May 5, 2010

A Trip Down Inappropriate Lane

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It’s been a long four years, four years of new friends, lots of books and witnessing an incalculable amount of inappropriate actions — so many of the latter that it’s hard for us to isolate particular memories in our minds (but we enjoyed all of them).

For our last column of the year, we at Outer Limits wanted to take a more philosophical approach (even more than usual).

In a highly scientific survey advertised by e-mail and Facebook (this is our second survey, so we’re really good at this), we asked the one question that this entire column is based on: “What is the most socially inappropriate event or thing that you have witnessed during your time here at Cornell?”

Looking at 31 total responses to the survey, some tendencies that emerged from the answers ranged from anecdotes about sexual antics — with inappropriate people, like a professor, or in inappropriate places, like a well-lit common room (six responses) — to memories of people treating the world of Ithaca as their bathroom (three responses).

There were even two responses that pinpointed Collegetown chase scenes as the most inappropriate events they could recall. One responder wrote, for example: “A friend was being chased down College Avenue by a drunken acquaintance, she started screaming ‘rape!’ at the top of her lungs, followed by, ‘I love black people!’ for no reason whatsoever.”

We can’t say for sure what we would do if we encountered any of the above situations, but one trend is that these acts that have been deemed “socially inappropriate” were often fueled by alcohol.

Just last weekend, one of us was walking down College Avenue during the 1:30 a.m. exodus from the bars and observed an incredibly drunk guy (doesn’t that line start many a great story?) sitting in an alleyway, who all of the sudden started to pick up items from a crack in the ground in front of him … and eat them.

In this case, intoxication led to a lack of PFAF (Proper Food Awareness Factor). People eat ants on the show Fear Factor, not traditionally in real life.

This is not to say that drinking automatically leads to socially unacceptable behavior — but since judgment is one of the first things to go when you’re drunk, you could say that drunken behavior is a window onto the way people would behave if they didn’t have the rules of society breathing down their necks.

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being “extremely open-minded,” the vast majority of our survey responders labeled themselves as a 4 or a 5. This finding has been confirmed by our own experiences.

We Cornellians tend to think that we have pretty flexible definitions of what is socially appropriate. But every respondent but one had at least one clear memory of something that seemed completely “inappropriate.”

This was one of our favorites from the survey answers: “A couple making out on the Arts Quad in the middle of the day … don’t mind the making out but she was lying on top of him and they were grinding their pelvises. Pelvic thrusts on Arts Quad = not okay unless you are Elvis.”

(We know, the gag reflex is hard to contain.)

Does this mean that there is a limit to what is acceptable, even on a college campus as tolerant as Cornell? Is there a line, or several, that just can’t be crossed?

Over the past semester, we have passed out Valentines to strangers in the library, exhibited strange behavior at the movie theater, codified the laws of occupying library space, explored the social standards in another country and done homework at a bar in our pajamas — all in the name of finding out the true nature of what is socially acceptable in modern times here at Cornell.

Bottom line: What we have learned, while writing this column and over the last four years, is that we’re supposed to be testing the limits while we’re in college.

And now it seems that we have reached the limit of Outer Limits, at least with we two social scientists at the helm. We would like to thank all our co-conspirators, all those who gave us insight into these complicated topics — by responding to a survey, giving us feedback on the column or whatever other method by which you gave us much-appreciated support.

In this world where the shaking of hands has been replaced by the grabbing of butts, our humble hope is that this column will serve as an outlet for a dialogue on the silent but deadly rules of our society.

Maybe this is the mark of a good education that we’re willing to examine our behavior — not to accept the way things are, but ask why they are that way.

So our final instruction — our parting words of advice — are to keep on pushing the limits and creating new ones. RLD

Original Author: Allie Perez