Daily Dose: A problematic Welcome Week culture

Kacper Niburski
January 27, 2014
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes

I may be the dumbest person on the planet, and unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I’ll never know for that very reason. All I do know is that what follows below is a bumbling attempt to muster up a defence of the indefensible by understanding the Redsuit songbook – why it was made and how it fits into the larger picture.

Maybe I’m drawn to the total destruction and almost disbelief of the situation. Maybe I am just a masochist with a penchant to take on a harder stance than I can handle. Or perhaps I’m doing so because I like to imagine the students who produced the vulgar text were very much like myself with little, silly dreams, who participated in McMaster culture daily, who were educated in some of the same classes I was, and maybe I’m afraid that with these shared experiences, I might one day make the same mistakes they did. Maybe I’m afraid because I might be those same mistakes all the same.

Whatever the reason, let it be known that what happened is not a sudden resurfacing of antiquated chants long forgotten. There was no ancient map that led to a dusty shelf, no bygone translation of some eroding book found in Thode. Instead, the songs were the culmination of unchecked excess years in the making.

This fact seems to be forgotten in between the almost reactionary and certainly warranted repugnance. Though the lyrics seem to alienate, ostracize, and isolate members of its population, I don't think that was their intent. Like gladiators bellowing in the ring, they purposefully feed off the extreme, the disgusting, and the savage. The hooting and hollering is meant to strike fear and shock because in doing so, in sharing in the horror and revulsion of the text, the people singing those same songs have transcended the abhorrence together.

While this seems strange to admit, it must be remembered that the Redsuits work to facilitate the goal of Welcome Week: developing a collective experience that bridges the gap between students. These chants, though admittedly not all those copied down in the alleged songbook were known to all of the members, are the extreme perversion of such an aspiration. At the very fringe, they are insulting with a purpose. For that reason there is no apology offered. The ultimate goal is not comfort but to move beyond comfort in some contorted collective camaraderie.

This does not condone the hymns in any way, but it may point to a larger problem of Welcome Week: we are to come together at whatever the cost. More often or not, the cost is decided by those in charge, not by those participating. They do not define what is good or right; it is the others - the apparently wise, mature students - who do, and we, fickle louts at the bottom, are meant to follow their lead.

This divide between one's perception of what is tolerable and what is not is where the harm results. Part of such a divide is the consequence of Welcome Week being situated in the broader sphere of society. With its perverse notions, its over-sexualized tones, its blatant misogyny, its tendencies to idolize the foolish and inane, Welcome Week usually reflects the worst of our gluttony. Pop monstrosities such as Pitbull's "As Se Eu Tu Pego" or LMFAO's "Party Rock" croon about sex this and sex on every corner. People yell as a way to instill a forced, artificial excitement. Parties are rampant. Alcohol flows easily. And with these brute force methods where the younger of us are told that Welcome Week planners know better and isn't socializing good for you and come on, come on, have a little fun, the cost is a blubbering, messy, and insensitive cheer, if those in the book can even be called that.

Such a discrepancy between individuals is not good or bad necessarily. Part of me feels as though a person’s comfort zone should be challenged and poked at if only to grow in some ways. Of course this is coming from a person who welcomed the Welcome. Yet I can see the discomfort and creeping complications of enjoyment for the sake of it as it is defined by someone else. This gap is further muddled by coexisting under a larger social bubble: McMaster’s Welcome Week is sucked into the vacuum of unmitigated and arguably disrespectful cultural mores. Ultimately this is the cause of Welcome Week's unease, not the result of it, and the consequence is continually growing, unfiltered chaos. Point and proof: the alleged songbook.

Is there a solution? I don’t know; it's hard to imagine a social event without being social and without the problems that accompany such an identity. How to draw the line between acceptability becomes blurred too: one person's minimum is another person's excess.

Still, acquiescing to the complications is too easy. While we all can voice our disgust and incredulity, this is not enough. Neither is saying that it is one faculty's responsibility. It isn't. If anything, such isolationism is what led to the problem in the first place and it is contrary to what Welcome Week suggests - we are all connected to this place if only for a little while.

If we do not think this way, and if we alienate ourselves to our own trite faculty concerns, nothing will be different in a few years and the Engineering fubar will be the first of many. Instead all of us need to be conscious of the environment around us. We need to be aware of not only our limits, but those of others. And we need to start today.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) I began the article admitting my stupidity, which might be reaffirmed by the article itself. But I like to believe, perhaps in the naivety of not knowing and ignorance and damn fool heartedness, that this is possible. We can be better, this fiasco can sober us up in every sense of the word, and we can work on strengthening a week, a faculty, an entire University that is weakened by its unrestrained mirror to society and its failings.

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