Friday, March 20, 2015

A Tentative Demur on a Last Bastion of Still-Acceptable Stereotyping (1 March 2014 / 20 March 2015)

In March of 2015, "migrating" my blogs from OpenSalon, now closed, I had the choice not to repost this one, which is a defense (or sorts) of fraternity men: a group most recently disgraced by some drunken Sigma Alpha Epsilon louts of Oklahoma U and the racist persuasion. Still ... I'm going to repost this since I'm convinced the fraternity issue is often a subset of youth-bashing, which is often a subset of scapegoating. In the background here is the idea that by our late teens most of us are pretty much who we are going to be for the rest of our lives, and if late teens and young adults are fairly often horrible, this is because they are a normal more-or-less adult population, but with special circumstances. And, to apply an old idea, specific "besetting sins." More specifically, the young tend toward the gross and bodily sins, while their elders get more sophisticated and intellectual in evil. The "besetting sin" of youth is Lust; the more deadly besetting sin of age is Greed. Etc. If the SAE's of OK U were obnoxious in their racist singing — and indeed they were — they were less dangerous in their evil than genteel racists who would never, ever say "nigger," not even in private, but who prevent African-Americans from getting loans or having a chance for contracts or, sometimes voting. So I will damn to humiliation the punks of the Oklahoma SAE, but would remind people to look to quieter but far more dangerous, respectable older folk of the Lost Cause Old Confederacy and new model Southern Strategies.



            A friend sent me a copy of an op-ed piece from The New York Times of 27 February 2014, wherein Greg Hampikian, identified as "a professor of biology and criminal justice at Boise State University," raises the question, increasingly pressing given recent increases in the right to keep and bear and openly carry arms — sometimes including on college campuses — "When May I Shoot a Student?"

            This is a fine article, but I find myself troubled by one phrase even Professor Hampikian seems to find problematic. 

"Knee-jerk reactions from law enforcement officials and university presidents are best set aside. Ignore, for example, the lame argument that some drunken frat boys will fire their weapons in violation of best practices. This view is based on stereotypical depictions of drunken frat boys, a group whose dignity no one seems willing to defend."

             As a fraternity alumnus myself, I will not defend any obnoxious drunks but must deplore the use of the stereotyping and juvenalizing phrase "drunken frat boys." If one insists on denigration — and we writers of wise-ass punditry often so insist — I tentatively recommend the more exact, neutral, and gender-and-living-unit-inclusive formulation "obstreperous frat rats, inebriated sorority chicks, and indies."

            Partly here, I follow the example of an apartment mate I had in graduate school who wouldn’t go to a restaurant on Sunday evenings because the dormitories and independent houses on campus usually didn't serve Sunday dinner, so, "The dormies are out! The dormies are out!" He despised undergraduates of all varieties, but found those from the dorms most annoying. He was not a fraternity alum himself but a student of sociology and undoubtedly developed his views only after diligent research.

            As one might know if one has studied Elizabethan usage — and sure as hell knows if one is a Black man — "boy" is a traditional insult, but nowadays not as much as it should be.

            Given the generally suckiness of adult life for many Americans (if not 99%, still a fair number), and given how pleasant "campus life" can be if one takes care to avoid the "College is for Grownups" shit of class work, it is understandable than many young Americans use college as what one of my students called, "The Four-Year Vacation" and another called, more relevantly here, "College: Half-Way House to Adulthood."

            So arrested development among young Americans is understandable, but it is not to be encouraged. And following from that principle, professors, parents, politicians, and pundits — and administrators and other nonalliterating classifications — should risk the occasional appearance of delusion and talk of "college men" and "college women," "sorority women" and "fraternity men" and, "students in the residence halls and independent houses."

            Pressing further, I would note that abuse of alcohol and other drugs is hardly limited to young people; it is just that youths tend to be loudest and most irritating about it, and certainly more apt than their elders to piss on your lawn or puke on your shoes. These problems, however, are often more a product of inexperience and some cultural/legal perversities than of youth, and America's young would do better if older members of their extended families would bloody well teach the little punks how to hold their liquor like civilized folk.

            CAUTION, however: serving liquor to even one's kids is illegal in many jurisdictions. The American rule is "Old enough to drive, be drafted, vote, and bring guns to class, but much too young to learn, even at home, how to use, not abuse, booze."

            But I digress; the topic here is language usage, about which I have some authority (we spoke English at my home). The topic here is usage and trying to talk inclusively rather than stereotyping. So avoid both overgeneralization and targeting an often-privileged minority group, but still a minority group. The problem isn't limited to "drunken frat boys," and my final advice is that one take care to slur more carefully, generally, and decorously: "obnoxious drunken assholes." 

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