3/14/2003

misc. thoughts on misc. readings

I read a piece from yesterday’s Slime about some flat in Paris that’d been occupied by two women—not together but one after the other—(both of whose main claim to fame was that they’d managed to marry fantastically wealthy men), and a lot of Louis XVI chairs and tables and other bric-a-brac. It’s as big a mistake for me to read the fashion section as the wedding announcements. I mean, do these people actually exist? If so, they have as little to do with the world as we know it as aliens from outer space.

The article is all sort of sniffy upper-crust name-dropping, of course. It’s got that air of sophisticated cynicism you’d expect of high-class trash-talking. If you’re rich enough, just like if you’re poor enough, you cease to behave very much like a human being at all. I mean, on the one hand, you’ve got people who are really poor becoming animals, and on the other, you’ve got you’re royals, and they’re sort of like machines. They’re not human. They’ve lived without want, without hardship and struggle, they have no feelings whatsoever. Nothing can touch them. The Slime columnist adopts this high-brow tone in the article, full of winks and nudges. The humor is brittle, sardonic, and always at someone’s expense.

I mean, I must assume that lines like the following aren’t really expected to elicit sympathy: ‘In her last years, [Oscar de la Renta] said, [the second of these rich bitches, Nelia Barletta de Cates] seemed disillusioned. Perhaps because she realized that for all her skill as a wife and tastemaker, she had little financial control over her life and possessions.’ That’s greed. Should it surprise us that this woman had a ‘a litigious history with her two children over a family trust’? That she had not spoken to her son since 1976 on account of it?

After that I read most of a survey of high school hazing incidents in the States since the start of the 20th century I’d downloaded from the web some time ago. There were your usual acts of sodomy for boys as compared to girls having chocolate sauce poured on them and complaining that it had ruined their clothes. There’s ‘a 16-year-old boy forced to accept a player's genitals on his face,’ ‘a rookie wrestler sodomized with a marker by teammates,’ and several other boys sodomized with any number of things, including coat hangers and other boys. Boys were urinated on, smeared with feces, beaten, branded, and raped. One girl had her ponytail lopped off. Some ‘had shaving cream sprayed on their heads’. One was dropped on her head and had to be hospitalized. Another complained that someone had ‘simulated oral sex’.

There was one involving girls that I quite liked, though. This was the gymnastics team’s idea. ‘Four new girls had to eat bananas placed in the pants of males known to older cheerleaders.’ I am assuming that the boys were wearing the pants at the time. ‘An outraged victim, Lizzie Murtie, became an activist following the incident,’ the report says. ‘She and her parents hope to get a hazing law passed in Vermont.’

Not surprisingly, with many of the ‘milder’ incidents involving boys (the ones where, say, they were only beaten, not sodomized), the victims were ostracized and parents, for the most part, pleaded for the whole thing to be forgotten. One mother, at a Board of Education meeting after hazing reports surfaced, angry that someone had complained about hazing, said, ‘Soccer is not a sport of the timid.’ I don’t think her son was one of the ones who’d been sodomized.

There was a quote from a coach to the effect that hazing was supposed to bring the team together, but hazing is always initiated by older boys, or established members of the team, and it is understood that the initiates are subordinate and required to remain absolutely submissive to the older boys. Hazing is not really an exercise in bonding, it’s a way of establishing and reinforcing relationships in a hierarchy. It’s not about cooperation and team-building, it’s about dominance and submission. It’s no different on a certain level than what gorillas do. I mean, male gorillas from the same clan, who are constantly jockeying for position. Adolescent human society is a lot like this. Adults find subtler ways to do it, but with adolescents it’s pretty basic.

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