Out of Control
By Zachary Gottlieb, Guest Columnist
Published on Monday, October 4, 2010
Despite my absence from the daily intercourse of campus controversy, I did chance upon the song “Out of Control,” sent out by an anonymous, auto-tuned avatar identified only by the moniker “Expecto Petronus (sic).” The balmy symbolism of Dartmouth fraternity brothers as Dementors was certainly not lost on the audience; yes, they will “steal your soul,” and leave you with “no faith in mankind.”
The song’s hyperbole presents a caricature of the universal chop-lickingly lupine Dartmouth “bro.” The singer forgets, however, that sexual assault exists — in any place or form — as a manifestation of the lack of respect by one individual for another. Instead of exploring the cultural roots of the problem, the author superficially introduces an immutable malice manifest, one that exists and will never go away.
The anonymous siren implicates the College — “which thinks this is O.K.” — as a complicit party. Hypocritically, the singer joins the very College she accuses of apathy by determining that an inexorable campus scourge cannot be encountered — she simply decides to witness tragedy and abandon all faith in society.
The College is not a single, autonomous organism, but a collective web of adults sharing a unified desire to improve the lives of her students. “The College” has never condoned the kinds of behavior that the song describes; the singer mistakenly confuses a seeming lack of successful public campaigns with outright advocacy.
In fact, Dartmouth has tried to make itself a resource for victims of sexual assault and communicate with students — even fraternities — about prevention. The song is a misdirected discredit to the many administrators and students who makes laudable efforts to provide support for victims of sexual assault. The song wishes the College could save students from a problem that originates within their own interactions. Regrettably, there is no call to arms for fellow students.
“Out of Control’s” method of characterization vilifies an entire half of the male population who could provide help. How can you realize a cultural change when you’ve just called half of campus men rapists? There is a need for reform, but direct accusations are not the way to inspire it. Dartmouth men: ignore the song and instead, consider this a time for a serious, public, independent effort to address assault.
Prevention necessitates empowering all Dartmouth students to feel comfortable to stand up with and to each other for their principles, desires and decisions in social contexts. There is little more, and little more important the College should do than enable students to enact necessary reforms for their own collective benefit — discussing the quality and quantity of this type of College effort is a more important debate.
Parkhurst has a responsibility to demonstrate strong leadership for students in this effort; something it did not do — as Friday’s Verbum Ultimum posits — by choosing not to formally address and explain its own role as a resource to the Class of 2014 in response. And, much to the chagrin of certain administrators, signs of a solution may not be scientifically quantifiable. But a fundamental cultural shift will prove itself immediately qualifiable.
Freshmen, you have finally entered a world of your own making. “Out of Control’s” eschatological refrain — lest you forget, this very school is “where humanity dies” — has offered you a Miltonic Satan singer: compelling, victimized; brooding, cynical; most importantly, destructive. And while you may have expected Dartmouth to be Eden, it is not — it is somewhere in between that and hell. Sexual assault is a real problem at Dartmouth. But to say that my alma mater is a place where humanity dies is turgid poetics.
There are those that champion the idea that Dartmouth is fundamentally flawed and corrupts students into monstrous criminals. But there are others that subscribe to the idea that individuals make choices for which they are responsible, and that we should not let Dartmouth be a place where this fundamental Humanism dies. It is a place that should resonate with the scaffolding values of autonomy, esteem and community.
To say that Dartmouth students’ social agreements of mutual respect, empathy and compassion need to be amended and restated by the entire College constituency — this is a more pertinent, poignant and levelheaded declaration. It was, unfortunately, not made here. The message, duly dubbed, was “Out of Control.”