The Blog


There’s a conspiracy afoot—and it’s a big one.

At the heart of so many of the problems that plague our campus—stress, anxiety, the impossibility of ever making a real choice­—this monster crouches, laughing in the shadows as we unknowingly throw away our sanity. We’ve been lied to, fooled and toyed with like the oblivious infants we are. Our deepest fear—the belief that nothing we do will have any real impact—proves true, as our small yet concerted collective efforts to make a difference are daily thwarted. In this post-truth world of ours, nothing is what it purports to be. Not even the trash.

In all likelihood, you’ve never thought about it. You just toss your recyclables into the proper color-coded bin, relying on the suggestively shaped perforations to tell you: ‘Bottles & Cans Only,’ or ‘Rejected Manuscripts/Unread Newspapers Here.’

But every so often, there’s a tug. A feeling that something is…off. As you toss the latest unread copy of Spec into the bin, you have a brief moment of panic (one unrelated to that embarrassment of a paper). Through your head flashes a warning: “Something is Wrong!”

And then it’s gone, and you go on with your day, seemingly unaffected. But the seed of existential doubt has been planted and nothing can stop it now. It will ride with you through the rest of your days, both on this campus and off. It is the unnamed beast lurking in the shadows, the palpable obscure haunting your dreams.

Today, we name it. And in naming, we expose. Hark, O Columbians, and witness: Recyclegate.

 

Exhibit A: A classic case of top-swap. (Feb 26, 2016)

“Surely this is overblown, surely there is a reasonable explanation,” you might say. Oh, how we wish you were right. At first, one might reasonably attribute the confusion to some mischievous prankster who gets off on switching bin-covers. Even the so-called Extreme Prankster case evidenced in Exhibit B can be so explained, albeit with a bit of a stretch (as it requires them to relocate an entire bin).

 

 

Exhibit B: Notice the doubling of Bottles & Cans receptacles but the single All Paper cover on the leftmost bin, belying the troubling absence of a proper Paper bin. (Dec. 8, 2017)

Alas, such a mollifying explanation falls quickly to pieces. There are…glitches…that defy such a prankster(s). The conspiracy goes deeper. Much deeper.

Aside from the textual testimony each bin gives as to its purpose, general recycling relies on tells to announce itself. These tells are as close to universal truths as we are like to get on this earth: Green is Paper, Plastic & Metal = Blue; slits suggest discarded essays and shoddy newspapers, while circular apertures cry out for bottles and cans. Symbolical and practical, these clues are meant to guide us in our quest to save the world. The truths they represent are our anchors, our rocks. The White House may have turned orange, but so long as Green is Paper we might still sleep at night.

But this is 2017, and truth no longer exists.

 

Exhibit C, “The Label Libel”: Notice the discrepancy between the ‘All Paper’ label and the circular perforations plus the subtle yet paradoxical sticker. (May 8, 2017)

The sobering reality is that Paper hasn’t been Green for at least two years (evidenced by Exhibit D) and all that we think we know to be true seems determined to flip us off and chortle at our fears of Fakeness.

Exhibit D: Clearly a manufacturing error. (Dec. 3, 2015)

In East Germany, the Stasi would disrupt their targets with a method of psychological warfare called Zersetzung, in which subtle manipulations of the everyday objects in a victim’s home would help destabilize their sanity. The calculated disruptions, the small changes in tiny things the target was sure about—replacing the saltshakers with sugar or moving the pictures on the wall—would precipitate a slow breakdown of their perceptions of reality.

That feeling, that profound unease you get while walking through the halls of Butler Library? Just saying.

As I mentioned in an email to Scott Wright, Vice President for Campus Services, the trend of mislabeling and misperforation has increased at an alarming rate over the past year. By my last reckoning, somewhere around 20% of Butler Library’s recycling bins are now affected in some way by this deceitful disease.

Exhibit E, “God is Dead”: Misperforations and gross disregard for color-code consistency. (Nov. 30, 2017)

The question remains: cui bono? Who could possibly be behind these acts of confusion, and why? My investigation has so far come up empty handed, but we will, we must get to the bottom of this. Until then, stay vigilant. And stick to non-recyclables.

Exhibit F: We’re on to you, Louie.

 

 

“If you weren’t a Democrat when you were young, you don’t have a heart. If you don’t become a Republican when you get old, you don’t have a brain.”

You haven’t seen Uma Thurman destroy someone like this since Kill Bill. The actress makes her Broadway debut as Chloe, the wife of tax attorney Tom (portrayed brilliantly by Josh Lucas), who is on the short list for a Court of Appeals nomination. The Parisian Woman chronicles his path to nomination in five scenes, as the couple navigate their relationships with their politically minded peers. Martin Csokas stars as a jealous lover, Blair Brown as a conniving Fed Chair, and Phillipa Soo as Brown’s rising star daughter.

One of the most compelling aspects of The Parisian Woman is its relationship to the current political climate, having been rewritten after its original run to accommodate the 2016 election. The changes manifest themselves both in simple callout jokes (at every one of which, no matter how lazy the reference, the audience feels compelled to respond) and a stronger overarching question as to what political actors should be doing in a system in which the rules seem to be simply tossed out the door.

While the former seems to capitalize on the popularity of political commentary springing up everywhere today, the latter is unique in the sea in that it casts doubt as to whether it is truly cynical or genuine about our current system. Most of the characters bask in the grey area between party lines, at once admonishing the President while capitalizing on the ever-increasing vacancies in his administration.

This uncertainty, though, is better manifested in the nature of the relationships between characters, which reveal new layers with every scene, forcing the audience to analyze every interaction for notions of sincerity. It is in this limbo of truth that the play finds its real merit theatrically, not in the hollow dramatics of political warfare reminiscent of a Scandal episode. (Much of the nomination drama seems to rely on the basis that Trump is only loyal to the person he mostly recently spoke to. Which makes for a joke, but not the most clever or dramatically inclined one.)

Go into The Parisian Woman with an open mind about its politics. Revel in its pockets of tenderness in an overwhelmingly cold political environment. Appreciate the subtle Bannon digs. Just don’t expect to find firm insights into the Trump era.

People inherently long to be part of a group, a village, a community. For communities to endure, they must have a history, and each generation must perpetuate the traditions of the past and pass them along to the next generation. Some such traditions are intentionally created and integrated into society at a young age, such as saluting the flag, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and singing the National Anthem. Others are more organic, like family picnics and watching fireworks on Independence Day. In a small town near where I grew up, the biggest annual event was the “irrigation festival,” celebrating the bountiful harvests made possible by the technology that brought water to what was otherwise an arid valley. In a small community, people seize upon whatever it takes to bring people together to eat, play, compete with each other, and socialize. These events are part of the fabric of our civilization.

The common experiences that occur during four years of college similarly bring a community of students together in many ways. Traditions within a college bind class to class, generation to generation, and bring current students from every academic pursuit a sense of togetherness and community and a bond of kinship. Many such college traditions are a bit odd or idiosyncratic, but they form a part of the identity of a school that every student carries away from commencement and (hopefully) brings back for class reunions. The attraction of oddball college traditions was summed up in one article: “[C]ampus traditions are a huge part of what takes a bunch of students, and makes them a community that lasts a lifetime.”

Examples abound throughout the country. At Regis University in Denver, after four nights of enforced quiet study in the week leading up to finals, the signal is given for the “all hall scream,” and students spend ten minutes screaming, laughing, and running through the halls.

At Occidental College, where Barack Obama spent his first two years before transferring to Columbia, tradition dictates that on your birthday you will be thrown into the campus fountain (by your friends). During the “Pterodactyl Hunt” at Swarthmore College, students don garbage bags and roam campus beating each other with foam weapons. At the University of Virginia, students run naked across the campus lawn and kiss the statue of Homer in the days leading up to graduation.

And the Ivys are not too elite to participate in quirky traditions. At the University of Pennsylvania, students throw pieces of toast onto the football field after the end of the third quarter of home games. (The university has designed a special Zamboni-like machine to vacuum up the stray bread.) During the winter carnival at Dartmouth, a hole is drilled into the ice of a local pond, and students jump into the freezing water (with a safety rope).

What traditions bind together the generations of Columbia alumni? There are few, other than the Core Curriculum. In the Wikipedia entry for Columbia University, there are only three entries under “Traditions.” They are (1) Orgo Night, (2) the tree lighting and Yule log ceremony, and (3) the Varsity Show. The first one on the list, Orgo Night, is one of the most unique traditions in all the land, and it is unfortunately under attack.

When you search“quirky college traditions” on Google, the first search result is an article from the website “collegeraptor” titled “13 of the weirdest college traditions.” The article begins:

“There are strange things happening at college campuses across the country. Students are nailing their shoes to trees, howling at the moon, and kissing statue’s bums with no one giving these weird pastimes a second thought.”

The #1 entry on this list is: “Orgo Night:  Columbia University.”  The article notes the essence of the event:

“Each year, on the eve of the orgo final, the Columbia marching band heads to the library to entertain all of the orgo students (and anyone else lucky enough to be studying at that time) with the fight song, jokes, and music. The tradition is a great harmless way for students to blow off steam during finals.”

The website then links to other information about Columbia for the benefit of users who are researching different schools.  You would think that Columbia administrators would be proud that their school ranks #1 (on this list) in yet another aspect of American universities.

In fact, the Orgo Night tradition is listed in all six of the top search results on Google, where articles from BuzzFeed, USA Today, and hercampus.com list the most interesting and memorable events on campuses across the country.  In all cases, Orgo Night is lauded as a fun stress reliever for students during finals week.

On Columbia’s official web site, there is a prominent entry on Orgo Night among the stories that alumni were invited to write about their memories of the Columbia experience as part of the C250 (250th anniversary) celebration.  University editors chose this as one of the best stories:

“One of my most memorable experiences at Columbia was Orgo Night in the undergraduate reading room in Butler Library. I attended Orgo Night in all eight semesters I was at Columbia. Each was an experience of its own. . . .[T]he show of school spirit was unmatched . . . Cheers to Columbia and its passionate students who continue to fight for our school’s age-old traditions.”

Meanwhile, in a printed recruitment brochure for high school , Columbia lists fifteen items as “Fun on campus” events that new students can look forward to.

 

It is debatable whether student government budget meetings, University Professor lectures, or Engineering Weeks belong in the “fun” column, but it is significant that Orgo Night is on the university’s official list.  In another recruiting brochure titled “Columbia Blue,” the university’s office of undergraduate admissions lauds various traditional campus activities, including Bacchanal, the Varsity Show, the President’s annual Fun Run, and Orgo Night:

“Orgo Night Merriment. The night before the Organic Chemistry Final — Orgo Night. On this night in December and again in May, the main study room in Butler Library starts getting packed around 11:30 pm. You see practically everyone you know and despite being finals week, everyone is excited and happy. At midnight sharp, you hear the sound of instruments and all of a sudden, the marching band storms into the room playing songs and reading jokes while the rest of us are standing on the tables and chairs dancing and laughing. Debbie Goodman, Lido Beach, NY; CC”

All this would suggest that the university administration values Orgo Night as something that is unique to Columbia.  It is a living demonstration of how a peculiar tradition can provide some needed stress relief during an otherwise tense finals period and can serve as an heirloom that generations of Columbia alumni share as a common memory.

And yet, if you did not already know, the current University Administration has decided to end this tradition, claiming that the Orgo Night show is not an appropriate activity for Butler Library and relegating the marching band to performing the show outside, on the steps in front of the library in whatever weather might present itself.  Banishing Orgo Night from the library is intended to diminish its significance and disassociate it from the process of finals studying.  The Head Librarian who announced the ban in December of 2016 justified it based on the need to preserve quiet study space, although the University had received no complaints from students who were unable to find other appropriate study space or who were surprised by the appearance of the band at the well-publicized time and place that had occurred every semester since 1975.  Despite protests by students and alumni, the University has remained resolute in its desire to kill the Orgo Night tradition.

This leaves only the tree-lighting and the Varsity Show as traditions common to present and past Columbia students – along with reading The Iliad.  Will this improve the feeling of community and connection for future alumni?  Will it make any students feel better about the university knowing that the administration took action to preserve their quiet study space during finals week?  Years from now, the class of 2018 will remember the Orgo Night in December of 2016 when it was eighteen degrees and the valves in the band’s horns froze up after they were banished from the library.  They will remember the notice sent out from Low Library in April of 2017 stating that the administration was “working closely” with the current band leadership to discuss the future of Orgo Night, when in fact there was no communication of any kind from the administration to the band, and none would follow that whole summer.  They will remember how the tradition of Orgo Night was stubbornly perpetuated by the marching band despite the administration’s continued “war on fun.”  They will probably lament that they are one of the last classes that can remember Orgo Night.  As they mingle with the younger alumni from the classes of 2023 and 2028 and 2033 at a future class reunion, someone is bound to mention Orgo Night and some younger alumnus will say “I’ve heard of that, but by the time I was a student, it had died out.”  That will be a sad day, but one that is entirely predictable, and apparently one desired by President Bollinger, who is the chief executioner in the crusade to end Orgo Night.

It is not too late to change this course; the scrappy marching band continues to plan an Orgo Night show despite the administration’s resistance.  We, who love Columbia, should care.  When Orgo Night is just a distant memory for a diminishing population of older alumni and someone laments the absence of enduring traditions that link current students to previous generations, we will all share the blame.  We had Orgo Night, and we let it die.

 

If you’d like to submit a response to this op-ed or a general op-ed to The Lion, please email submissions@thecolumbialion.com

After weeks of ignoring her begging, I went with my roommate to see Thor: Ragnarok. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see the movie (Marvel films are actually my guilty pleasure), but I didn’t want to spend the ridiculous amount of money that is New York theater prices to see a film I thought I could predict in its entirety. I had a pretty strong feeling about how the movie was gonna go: we’d start with a dramatic scene where Thor’s at a low-point, then the film’s villain would inspire him to get his act together, and he’d reunite with some random Avenger to defeat whoever was threatening Asgard this time around. Interspersed would be some jokes about his abnormally attractive body, his villainous brother Loki, and of course Marvel’s typical sexual innuendos. I knew it would be entertaining, but also extremely predictable.

So when I sat down in the theater, I was surprised by the film I saw. Don’t get me wrong, I had indeed predicted the general plotline, but something about Thor: Ragnarok was different. Rather than being interspersed throughout, the jokes were continuous and quite upfront. From the very first scene (where Thor was indeed at a low-point), Chris Hemsworth’s superhero was cracking jokes left and right. His relationship with Loki took on a more humorous tone than ever before, and even the villain (Thor’s sister Hela) cracked a joke every now and again.

Even in the movie’s darkest and most serious moments, the characters were joking around. As I watched, it felt a little off-putting: why would Thor and the Hulk joke about the fate of millions of people? Why couldn’t the writers be serious for just one second? I came out of the theater feeling a bit uneasy; sure, the film was hilarious and most definitely entertaining–but what just happened? In an earlier column, I praised this summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming for its jokes and for creating a lighter and more entertaining superhero movie than DC’s Wonder Woman. But it seems like Marvel took my feedback and dialed it up, like, five thousand percent.

Earlier this week, Marvel released its trailer for the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War, set to be released in two parts- one in 2018 and one in 2019. The trailer is typical of Marvel’s superhero universe, and only features one joke at the end of the preview–more like what I had been expecting from Thor: Ragnarok. And the trailer wasn’t released without its own drama: news that Avengers frontrunners like Chris Evans (Captain America), Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), and Scarlett Johansson’s (Black Widow) contracts are up after the film releases is sending every superhero-fan into a frenzy. Is this the last Avengers film? Will Marvel try to continue the Avengers franchise without its stars?

In interviews, Marvel CEO Kevin Feige has said that Marvel intends to continue the franchise with or without its stars, but that Infinity War will definitely mark the end of a particular era in the Avengers universe. And with Thor: Ragnarok shifting so dramatically in its approach, I am left wondering: is this lighter tone Marvel’s new take? And how will that work? Will it work?

Now don’t get me wrong: the fate of the superhero genre is not in danger. People will keep paying to see attractive men and women (although far too few women admittedly) save the world while cracking a joke about it. It’s fun, it’s entertaining, and it makes us feel good. But where Marvel has succeeded (and where, I would argue, DC hasn’t) is in making these feel-good movies into films with real quality. Previous Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, and Avengers movies are all actually good movies. And that’s because they mix action and humor effortlessly, and invite the audience to feel close to their heroes. But when Marvel decided to focus solely on the humor in Thor: Ragnarok, they lost their appeal (at least to me). And if they continue on in this way, they may find themselves losing at the very genre they brought to the forefront of American cinema ten years ago.

Perhaps in the entirety of human history, never before have the phrases “Christmas music” and “electrifying” existed in the same sentence. Home for the Holidays completely breaks precedent.

The premise of the show is so simple that it’s genius: put an American Idol winner, an America’s Got Talent winner, and a winner of The Voice on stage together, and then — wait for it — have them all sing Christmas carols together. What you get is your favorite Christmas album on steroids, live to boot.

Visually, the show is stunning. Boughs of holly deck the halls of August Wilson Theatre, and the stage itself looks like a Broadway-ified winter wonderland, with five sleek metal Christmas trees standing tall and shimmering under the neon lights. A multi-level staircase platform stands on top of the stage, allowing the band to play right behind the front-stage singers while remaining ever in full sight — a spectacular way to showcase saxophone solo after trumpet solo after saxophone solo while the audience catches its breath between choruses.

As beautiful as the show looks, the real gem, of course, is the music, and each singer really brings his or her own special something to the classics. American Idol’s Candice Glover, of course, effortlessly delivers her famous R&B runs and riffs. The Voice’s Josh Kaufman also comes in strong, infusing the old-timey carols with his signature blues sound. Bianca Ryan from America’s Got Talent, in turn, really maximizes her theatrical voice to remind the audience at every stop that they are, in fact, on Broadway.

For the most part, I found that the three titans of American music demonstrated great musical rapport, harmonizing beautifully and playing off of each other to bring the music to new heights. However, there were some moments when their competitive sides seemed to take over — perhaps national singing champions can’t help but steal the spotlight, or perhaps this was actually a choreographed demonstration of just how much they could each blow us away with their impossible-sounding vocal stunts.

A word of warning: this show is not for the faint of heart. If you like your Christmas music pure and simple, go put your earbuds in and listen to Elvis, Michael Buble, or Mariah Carey. Even I found that, as much as I loved the show, no single number was my all-time favorite rendition, likely because the impressiveness of it all actually distracted from the nostalgia that Christmas music usually brings in bucketloads. However, if you like your Christmas music electrifying — or even if you think you might — definitely run and go see Home for the Holidays before it’s too late. Even if you end up liking your go-to album better, you certainly won’t regret this one.