as racist or sexist, I do not believe that those were Pepsi’s intentions. It does make one reflect on the idea that any publicity is good publicity though. If their intentions were to make a controversial advertisement, which could offend women and African Americans, than they prevailed. Some repercussions from the advertisement are that nearly 100,000 people have watched the YouTube video of it, many people have blogged to express their offense from the ad, and a number of news stations have done pieces on it. I wonder how many of those people have tried a Pepsi Max. Could all of this turmoil actually be helping Pepsi advertise their product? Sure, the people who took offense to the ad might not buy Pepsi Max but the huge amount of publicity that the racism and sexism of the ad caused surely has to be helping the company in its promotions. Although I do not believe that the company was trying to make this commercial be offensive, it is notable that it has caused a great uproar. If the statement that any publicity is good publicity it true, then the offensive nature of the advertisement might be helping Pepsi further advertise and sell their product.
It's difficult to analyze the Pepsi commercial aired during the Super Bowl and not find some form of racial stereotyping in it, or any form of racism for that matter. What bothers me is the fact that it's almost too easy to find racism in it, solely because there are two races present in the commercial. Regardless of who was chosen to be included in the spot, we could make some legitimate racial criticisms. If whites were only involved, blacks could argue that a bias is present. In contrast, if only black people were portrayed in the commercial, then whites could contend that Pepsi is merely satisfying any potential conflicts regarding racial bias.
The Pepsi spot for the Super Bowl brings a different racial dynamic, however, because it isn't just about race. There's potential for debate in how the races interact. It isn't all that noteworthy that we witness a wife nagging her husband about eating healthier. What raises the level of interest with this commercial, particularly from a racial perspective, is in the desirous looks directed from the black man to the cute white girl who sits down on the park bench to relax from a jog. It's almost inevitable that this encounter could be misconstrued racially, considering that his black wife throws a Pepsi can at her husband and ends up hitting the white jogger accidentally. What can appear offensive is when the black couple flee the scene as the jogger withers in pain.
What should have been seen as an accident has been portrayed in an potentially offensive manner because of the race of the people in the commercial. Whether it was Pepsi's original intention or not to push these contentious aspects, it's hard to ignore the racial situations that potentially exist in the TV spot. I don't believe the commercial is offensive because of the comedic aspect of it, but there are many reasons other people can think otherwise.