As a God Damn Independent, I am a lover of all things flannel and chill-wave. But most of all I have a love, an unbridled passion really, for all that is ironic. As such, my favorite annual event here at the College of Wooster is of course the beloved, respectable and most ironic tradition of them all: Pledge Week.
Though many would say that Pledge Week is not ironic, I beg to differ. After all, Pledge Week is ironic by its very name. Though these rituals of allegiance should last only one short week, they instead persist for one amazing fortnight. And too often, we forget that this celebration of the ironic is for everyone’s benefit. If Pledge Week did not happen every year, us Independents would forget an important civic virtue that few organizations on campus would be capable of replicating. In the noble tradition of the country club, the Metropolitan and the salon, these bastions of civility work hard to uphold the almost-forgotten American virtue of social exclusivity.
In this light, it is no surprise that every year on college campuses across the nation, Pledge Weeks occur in support of a centuries-long nation love affair with fraternal and sororal organizations. In acts reminiscent of pre-modern carnivales, men and women of high esteem ritualistically reduce themselves in absurd displays to remind the rest of us of just how much service their organizations actually do. While to the co-ed naif, it would seem to undermine the values of Greek organizations, it is abundantly clear to those more acclimated to social nuance that Pledge Week is an astute display of cultural irony. If you have any doubts, I beg you to recall the last few weeks in Lowry.
As an Independent, my place in the College’s dining society can be understood as circular and wandering. In other words, us round-tablers are frequently displaced from our place in Lowry by the Office of Admission’s tabled-clothed visit luncheons, organizational dinners in the ballroom, and various other functions. Last week, these other functions included the pledging activities of Wooster’s small and predominately square-tabled Greeks. Unlike the aforementioned inconveniences, these pledging activities were a welcomed and sophisticated presence on the side of the cafeteria typically left to starving artists, humanities majors and the clinically depressed. In displaying their theatrical panache — through cheers, tightly choreographed song, dance numbers and magnificent examples of costume design — the College’s oft-criticized Greek community expressed its solidarity with affection for the charming lethargy of the round-tabled Independents.
Many people, both Greek and Independent, have assured me that the Greek community’s two-week occupation of the round tables is in fact a form of punishment for both their hapless pledges and the round-tablers they displace. What few of these people realized, however, was my ability to see through their guise of sarcasm. How could such a display be a form of punishment? It is obviously a subtle form of dinner theatre. The respect held by the Greek community for the round-tablers is made abundantly clear in this annual voluntary display of performance art that those more angst-ridden in the audience would be hard pressed to replicate.
Like these examples of Tony-worthy performances, other Pledge Week activities illustrate the selfless volunteerism inherent in each and every Greek organization. As ironic (as they are unsolicited), the altruism of their Lowry community service is disguised as absurdities that often seem to rub Independents the wrong way. For example, a female pledge, dressed in some sort of greenish-yellow costume that made her appear inflated, stood last Friday night at the entrance to Lowry offering assistance for those challenged by its endless array of dining confusions. Her green presence was to me a lime-lit beacon of hope, and I instinctively drew closer to acknowledge her philanthropy. But since Greeks are always more level-headed than I, two of her caring sisters stood by protecting their beloved little from being drowned by praise. Such sororal support allowed her to continue her selfless and no-doubt voluntary activities.
“Welcome to Lowry,” she said with unwarranted embarrassment. “Check out the fruit section. It’s really ripe today.” Again, I wanted to approach her and offer my admiration for her self-sacrificing gesture. But before I could, one of my friends, often “too proud” to “accept assistance,” extended her open palm towards the green Greek as if to say “talk to the hand.” Seeing my friend throw the artificially-plumped pledge an almost absurd amount of shade, I was initially enraged by what seemed to be dismissive gesturing. ‘How could you?’ I thought as I, maimed by my friend’s reckless abandon, fell to my knees in anguish. But as I came to and picked myself up off the floor, it became clear to me that though us Independents may appear dismissive of Greeks, we are not in fact admonishing these selfless examples of Section stewardship. In reality, we too are guilty of our own acts of benevolent social irony.
Though ours are less of a boon to society at large, I realized that both Greeks and Independents can find common ground in a shared love of the ironic. In our most ironic shared moments, I realize we are more like Tarzan and Jane meeting each other for the first time. Despite this apparent social truth, we more often treat these exchanges as passive-aggressive meetings of arch rivals. My dear and kind friend was actually making a sincere attempt at blurring our school’s social boundaries.
Like Jane and Tarzan, both were, in an ironic way, attempting to reach out to one they did not understand. Unfortunately for my friend and the saintly pledge, both of their actions were misunderstood by each other and the many who witnessed this brave exchange. As a community, let’s work to prevent such future misunderstandings from happening again. As Phil Collins says, we may live in two worlds, but we are one ironic family.