January 27, 2012

A gross overstatement

The pervasive misuse of violent and self-deprecating expressions on campus indicates a disturbing lack of sympathy and respect.

Midterm season is upon us.

Welcome, sleepless nights, long stares at blinking cursors, hastily scribbled flashcards, the pervasive stench of unwashed bodies…and the rape-as-a-metaphor-for-my-failed-exam Facebook statuses.

You’ve seen them:

“Every night of finals I feel like I need a rape kit for the failure.”

“THAT BIOCHEM EXAM JUST RAPED ME.” (The more caps the better.)

Such statuses are usually followed by a dozen “LOL” or “LMAO” in the comments section. There’s a collective sense of pride, a sharing of the schadenfreude. The status-writer feels accomplished. He may have failed that midterm abysmally, but at least he’s been commended for his adroit turn of phrase. (I say he, but I’ve seen girls do the same.)

I want to get a larger point across here, but first, let me be very, very clear.

These statuses are offensive. They are not funny. They reflect glaring obtuseness, a dearth of creativity, and, most disconcertingly of all, a fundamental lack of sensitivity.

I mean, really? Really? Failing your midterm because you decided to study two nights before the exam is like being sexually penetrated against your will?

The default argument, of course, is that it’s all willful exaggeration. Obviously, failing an econ midterm is not like getting raped. But we exaggerate because it’s funny. And if we can make jokes about murder, what’s wrong with a little rape humor?

It’s the same faulty premise that fuels the concept of “equal opportunity offending.” Usually white, usually straight, these fearless comics mock blacks, gays, Jews, trans folk, immigrants, Muslims, and the like, because everybody deserves to be insulted—it’s only fair. How these usually white, usually straight “comedians” factor in their own societal privilege—well, they don’t.

In a country where most sexual assaults still go unreported, where rape victims often have to be nothing short of Mother Theresa to get their day in court, where our university’s own sexual assault policies have been historically problematic, must we indulge in this sort of silliness?

Furthermore, these Facebook statuses, which are usually born five minutes after a horrific exam, told to a friend, and then immortalized forever on the Internet, are emblematic of a troubling U of C culture—one that thrives on describing collegiate life in the most overblown, histrionic way possible.

I get it. Studying is hard. Failing a midterm, or feeling like you failed a midterm—which is usually the more likely scenario—sucks. But must we indulge in that most pathetic of pissing contests, the my-life-is-worse-than-yours competition that rears its ugly head every examination season? Simple questions that should provoke simple answers garner instead interminable lists of all the exams, all the papers that students have due in the upcoming weeks. “Fuck my life,” they groan to begin and end every conversation. But the truth is that naked arrogance is currently unfashionable, so we cloak our feelings of superiority under the guise of brutal self-deprecation. Like the ‘humble brag,’ standup comedian Harris Wittel’s phrase for corny faux humility (sample: “I’ve grown accustomed 2 helping so many folks ova the years that’ i’ve become their crutch. There will come a time when I need help. Who will?”—NFL Wide Receiver Chad Ochocinco on Twitter), this sort of self-deprecation is incredibly disingenuous.

For example, take those t-shirts:

“Where fun comes to die.”

“If I wanted an A, I would have gone to Harvard.”

“Where the only thing that goes down on you is your GPA.”

What’s supposed to be endearing self-deprecation translates into crippling self-consciousness. Are you that insecure? Do you really struggle with such a massive inferiority complex that the whole world needs to know how much harder the U of C is than those Ivy League schools you probably weren’t admitted to?

The problem with this incessant need to denigrate ourselves is that it belies our extremely good fortune. All of us, merely because we attend this school, are extremely lucky, and not in a U of C–exceptionalism kind of way, but in a straight-up, facts-are-facts, unemployment-is-4.6-percent-among-the-college-educated, great-swaths-of-the-world-live-on-less-than-a-dollar-a-day kind of way.

So let’s stop with the piss-on-ourselves contest. Please.

Tomi Obaro is a fourth-year in the College majoring in international studies.