Friday, September 25, 2009

Bleeding Tricolour: Calling it 'Fauxcoming' is a laugh riot

Queen's killing Homecoming — excuse me, moving it to spring — was never about a street party, much less a football game.

It was about how one extreme breeds the other. This weekend typically would be homecoming at Queen's, with the Golden Gaels' football game vs. the York Lions serving as a centrepiece.

Instead, it's just another regular-season game, even as "Kingston hoteliers report strong business from Queen's graduates who plan to come to Kingston this weekend" (Whig-Standard) for what the kids are calling 'Fauxcoming.' Since the York-Queen's game figures to be a cakewalk, they can't all be coming for the game. The street party on Aberdeen St. is on like the fall of Saigon, which is what it has come to resemble.

What we had at Richardson Stadium was too good to lose. As Duane Rollins noted at the time of the decision to scrap Homecoming last November, "... we in Canada don't do nearly enough to take full advantage of homecoming weekends. Queen's was an exception." The mature reaction is to understand why something so valuable was lost.

It is a laugh riot to see the lack of perspective, on all sides. Nothing will change until those at either extreme get over themselves and admit they are each full of excrement. At one extreme is people carrying out the Ontario government's agenda of getting more in people's faces than it has been at any point in relevant memory. The other extreme is people who are just out for a good time, come hell or a Ford Focus going up in flames.

The students and the partiers have acted like idiots and it's yob culture and a mob mentality run amok. They might be the least to blame in a fiasco which will probably only be curtailed when someone gets killed, but it will persist until someone tries to understand it, instead of just trying to sweep it under the rug. What you have seen is a classic example of what happens when the upper hand is held by Baby Boomers, the generation which wants to wield power without having to account for its actions. They run this zero-tolerance game on the younger generation, and then wonder why they get this rebellion against nothing. What did we do?

The government does a lot for the populace, but you can see traces of its high-handedness in everyday life in Ontario. All sorts of admittedly anecdotal examples abound. The volume of speeding tickets handed out has increased markedly in the past five years, although people are not necessarily driving any faster. A community group cannot hold a bake sale or a potluck dinner without getting a visit from a health inspector (seriously). High schools suspend students at the drop of a hat (this is anecdotal, but at one of my previous jobs, I had to edit a story about suspension statistics for the local school board, and the numbers worked out to more than one person-day per student, really). You go to a Blue Jays game at Rogers Centre and those staffing the beer concession wear "We ID Under 30" buttons, rendering service-sector workers into rent-a-cops.

Why? They can. Might equals right, especially for a province which has seen its industrial base decline and needs the revenue. There is also probably trace amounts of the creeping corporatism which is hijacking higher education.

There are many people who service that agenda: The Queen's administration, Kingston police, the knobs on city councils past and present such as Bill Glover and Don Rogers and their echo chamber of fusspots who believe a city's relationship with its university should be a one-way street.

Please understand that this has turned universities to paranoid public relations vehicles. It's on them to realize this is total BS and show some leadership, rather than goose-stepping along. Universities are on the hot seat over any damaging, negative publicity, more so than at any point in recent memory. They're worried about applications dropping and losing funding rather than, you know, understanding that young people have feel like they're being trusted. If they're not, they will push back, hard.

All of this is heightened further since it is so easy to report anything, click a cellphone camera, upload it to Facebook and watch it spread like wildfire.

That might explain why universities are so quick to come down on bad behaviour, without necessarily going to the root of the problem.

You saw it last week when Carleton University suspended its women's soccer team for two games over — well, no one is exactly sure. They just slapped a media-friendly label on it — "hazing incident" — and hoped people would accept that it was many times worse than what has gone on for decades with jocks and alcohol, even though it was probably only worse by a small percentage. (That is not to say the students didn't deserve a wrist-slap.)

It's a similar story at Queen's, where the admin folks are acting in this top-down, we-know-what-is-best way. Just have homecoming in May and go to bed with a clean conscience.

Never mind that it took the most craven way out by only trying to craft the most cynical Official Response. What was Oscar Wilde's great line about cynics? They know the price of everything and the value of nothing. The football game was a great conduit for the Queen's spirit, as a young woman named Stephanie Fusco noted at So Bitter It's Sweet:
"Each year, I have attended the Homecoming football game ... Each year, I have had an immense surge of pride at seeing the most senior of alumni, eyes brimming with tears, being driven around the track at Richardson Stadium in golf carts while waving to thousands of cheering students ... during a recent conversation with some fourth year and recently graduated students, we all agreed that the best part of Homecoming is the interaction we get to have with the alumni – whether at the football game, the QP, walking around campus, or even, as the case may be, during kegstands on Aberdeen. This year, I’m faced with the reality that I may never get to experience this myself, and that this very special moment where we are movingly connected as students with the alumni is gone. I will never get to experience the tradition of Homecoming. In fact, I may be relegated to doing the Oil Thigh alone in my bedroom each September to retain my connection to the school."
That is something to share with the ivory-tower types who were constitutionally incapable of connecting with people and hoping to push them in a positive direction. It's on a scale a million times smaller, but it calls to mind George W. Bush after Sept. 11 only being able to offer Americans, "Go shopping."

The Queen's heirarchy cannot honestly believe shifting homecoming is a remedy. That is like some latter-day Dorothy tapping her ruby-red slippers together and saying, "I want them to stay home ... I want them to stay home." Say it all you want, it won't make it happen, twitbags.

Meantime, the Kingston media seems to range between a soft paternalism and (ha!) appealing to reason. No offence, but that is just party line-towing.

Throwing out loaded terms such as "booze-drenched" and "disruptive, illegal and increasingly dangerous street parties" in a tsk-tsk tone doesn't help. That kind of comes off as pandering to the easily shocked set. What does it do to increase understanding of how to fix this mess? The same goes for The Queen's Journal saying, "Let's use the sense that got us into Queen's."

That is propping up a subtle form of age discrimination. Like Chris Hitchens says, "To be young in America" — or America Jr. — "is to be constantly told to buckle up, wear a bike helmet, weaer a condom, avoid risk, watch your intake, show your ID at all times, and respect the world of political correctness and safe sex that curmudgeons like me have so considerately left to you." Small wonder that those raised in a don't-do-that environment push back. Shame on those who ignore such a reality.

Queen's does have to address its history of children of privilege acting out in Kingston like it's their personal country club. The attitude is so ingrained at the school — work hard, play hard. You gotta be a little selfish to make it in this life, but a small minority have taken it too far at Queen's, with people who have no formal connection to the school jumping on the bandwagon. (Perhaps other universities might wonder why their students are so unstimulated that they have to leave town for a good time.) You only rent the Queen's tradition for four years and leave it in good condition for the next tenant; you don't own it.

Students, especially those who think the Aberdeen St. party is a tradition (it isn't, speaking as someone who lived there in 1997-98), have lost sight of their role. You have a bunch of children, mostly white and upper middle class, rebelling against nothing. These kids who are out there overturning cars and getting sloppy drunks are the same ones who will be defending the status quo in another 10 or 15 years. It affirms those who push hardest against the established order usually end up thriving within it eventually, just like the Boomers did.

It is hypocritical for the university to not address this and get people to realize they are something bigger than themselves. Students need an outlet to blow off steam and the old guard in Kingston are going to have to manage the situation. Having a police-state mentality, no one wants that. They have failed miserably.

This is not a sports story, per se, but the hysterical ignorance has affected the Queen's football team in a negative way. They deserve better. The university threw a great football tradition under the bus because it was afraid to be a leader in its own community. That sucks.

One of the subtle touches of the homecoming game is that Queen's is that graduating players are introduced before the game begins, rather than the starting offence or defence. It might be the only time someone who is a backup or a special-teamer hears his name called on the Richardson Stadium PA. They won't get that this season or next.

Current fifth-year players such as Jimmy Allin, Dan Brannagan, Scott Valberg and Matt Vickers have sacrificed too much to have it taken away because some people were too selfish to see the big picture.

Queen's says it's about leaders. Instead, it has struck a blow for being a selfish, short-sighted follower. That's not the university many alumni attended, nor is it one they wish to support in the future, beyond cheering for the football team and other varsity squads to kick ass with class, because that's how we roll.

Cha Gheill!


Anonymous said...

Actually, Rogers got turfed in the 2006 election, in favour of Bill Glover, who can be equally disdainful of students. At least Glover doesn't go around photographing students in an attempt to shame them.

Anonymous said...

You seem to have a passion and knowledge of anything have you ever thought of trying to get a job at The Whig?

Andrew Bucholtz said...

Good points, Neate. A lot of the junk that went on around Homecoming was absolutely stupid, and I think most students realize that. However, cutting the entire weekend is the wrong move, and it's horrible for Queen's Athletics; Leslie Dal Cin told me last year that their income from Homecoming weekend events is enough to run two smaller fall sports for a year. I wouldn't have objected to further efforts to prevent or control the street party, but canceling the weekend hurts Queen's sports and takes away one of the most memorable moments of the year. It may be politically correct and help the university's image, but it's hurting their athletic department and their school spirit.

Amrit Ahluwalia said...

Absolutely. What both sides (stodgy staff and spoilt students, id I was writing a Horrible Histories book) keep forgetting about is the impact all this has on our football team, and athletics program as a whole.

Further, the idiocy of students trying to revive the Aberdeen Street Party "tradition" in an effort to bring back Homecoming seems to be completely lost on them. NEWSFLASH: Homecoming's been cancelled...err...postponed because of the damn street party.

It's so unfortunate that what's come of all this is the need for immense physical force from law enforcement agents. What's worse, is any moron who's out there and who gets injured will surely be declared some sort of martyr for the Aberdeen cause. It's a vicious. self-perpetuating circle, and I don't know the answer.

Anonymous said...

Neate, bang on.

I think a slightly shorter version of this post should be sent to the Whig and/or Journal as an op-Ed. It's the best position taken yet about the insanity that has decended onto the Queen's campus in the past decade.

sager said...

Thanks for the compliment. Since I seem to be radioactive to Kingston media, I'll presume I'll get polite brush-off.

Greg said...

Neate, this is an excellent post. I think you're absolutely right.

For me, Homecoming always was about connecting to something larger than myself. In spite of the fact Queen's is a small-ish school, it's still a very isolating place at times. Sometimes you forget that, aside from earning a degree from one of the country's finest schools and all the benefits that come from that, you do lose sight of the larger community and connections sometimes when you're at Queen's (or any university for that matter). Homecoming was the only day where I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself at Queen's without the typical judgments or reservations that come with attending the place.

It's a tremendous shame it's been hijacked by PC thugs with axes to grind because they're too institutionalized to see how their actions ruined this.

I'm glad Tom Williams is leaving as Queen's Principal.

Anonymous said...

Bill Glover has had to deal with residents complaints for years now. He might have gone for shutting this down several years ago as literally hundreds of phone calls have been going right to him for years over this mess.

The fact is that residents are paying very high property taxes here. I've had to deal with passed out students in my drive way, stripped siding off of my home which would mean replacing the entire house siding, beer bottles all over my yard and drive and in the street, being threatened by drunken out of control party goers in front of my house just for looking out the window, being afraid to even think of sitting outside during this debacle.

I'm sorry but, the time for talking this over and compromising is over. That was tried on all sides and every year the students invited more and more people from every area of the country here. Last year while traveling through D.C. I met a young guy from Saudi Arabia who had heard of the wild party here in Kingston! To have five to eight thousand people coming here just to raise hell every year is not a "homecoming" event.

This is not a very big area at all. We cannot contain such a large out of control gathering. I've got NO problem with homecoming party goers keeping the laws and by laws of this city however that has never happened. The last five years have been a nightmare for residents around this university.

Homecoming was reasonably quiet this year for the first time in recent memory. I'm not sorry it's shut down and two years isn't long enough. I've seen families move out of this area more than once over this. Homecoming USED to be great when this was still mostly a mixed area but, with the expansion of Queen's and the lack of understanding of a lot of these out of towners and their hosts it got out of control. Everything that could be tried was tried. Nothing worked. I hope it never is allowed to open back up the way it was. It was miserable, frightening and dangerous.

The student passed out in my driveway was so sick with alcohol poisoning I was worried he might not make it. Another year, I needed to go to emergency due to a situation with my son being ill and couldn't get there very well with all the streets full of drunks, when I did arrive there our emergency was full of sickened party goers. We already have had doctors here warn that it was heading for a tragedy.

The Aberdeen street party was not just affecting Aberdeen. I live seven blocks from there. This entire area had to pay. Some of my neighbors took to leaving town and hoping nothing else happened to their property while away that night.

I'm tired of the residents being portrayed as people who haven't had to put up with law breaking and dangerous situations over this and property damage. We've dealt with it year after year and nothing happened except more of the same. If YOU were paying as much as we are for your home you would not want to deal with this either. It's unreasonable to expect this to be allowed to go on.

The football game is fine. Having alumni come here is fine. This huge street partying with thousands coming from out of town who are neither Queen's students or alumni of Queen's has to be stopped. I encourage all residents to thank the police and Bill Glover for a job well done this year and to keep it up. Queen's students are not entitled to destroy the peace and property of the people who live here year around.

sager said...

It's understood where you're coming from, but have you ever stopped for a second and questioned why the young people are pushed to act that way?

The 'no' environment kids grow up in now has been forced on them by a lot of hypocritical Baby Boomers. These kids feel powerless, so of course they end up against nothing.

Meantime, maybe if this province invested better in education, they could build more residences.

Face it, the so-called adults created this mess. They have tried to run "zero tolerance" on a generation of kids and found they got this instead, and no one is shocked. That does suck that property got damaged.

AlwaysOUA said...

A really good article Neate. I appreciate all the points in there, and there definitely has to be some serious examination of the situation.

The fact is that the majority of students here (I know because I am one) couldn't care less about the street party. What we care about is the event and what it brings: the return of the alumni that preceded us, more than 200 people at a football game, a celebration of the institution we attend. An intoxicated congregation of loiterers isn't really an attraction for anyone.

I am sympathetic to what the city has gone through with this, but the community has been a catalyst for the disaster they hate. Constant complaints on a local, national, and continental level have drawn more people. Constant chastising of those who take part in Homecoming have led to more animosity and anger when these events take place within the Queen's community (from both students and alumni), and the arguments for moral superiority are just an attempt kick to the groin we have no tolerance for. The fact is that the people who complain now did the exact same stuff, but years of living putting up with Kingston's more important and difficult problems have just increased the bitterness and desire to pick on the university community.

The fact is Kingston has become a city where kids get ticketed for public intoxication on a friday night, but the homeless who drink tall cans of Carling Ice in Victoria Park at 10:30 am on a Wednesday by a children's playground don't even get a talking-to. You'll have your house scoured if there are allegations of a kegger inside, but if there is a break-in the on-site officer will take a look at the window they came through and leaving instead of following procedure which demands photos and finger prints (the latter is a true story which happened to a friend. thousands of dollars of property was taken in April and there has been no contact from the KPD since. A $100 drinking ticket for having an open beer however which was appealed on the basis that it wasn't filled out properly (grounds for dismissal in Ontario) was overturned, re-written, and charged on the spot).

The Homecoming dilemma goes much deeper than a street party. It's the convergence between 3 parties who refuse to talk to each other and hope the problem disappears. It needs to be addressed and solved. Queen's needs to have a real Homecoming. I will be bitching and complaining until it happens because I want to be the guy in the golf cart riding around Richardson during my 50th reunion.

-Chris from Always OUA

Superfun happy slide said...

'Concerned citizens' or 'concerned homeowners' are likely the most over used terms in municiple government. All universities experience a degree of backlash when the kids come back to town in September. Granted, Homecoming at Queens, or at least what it evolved into, is a different type of beast. Still, the loss of this type of celebration does nothing to further the specticle that Canadian university sports could become.

I can distinctly remember my landlord, sitting in a folding chair on his lawn, with a garden hose in hand, ready to repulse the hords of drunken students during my time at Western. Like most issues of municiple concern, the student issue, is just another reason for some members of the community to become politically active. Trust me, those who are civic minded enough to moan about the kids would find something else to complain about if the students issue were to disappear altogether.

The complainers essentially define themselves by seeking out these types of 'moral' causes. If we've learned anything from religious fundamentalist it is that those who are so motivated to act seek to bring attention upon themselves as much as the issue they are championing.

Although I make sure I refrain from wearing yellow during football season I am saddened by the loss of the fall-timed Queens Homecoming. I sincerely hope that all in the debate can find some way to re-structure the event and make it happen again.

Go Stangs Go

Dave said...

Just returned from Ireland, where recently the All-Ireland (Gaelic) Football Final was held. The entire nation sporting jerseys, flags flying from virtually every hydro pole, and for the inter-county AMATEUR final, 83,000 people attended Croke Park (the Gaelic Athletic Association's private-boxed stadium which is home to only amateur sport except the fact it is currently on loan to soccer and rugby while Dublin's other stadium at Lansdowne is being rebuilt). The stadium is nicer and bigger than most NFL playpens, and here's a country of only 4 million or so. But they have a passion for sport. They mitigate the inevitable few problem-causers to the benefit of the majority who love sport.

We don't in Canada. Our stadiums crumble, our teams leave, we just accept it and sooth ourselves in the illusions of "more money for healthcare". We suck.

There will always be sh*theads. Other countries beef up security/police/ambulance service for these events so that the 1% don't ruin the fun for the rest of us. Not here. Bread not circuses. We are no longer a sporting nation. We suck.