To everyone who submits Shoutouts this semester: please don’t be mean.
There is much to like about the concept of 34th Street Magazine’s Shoutouts, those little “To X, Y” statements solicited and published at the end of each semester. College senior Sarah Beth McKay, the editor-in-chief of Street, described them aptly as, at their best, “what Street and The Daily Pennsylvanian should be — a forum for the expression of genuine student views and opinion.”
They are seldom at their best.
“To my Asian fraternity brother who doesn’t play ping pong: What’s the deal? You’re a disgrace to your race,” is a typical flavor of the work. Disses like these are nonetheless very widely read because, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to read in print something they would never dare say to someone’s face?
“Unleash your inner bitch” Street advertises, and boy don’t we oblige. From whining about food to expressing homophobia, misogyny and racism (not to mention the impenetrable insults issued by one fraternity against another), Shoutouts are the collective communicative cesspit of the Penn community. And those are just the ones that get published.
What saddens me most about Shoutouts is not that they are juvenile, petty and bitchy, but that they bring out the worst in our peers and us. By making Shoutouts all about how much we hate each other, we have lost a remarkable opportunity to create something that will make us all feel better.
Imagine if students — poised with their Rita Skeeter-poisoned, automatic quills — decided instead, for the holiday season, to submit shout-outs to Street detailing things about other people they’ve come to love, respect and take delight in. In the five years of Shoutouts I’ve read, one of the very, very few to fit this bill was “To whoever left My Little Ponies on my desk: Thank you.” That’s a start.
The pattern is a simple one to follow. Just reverse the tone of what we have already. They could still (should still, I say) be as dirty as you like, but instead of censuring bad sex, celebrate good sex. You can write the rest yourself. We will call them “Shoutins.”
McKay was nonplussed by the proposal. “The principal aim of the section is humor,” she explained, and saying nice things about other people is, of course, seldom funny.
But consider this. There are two principal constituencies to be served by Shoutouts: those who submit Shoutouts and those who read them. Take submitters first. Why do we submit Shoutouts? Because we get that frisson from being able to hurt other people with no risk of being hurt ourselves. Maybe those people deserved it, so there’s a measure of justice, of revenge. And sure, it does feel good to settle some scores. But contrast that little moment of evil with the wonderful feeling you get when you participate in service, help a friend in crisis or just spend a moment livening up someone’s day. That feeling, that glow, is one that stays with you forever. Since the latest Harry Potter movie is about to come out, a shameless metaphor: you can’t make a Patronus from the meager happiness of a Shoutout.
As for those who read Shoutouts, there’s certainly a kind of naughty voyeuristic pleasure in gossip and in feeling superior to all those poor, annoying, unattractive people Shout-outs attack. But again, think back on the things you’ve read that make you truly happy. They are invariably those times when you’ve come to think admirably of your fellow human beings, not poorly of them. So could it be with Shoutins!
So let us, just for this one semester, turn our frown upside down and turn our Shoutouts to Shoutins. I’ll start: to everyone who just read this column — thank you.
Alec Webley is a College senior from Melbourne, Australia. He is the former chairman of the Undergraduate Assembly. His e-mail address is webley@theDP.com. Smart Alec appears on Thursdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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