OP-EDS

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November 18, 2003

Concert experience reveals distrust

How much do you trust your fellow students? That is a little vague. Let me ask instead, would you ever automatically believe that all other students were intentionally trying to deceive you?

If you answered yes, then things are worse than I realized. As it is, I feel the trust we have for each other as human beings is at a rather low level. So low, in fact, that we have come to find it routine and justified to be suspected of acts before we commit them. I would like to discuss a recent event here on campus to demonstrate this point.

On November 8, I attended the Major Activities Board's (MAB) concert featuring Ben Folds and Ben Lee. Unlike most students, however, I was there to volunteer for MAB. I had never worked during a show before, and I was surprised to realize that for most of the 36 volunteers Saturday night, the main job was to be watchful, even a little suspicious, the student body.

My original assignment for the night was to check bags. I didn't actually do it. As I told the staff, I have an ethical objection to digging through people's things—namely that I find it to be an invasion of privacy. My objection was tolerated, and I was placed by the main entrance instead. The staff later clarified that bags were only to be glanced inside, not "rifled through." It was noted that the "ethical girl" (me) "should be happy about this." I was happy, though less happy that my new job involved making students throw away any previously unnoticed water bottles. The common protest (which I shared): "But it's just water." Ah, so you say. But we know how malicious people are, how deceptive. We know it's really vodka in that Dasani bottle.

Simply stated, this was justification. The rationalization was not "it could still spill and cause damage to the hall," but "they could be deceiving us with vodka." I asked, "Can I just open the bottles and smell to see?" The volunteer coordinator told me no, and mentioned that I certainly didn't have to work another show again. "Usually I just help move equipment," I replied. "Maybe I'll stick to that in the future."

I continued to feel like a jerk throughout the evening. I forced a girl I took humanities with to throw her water away, and made a boy with a bottle of wine—though he had no intentions of drinking it during the show—find another place to put it before we let him in. The bag-checker and I were ready to pass him through, when someone with more influence than we intervened. There was no way, she said. Could we hold the bottle for him in the will-call office? She refused. As he left, to see if perhaps the coffee shop upstairs would hold his bag for him, the higher-up lady walked by with the unqualified comment, "people are stupid." I ask, does she a) believe herself to be stupid, or b) believe herself not to be human? Luckily, coffee shop workers are nicer than concert volunteers like myself, and the wine-less student could actually see the show.

Now, I don't mean to get down on MAB for this, and I hope I'm not just further annoying their volunteer coordinator. They were just following typical concert procedure. Go somewhere like the Vic Theater, and one not only has his or her bags searched or water bottles tossed but also endures a physic pat-down.

Distrust and suspicion are practiced on a much wider basis at any average mass event. This just indicates that the problem is all the worse. We have deemed it acceptable to be suspicious of others, and be suspected ourselves, merely because we are humans with a taste for live music or professional sports.

I realize that it's a privilege, not a right, to attend concerts—maybe I should just play by the rules. But privilege or right, does it matter? Should we be seizing opportunities to show our lack of trust for everyone around us? Or should we use events where people exercise one of their most basic human characteristics—the love of music—to emphasize the possible bad intentions of a few?

Throughout the concert, people tried to justify all of this to me. Mostly, they gave reasons besides the vodka explanation. After all, water could spill. But this still makes little sense. Venues that sell food and drink inside follow the same procedures. Furthermore, nobody was double-checking for water bottles during the classical concert in Mandel just the night before.

But why should anyone trust my opinion on the subject anyhow? I'm just a student and most of you probably don't know me—why trust me? I could be one of those malicious vodka-disguised-as-water people. After all, I've "smuggled" my Nalgene bottle into Soldier Field for a Chicago Fire game—I told the guard I needed it, as I had "severe dehydration." Maybe she shouldn't have trusted my bad excuse. Maybe that was 32 ounces of vodka I drank while somehow staying sober among all the beer-swilling soccer fans. You never know, right? Why trust me?