Fanaticism at Dartmouth

by Julia O'Sullivan | 3/29/17 2:04am

The concept of fanaticism is a common point of confusion amongst the youth of Generation Z. Often, people wonder what the driving force is behind the sobbing, shaking crowd at boy band concerts, dating back to as early as Beatlemania. Perhaps it is the same force behind the annual emergence of the screaming, face-paint-wearing Super Bowl viewers. Is it a chemical phenomenon, an adaptation that served some survival purpose in the stone age? This kind of viewership and reaction straddles a foggy line between lighthearted and serious, fun and dangerous, well-intentioned and evil. What is the point at which a fan becomes a fanatic? Is it the same instance as when the funny becomes the feared? Like the moment in the horror movie, “The Roommate,” when the viewer realizes that Leighton Meester’s character is not a cute, college friend but a creepy, psychotic foe?

All this is to say that upon examination, it becomes clear that fanaticism crosses a certain line that departs from fandom, delineating interested from obsessed and acceptable from offensive and uncomfortable.

“I have negative connotations with fanaticism,” Kyra Spaulding ’20 said. “It’s much more obsessive, whereas fandom is along the lines of great appreciation.”

At Dartmouth, the fan and the fanatic appear to exist on the same spectrum. Sometimes even a murky gray area is achieved by a particular exhibition of fandom. Naturally, many of these occurrences take place at the various sports facilities on campus.

“Fandom is a healthy enjoyment of watching sporting events, while fanaticism is a disproportionate obsession or infatuation with sports,” said Maddy Schoenberger ’20, a member of the women’s volleyball team.

Some of the most notorious sports fans, more specifically soccer fans, on campus are the brothers of Alpha Delta Fraternity, which was derecognized in 2015. However, the brotherhood appears to be very much intact, though much smaller in size, through friendship and fandom. During the men’s soccer team’s home games this past fall, the brothers could be heard for miles surrounding Burnham Field. They famously inhabited the front rows of the bleachers, wearing everything from unrelated jerseys to onesies. Regardless of the final scores, they screamed at the other team’s goalie after a home goal, “It’s all your fault! It’s all your fault!” or waved a giant fork in the air, chanting, “Fork you!”

However, not all of the AD commentary was exclusively directed at the opposing team. One of the chants that garnered the most laughter from the onlooking crowd addressed the team’s head coach Chad Riley, asking him to put their brother Nick Ford ’17 in the game. One of their favorite chants was also aimed at the rest of the home crowd, speaking of the final members of the derecognized fraternity who are graduating in 2017: “You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!”

Though much of the cheering and taunting elicited laughter, some older fans could be heard whispering in dismay, “that is not very sportsmanlike behavior.”

Still, the few remaining members of AD represent a cross-section of fanaticism at Dartmouth that many find positive.

“I’ve only experienced their support at a fraction of the size they once were, but they’ve still been absolutely hilarious and a huge boost to the team in my couple of years,” said Noah Paravicini ’19, a member of the men’s soccer team. “There’s nothing that makes us happier as players than getting to run over to the bleachers and jump into their section after every goal we score or hearing their chants all throughout games. Dartmouth soccer won’t be the same without their support, and it’s very sad that such a great tradition is going to die out.”

Of course, opportunities for fanaticism exist in many other areas beyond sporting events. For example, the election of President Donald Trump spurred a surge of political activity from students. One particularly controversial event came about when Timothy Messen ’18 wrote a column responding to Trump’s tweet condemning flag burning as justification for jail time and revoked U.S. citizenship. In his article, he argued that in order to prove Trump’s assertion wrong, it is worth at least considering a demonstration of the legal rights that Trump condemned so vehemently. Messen ended his article with an open invitation to discuss the reaches and significance of flag burning with the potential, but not promise, of an actual flag burning to take place after a thorough discussion. However, this discussion took an unexpected turn when not only students but also members of the Rolling Thunder New Hampshire Chapter 2, Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association and the Live Free or Die Riders showed up. In an attempt to show their overall patriotism and opposition to flag burning, these local advocates for veteran and army issues recited the Pledge of Allegiance over Messen’s statement, during which he assured his opponents that he would not burn a flag.

In Messen’s eyes, as well as those of supporters of the ideology that certain rights must be exercised, the act of burning a flag could be deemed necessary and righteous. However, to others, that kind of protest could be deemed fanatical. Likewise, to the people who support flag burning, the members of the local groups who carried flags and signs and spoke over Messen’s statement might seem fanatical. An equally valid argument can be made for the elements of fanaticism from both opposing perspectives. Then, is the definition of fanaticism fickle? Does it really only depend on the perspective of the people in question? Perhaps this is an unsatisfying definition to some, but it gets at the heart of perspective and inclusion. The word fanaticism must be remembered for the purpose it is intended to serve — as a means for communication. It is a way to express a personal opinion of an action that seems to cross the foggy line between acceptable and offensive.

Dartmouth’s community strives to be accepting of all, often times working to avoid potentially offensive situations. For example, religious groups such as Agape Christian Fellowship, Al-Nur Muslim Student Organization, Baptist Student Union, Chabad at Dartmouth and Shanti Hindu Student Organization are intended to be communities for students of the same religious orientation to come together. Rather than an emphasis on external conflict or condemning other religions, each group has an internal focus for students at Dartmouth to observe their respective religions but be openminded. That is to say, events such as Bible studies are commonplace, but picketing the rights of others in a public setting are not been part of the equation.

This is true for many of the solidarity groups on campus as well. The College Republicans and the College Democrats might interact on occasion to discuss and debate political issues, but a boundary of respect that is supposed to be upheld to prevent the offensive effects of fanaticism remains. In fact, this boundary seems to dictate many of the opportunities for fanaticism on campus. Dartmouth students are expected to uphold a certain level of respect when supporting ideas, teams or groups. Groups may host events centered around activism, such as making signs or calling senators, but there is rarely a publically endorsed incident of directly and personally attacking others.

However, there is one area that fanaticism is more excused than in other situations: an obsession with academic and career success seems to be much more acceptable than obsessive passion demonstrated in a religious demonstration or a football game. A large contingent of the student population is interested in entering the highly competitive professional fields of business, medicine and graduate school. A dedication to academics that leaves students in the library until the early hours of the morning, sleep-deprived, caffeine-crazed and potentially even underfed has become a new normal. It seems that students are expected to submit an endless string of applications to jobs, internships and clubs, all while attending every job fair and working countless hours to perfect academic assignments. This kind of passion includes the same kind of negative undertones of the previous definition of fanaticism, as a level of competition and comparison between students comes with the territory. Additionally, it illustrates an example of obsession, which is a key component of fanaticism and at the heart of the modern student’s approach to rigorous academics. A student who is willing to compromise a healthy lifestyle in order to achieve better grades or coveted jobs is certainly exhibiting obsessive behaviors.

What makes this kind of fanaticism — in the form of frantic, often competitive discussions of summer jobs and achievements ­— more acceptable than other forms of all-consuming interest? It comes down to what others deem as acceptable. Students are not punished for overpreparing for exams, writing too many drafts of essays or attending too many office hours. In fact, they are often encouraged to do more of all of the above. However, life at school is less forgiving of obsessive behavior when it comes to sporting events, partying, religious affiliations or political discussions.

Dartmouth supports athletic and extracurricular pursuits, even if they don’t appear to be priorities. The College is much quicker to see behavior around these areas as fanatical and attempt to diminish them.

So, what is the solution? How can the College take a more balanced approach to the decision of what is acceptable or unacceptable? There are certain priorities that need to be considered: the safety, happiness, health and overall success of students being the primary areas of importance. This is not to say that classes should become easier, but healthier approaches to academics should be more effectively encouraged. Additionally, students should be able to express themselves and their interests freely as long as they do not contribute to a disrespectful and hateful environment. It seems, at present, fanatical behaviors are allowed but only when designated appropriate by the institutions at large.