May 8, 2007

Why I Scav, why you should too, and why it's good for us

During the trial of Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt became world famous for promoting her theory of the “banality of evil.” Though Eichmann was one of the key facilitators of the Holocaust, Arendt argued that he showed no signs of evil or malicious intentions, but that he was simply another bureaucrat doing his job and not asking questions.

This is not an article about Eichmann or the Holocaust. It’s an article about Scav Hunt. While the introduction of a Nazi parallel may seem jarring, this is a column that is very pro–Scav Hunt. I chose to bring in Nazism to show how a seemingly shocking or outrageous goal can be accomplished with benign intentions. If one can be convinced to drink a shot glass of human sweat or get circumcised for no other reason than that a piece of paper tells you to do so, why can’t someone guard the trains to Auschwitz in order to advance one’s career?

Scav Hunt, however, is not genocide; the only damage Scav inflicts is maybe to the pride of a participant who wears nothing but a gold shirt wrapped around his crotch to reenact Rocky’s song in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. While some have been critical of what the Maroon Editorial Board misguidedly called the “wasteful wiles of Scav,” (“Geeks Gone Wild,” 4/27/07) most items used for Scav are either items other people throw away (such as the remains of Searle) or items participants are willing to donate to the cause. At this year’s Snell-Hitchcock Scav Auction, over $1,000 was raised by students for Scav Hunt, including $4.50 for a shiny quarter, $40 for a Scav Captain to continue to make puns, and $70 for the soul of student who graduated last year (donated by the person who bought it at last year’s auction).

To those who don’t Scav, it seems inexplicable that someone would devote so much time and resources to something that seems so inane. In reality, we’ve had a good explanation on hand for the past 100 years beyond Arendt’s. Emile Durkheim, a figure familiar to most U of C students, introduced the concept of collective effervescence in his Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Durkheim was referring to Australian tribes, but collective effervescence fits eerily well with the Scav mentality. Durkheim separates a sacred ritual from the profane activities of everyday life and asserts that the sacred ritual accomplishes a communal goal. In Durkheim’s own words, “the effervescence often becomes so intense that it leads to outlandish behavior; the passions unleashed are so torrential that nothing can hold them.”

From that point of view, Scav Hunt is no different from any religious ceremony. On a fundamental level, is there any difference between getting circumcised for Scav Hunt and getting circumcised for Judaism? Is there any difference between putting ridiculous neon lights on your house for Christmas and making a neon light sign of your team’s logo for 178 points?

Scav Hunt is perfect for the U of C because it is an open celebration of collective effervescence. We all know that there’s no real point to Scav, which makes the intensity of it all the more compelling. When else in your life are you going to have a chance to be in a cell-phone marching band playing a self-created “Rock You Like a Hurricane” ring tone? When else are you going to get to serenade a one-eyed math professor in the style of Say Anything? It may seem like an irrelevant and pointless activity, but you can bet that 30 years from now you’ll be more likely to tell your kids about what you did for Scav than what paper you wrote over Mothers’ Day weekend.

What recent Maroon coverage has failed to accentuate is all the good Scav does as well. Each team is encouraged (in the form of points) to give blood at the U of C Hospital, which results in the hospital’s most successful blood drive of the year. Scav Hunt brings a lot of positive outside media attention to this school, and for some students it’s one of the main reasons they come here when they wouldn’t have otherwise considered our school.

Furthermore, Scav provides four days to spend blood, sweat and toil on something completely out of left field to students who find regular schoolwork overwhelming and unengaging and have few other outlets for their brainpower and energy.

This article will be coming out on Tuesday before the Hunt, and it’ll be one of the last major commitments I make before the fun begins at midnight on Wednesday. I’ll be too busy doing something like making a Hungry, Hungry Hippo out of a shopping cart or desperately searching for a dentist chair to be bothered by any mere paper, midterm, or Maroon article. While my personal loyalties are for the Snell-Hitchcock team, I insist that you find whatever team you feel is best for you and have one of the most unique, intense experiences you’re ever likely to have. If nothing else, it will make Durkheim proud.