Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Boys: A Pseudo-Scientific Observation

Back Breaker - Hit the Lights (mp3)
Highschool Stalker - Hello Saferide (mp3)

The school at which Bob and I work has several hundred boarding students, all male. Every weekend, one faculty member must spend Saturday and Sunday afternoons leisurely walking around the campus. That person must also walk into every dorm and enter every single dorm room on the campus.

Some call this responsibility "Suicide Watch," in honor of the original reasons this policy was first enacted roughly a decade ago. Others call it "Faculty Snoop Patrol," because it can at times be a little creepy and a little awkward, entering the sole private living spaces of boys, most of whom you hardly know. I call it "Prostitute Watch," because it amuses the boys and lightens the mood. Better to imagine scouring the campus looking for Vivian Ward in a compromising position in a boy's twin bed than to be thought of as searching for someone who's hung himself from sheer misery.

I was on Prostitute Watch last weekend, and I found myself studying our little incubator of adolescent males based solely on what I saw while walking through the dorms and across campus two afternoons on a weekend in November.

First, on average, our boarding student body is wealthier, smarter, and whiter than your average bear. We are not without color, nor are we without boys whose parents are middle or lower-middle class. Just wanted to get that out there so you know what kind of boys I'm mostly talking about.

Muhammed Ali: Still the Greatest
This was the observation that began my pseudo-scientific study. The first dorm I entered has maybe 20 rooms. Of those 20 rooms, at least eight had a poster of Muhammed Ali. It wasn't all the same poster, either. Throughout all the dorms, I can think of at least five different posters, maybe six. All but two were variations of him lording over his unconscious prey in the ring (mostly from the Sonny Liston fight, I think).

An African-American who converted to Islam*, whose last significant bout occurred 31 years ago, was easily the most popular icon on dorm room walls of mostly white boys from generally more privileged economic backgrounds. And these boys are fairly conservative both politically and religiously. Am I wrong to find that strange and somehow encouraging? Despite this fear and feeling that issues of race and religious prejudice are festering and refusing to heal, a ton of white boys admire the black man formerly known as Cassius Clay?

Strangely, I can only recall two posters of Michael Jordan, and only two or three of Tiger Woods. Roger Federer and Michael Phelps were much more popular... which is precisely what I would have expected in dorms of mostly well-to-do white boys. But none of those dudes had a thing on Ali.

Video Games Are a Social Activity; Accept It and Move On
Many of my coworkers spent the first years of the 21st Century lamenting the slow death of boys going outside to have fun. More and more boys, they cried, spent hour after hour staring at a television screen in isolation from their peers and the beautiful world around them. These boys were losing social skills and disconnecting with reality.

As someone who spent his Atari 2600 youth crammed into a basement spending hour after hour playing Dungeons & fucking Dragons, I can merely attest to the fact that one need not have modern technology and a TV screen to isolate oneself from the beautiful world and stunt one's own social growth. Fighting a Class Nine Hydra with a paladin named Lucius, his elf thief friend Shadow, and their wise wizard father-figure Ebenezer, does the trick just fine, thank you very much. I daresay that before D+D and before video games there were millions of other ways for boys to be anti-social or nerdy or wrapped up in some odd world. Hell, I'm not sure why sitting in a deer stand for seven hours is all that more admirable than playing Halo.

Most of the boys were out of their rooms on Saturday afternoon, but many were there on Sunday, and most were grouped as couples, threesomes or foursomes watching a movie or playing a video game. Some of the boys played sports games like football, basketball and soccer, while other boys played first-person shooter games like Halo and Call of Duty, and others played those long-range strategy games or shit that's way past my comprehension like World of Warcraft.

My point is, these boys talked. They socialized. Their use of the TV screen and XBox controllers was no different in its purpose than a bowling alley. Boys prefer having an excuse to gather first. The conversations and socializing is vital, but secondary. Boys don't generally meet over coffee. They meet to compete, or to play a game, or to throw a frisbee, or to watch a movie.

Girls, it seems, are completely comfortable with the idea of simply hanging out and talking. One frequent reader meets monthly with her local pals to play "Bunco," which they call "Drunko" because they haven't actually played the game in more than a year. They just use the game as an excuse to sit around and gab, because it makes more sense to their husbands if they explain their activity being centered around a game.

Boys Are Best Enjoyed Without a Microscope
For the last several years, I've struggled to enjoy my dorm responsibilities. The job requires that I police the boys somewhat stringently at a time in their night where they are desperate to unwind. Further, teenage boys have and will always seek to push limits, experiment with freedom, and buck authority. These are important and essential things, and when I see the boys at our school as a forest, I find myself feeling very happy and optimistic. They are, on the whole, good kids. Smart kids. Talented kids.

Unfortunately, when forced to get to know a semi-random assortment of them on a deeper level in my dorm job, I must get to know boys I might like less than usual, and I must deal with their inevitable imperfections more than usual. It is, in some sense, having to be a foster parent to a child you don't really like. Worse, it's almost a direct correlation between how unlikable they are and how much of your time they suck away. The squeaky wheels, as they say, get your grease.

It's so easy for boys -- and men, and girls and women -- to carry on this illusion of being an "all-around good person." Our students especially are smart enough and raised in the kinds of environments where they can play the parts they feel expected to play, and they can do so dutifully and with great skill and flair. It is only when they are observed so closely, when almost every waking moment exists under the watchful eyes of adults, that their flaws surge to the forefront, when their every misstep and mistake risks risks being brought to light. It's like asking Eliot Spitzer to be on The Truman Show.

And who really wants to watch that??

Hit the Lights and Hello Saferide are the kind of bands that have no illusion of going multiplatinum. They must do it because they're possessed by evil demons. Consider supporting them.

* -- or the Nation of Islam, if you're into splitting hairs


Daisy said...

The Muhammed Ali thing is very odd. Even odder that they have posters of half dressed men rather than women on their walls. Isn't there a Farah Fawcett equivalent of the 18 and under set these days?

Hank said...

Surly Megan Fox was well represented? The poster thing could speak to the selection offered by the vendor who sells most of the posters on campus.

Billy said...

Posters of females in various scale of dress were most decidedly prevalent and, as a broad category (no pun intended), they bested Ali. But Megan Fox might have been the most popular and had only a dozen on the whole campus. I recall several posters of butts, of Hawaiian Tropic models, of a headless woman holding beer bottles over her num-nums, and one of Hayden Panettiere that featured her completely clothed yet indescribably naughty.

BeckEye said...

You know, if you put a boy under a microscope, you can actually see the millions of snips, snails and puppy dog tails. It's quite fascinating.

Goofytakemyhand said...

The Muhammad Ali posters which have been prevalent for years in dorms have always amused me since the picture is just moments after Liston allegedly took a dive to lose the fight in Round 1.