Thoughts on Culture Shock 2016

by Elie Doubleday

I had a good day Friday. Firstly, because there was no actually class, which is always a plus. But more importantly, because it was Culture Shock.

I’ve participated in Culture Shock all four years and I always find at least one moment that is truly meaningful. I also always spend the next day over-analyzing everything in terms of race or gender and whether there’s equality or not.

But this year felt especially productive for everyone involved. And inviting out of school people leading workshops really enhanced the number of perspectives we heard.

When our keynote speaker Sam Killerman was introduced, I was a little unsure. Being a comedian, this had the potential to be super funny, but it also had the potential to be super awkward.

Personally, the reality-type humor we see in shows like Modern Family, the type that seems to be so big these days, makes me vaguely uncomfortable because I feel I have enough awkward moments in my real life that I don’t need to watch/hear about more. But luckily, Sam killed it (get it?).

I loved listening to him talk, but the moment that struck me the most was during his purple sweater story. He goes along, building up the sweater into this symbol for the audience through all his jokes, and then he gets to where he’s beaten up for wearing it. In that moment, the room is dead silent.

I learned in a fiction writing course that in order to make an audience feel an emotion more acutely, make them feel the opposite one first. Sam made us laugh, then hit us with this really powerful moment full of hurt.

Normally there’s always some side conversation and some shifting creating background noise in the great hall, but when he got to that moment in the story, everyone was completely engrossed, completely focused on what Sam was telling us. That’s a powerful moment, when someone can hold the complete attention of a hall filled with high schoolers.

Sam also lead one of my workshops, titled “What Are Your Pronouns.” I’d been to a workshop last year on being an ally and I have friends who are part of the LGBTQ community, so I’ve heard the gender neutral pronouns before.

But Sam brought a different perspective to the talk. We discussed how it can be hard to remember a gender neutral pronoun when the person’s name is one we usually associate with a gender. But I learned it’s just rude to not try. Intentionally labeling someone with the wrong pronoun is malicious. We need to remember pronouns just as we need to remember names.

We would never intentionally call someone the wrong name, so we shouldn’t misgender them either. We also learned about the singular ‘they,’ as well as the gender neutral pronoun zie (conjugated to zier and ziers). For those who don’t conform to the gender binary (because gender shouldn’t be binary), those pronouns are especially important to remember.

Another one of my workshops was “That’s Not Funny!” lead by David Gomes. He showed us clips of stand up comedians telling jokes about words we don’t use in our society because they’re offensive (generally to an oppressed culture in our society) and about rape. We discussed why we laugh at these, but also why we don’t.

Most of my group didn’t know each other, so many people didn’t laugh because they didn’t want to offend anyone else in the room. Other’s looked to the group who would possibly be offended by the joke to gauge their reaction and whether it was appropriate to laugh. And sometimes, the jokes were just plain uncomfortable.

An area of much discussion was the rape jokes. Rape jokes are becoming bigger, but is there a line that shouldn’t be crossed? Many people feel it’s a comedian’s job to cross that line, that’s how one becomes edgy and known.

My personal opinion on rape jokes is they’re okay depending on who is the butt of the joke. We can mutually agree that a rapist is a bad person, so making jokes about the rapist is more acceptable, as we’re all willing to make them look even worse.

But when the butt of the joke the act of rape itself, that’s when it becomes too sensitive, because rape is a scarring experience that can leave the victim permanently weaker. It’s something that shouldn’t be made easier to swallow because it’s being made funny. (Disclaimer: those are my opinions and if you don’t agree with them, that’s completely fine).

The topic I’ve spent the most time thinking about since culture shock is sexual empowerment, which came out of my workshop “Pop & Sexual Empowerment,” lead by Andi Zeisler (from Bitch Media) and Claire P. ‘16.

We talked a lot about how women are overly sexualized in the media, and the fine line between owning your body and being a slut. But what struck me was that we often get so caught up in the unfair treatment of women that we forget it happens to men too.

While it’s not nearly as often, men are overly sexualized as well. We talk about embracing all different body types, but only in terms of women. We don’t discuss the fact that all male models are perfectly built.

Additionally, we’re working so hard to break the stereotypes on girls that we forget to brake those on boys, one of the most common being that men can’t show emotion. Empowerment for boys is a big thing that needs to be worked on as well.

In our closing ceremony, I heard a line that I felt was really powerful. I heard it when we moved around the space and found someone with whom to share a question we had. My partner was Edward P. ‘18, and his question came out of his acting workshop. He said, “For someone to gain power, must someone else lose it?”

I found this fascinating, as people love to be in charge, but by climbing to the top, must we always push someone else down, or is there a way to share it? 

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