Playing With Fire

by Dan Rothfarb | 10/19/01 5:00am

Homecoming. By its very name and nature, it tells us that Dartmouth is and forever will be our home. For our 'shmen and 'shwomen (I love that word) for whom this place is still rather new, it is a bold affirmation that this is your new home. Well, that's the popular opinion, anyway. For me Homecoming just made me want to go home. I'd like to relate that to you, but, honestly, I don't want to put a damper on anyone's weekend. So here are my thoughts on Homecoming, as fair as I can render them.

There's something primal about fire. Homecoming at Dartmouth has always been, and will probably always be, associated with a big freakin' fire. Then if you add intoxicating beverages, as many do, and some ritual behavior (running around in circles) and chanting, and then ceremonial garb (can you say "class jerseys?"), you've got all the makings of a pagan ritual. I don't mean this in the monotheistic sense -- that "pagan" = bad -- but merely to call attention to what is going on.

I'm not in love with Homecoming. I have some vague sense of school pride, I suppose. Not enough to revel in it in a night of rejoicing. I like the little things: walking across the Green alone in the wee hours of the morning, complaining about the service at the Big Green Bean, and somehow getting through each term despite seriously self-destructive habits. In these, I feel my personal connection to Dartmouth. Homecoming and all the regalia associated with it are based on impersonal things, group-mentality and overarching bonds that gloss over our individuality for just a little while. Not to say that one is better than the other, but that in an institution that values individuality, we must recognize when we let go of that value, even when it is appropriate to do so.

Letting go of individuality for a little while is the source of the Homecoming fervor. From the behavior to the clothing to the singing and chanting, uniformity is the key to it all. Being a face in the crowd carries a great deal of excitement, and that excitement increases the more you let go of your self-consciousness (one place where I get hung up) and suspend your doubts and your questions.

If you are questioning why everyone cares so much, why this tradition got started, why our sports teams should matter to us, why the entire campus must rally together behind such a bizarre ritual, then you, like me, are unapologetically missing the point. The point requires everyone to just accept it. The point requires that we fall in line with an arbitrary course of actions determined by our predecessors. If you still find yourself questioning things, then you probably won't be quite as excited about Homecoming as most everyone else. Don't worry: I still don't know what the big deal is either, and I'm a senior.

The rest of you guys and gals, and especially you '05s: if you're inclined to go with the flow, enjoy yourselves, by all means, but please take heed to my geezer-ish advice. Don't let go completely. Specifically, here are a few things I hope you keep in mind despite all the excitement.

  1. Rushing the field will mess with your life. I remember my freshman year, a guy rushed the field and was elected '02 class president for our first two years. Wait, that's a bad example. Right. Rushing the field is truly senseless, though. Just because something is tradition doesn't mean it should be repeated. The phrase "history repeats itself" is meant to have a negative connotation, after all.

  2. Seniors -- standing around the ring of 'shmen and physically forcing them to stay in there is a very popular activity. This is sick. Are we that far gone with our Homecoming zeal that we must get forceful and violent? None of this ever gets reported, since there's no time to look back at who pushed you when a sea of a thousand faces is charging you from behind, but this practice is not safe, and it's particularly not fun for the people who are already not enjoying the event. If someone wants out, let them out. Come on. For the claustrophobic sons and daughters of Dartmouth.

  3. Climbing the bonfire. I don't think I have to explain why those who do this have let way too much of their rational decision-making go. Don't climb the bonfire. It's burning, for God's sake if not your own. Fire bad. Bad 'shmen! No, no!

  4. Pushing the people in front of you in that circle. Yes, I know it's a trample-or-be-trampled situation, but take it easy, guys. From above, it looks like a transverse wave that only gets faster and faster (and more dangerous) as it goes around.

Homecoming can be a lot of fun (for most people), and it can remain a Dartmouth tradition for as long as there is wood to burn. So don't screw it up for yourselves now, ya hear? Hold hands, sing, watch the fire burn, run to your heart's content, and almost let the moment carry you away ... but don't let the moment or the beer carry you away to the bad place.

As for me, I can't complain too much. As silly as the tradition is, I'm happy and lucky to have alumni coming back to see me this weekend. In a way, this silly ritual will always mean for me and my friends a good, symbolic time to come home. And maybe one day derive a sick satisfaction from watching 'shmen-kabobs run around that fire. Who knows?

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