A series of flaps on campus. Racist incidents abound: the most public is at Texas A & M, home to the new Defense Secretary. Students donned "blackface" and played plantation life. They might be influenced by the sunny depictions of the slave economy from such notables as Eugene Genovese. He has, after all, converted from writing Marxist analyses of enslavement to a celebration of Southern hospitality and tradition. How the mighty fall!
In the midst of the revelations, and some of on my own campus, I, being "out of it," heard of that my students enjoy a game called "Beirut." It's a "drinking game," one of the legion that allow students to egg each other to get drunk faster and faster. These are the kinds of institutions that lead to the small-scale epidemic of death by binge drinking. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report (September 2006) found that over seventy percent of under-age binge drinking occurs in Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota. The government analysis is that these areas suffer the most because the youth are bored.
Our college students seem bored too. The NIH's College Drinking Task Force reports that each year drinking by 18-24 year old college students contributes to an annual estimated 1,700 deaths, 599,000 injuries and 97,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape. Based on this data, and on extensive survey work, the NIH concludes, "Students form their expectations about alcohol from their environment and from each other. As they face the insecurity and stresses of establishing themselves in a new social setting, environmental and peer influences combine to create a culture of drinking. This culture actively or at least passively promotes drinking through tolerance, or even unspoken approval, of college drinking as a rite of passage." The "when we were young, we got hammered" maxim perpetuates binge drinking, and with alumni pressure, suppresses the ability of college administrations to do what they should do about social life on campuses (including reigning in fraternities and other organizations of mayhem).
Our bored students dress up the weekend (and many week-nights) with games to hasten their entry into oblivion. One such is Beirut. It is an elaboration of "beer pong," a ping-pong game that requires the players who miss to chug a glass of beer. Beirut is played without paddles. It was created in the early 1980s, during the U. S. fiasco in Lebanon. The students who throw the ping-pong ball imagine that they are bombing Arabs, and the losers have to bomb themselves by drinking the beer. This game was developed either at Bucknell or Lehigh.
Poor Beirut. In modern times, it has suffered gravely: a brutal civil war (1975-1977) attempted to settle unfinished social contradictions that resulted from the Ottoman withdrawal, and with the demise of any truly secular movement (such as the forces that led the 1958 uprising, of whom was the multi-ethnic Lebanese Communist Party); interventions by the great powers, be they the French or the U. S., often on the side of reaction against that of hope; and at least two invasions by the Israelis, once in 1982 and again this summer. So much death, so much mayhem. To play "Beirut" is to mock this history of suffering and hope.
The Tunisian scholar Albert Memmi offered the following paradox: everyone agrees that racism exists, but no-one admits to be a racist. Those who play games like "Beirut" would hasten to say that for them this is a game, and that it has nothing to do with Arabs, that they are not racists. That's like George "Macaca" Allen saying that the noose in his office has nothing to do with Jim Crow and lynching. The coalition of the swilling is alive and well on college campuses, reproducing anti-Arab racism as beer-drinking patriotism.
Blackface, red-face, Beirut, the criminal use of Rohypnol ("roofies"), and what not: college campuses have become a hive of anti-social, dangerous behavior. On every college that I visit, the antidote to this behavior is either from the religious students or the radical students. These students, whether invested in God or Revolution, have something that defines their lives. They are not bored. The complaint about boredom is now over thirty years old. In an early issue of "New Left Notes," Steve Golin (who went on to a distinguished teaching career at Bloomfield College in New Jersey) wrote, "By the time we graduate, we have been painstakingly trained in separating facts from their meaning. We wonder that our classes, with few exceptions, seem irrelevant to our lives. No wonder they're so boring. Boredom is the necessary condition of any education which teaches us to manipulate the facts and suppress the meaning." Our radical and religious students understand the importance of meaning in the world. The mainstream should learn from them.