Op-Ed | Bubs’ O-Show skit offends and misleads audience
Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 6, 2012 07:09
Even as a senior, I can’t help peeking into the orientation events held for incoming first-year students every fall. Whether it’s the first night performances by groups like Tufts Bhangra and the Jumbo Jugglers or the inspiring testimonials at Many Stories One Community, I count on orientation to remind me why I chose Tufts. I count on orientation to show me – and the incoming class – what makes our shared campus feel like home.
I’m sad to say that that is not what happened at the a cappella O-Show in Cohen Auditorium Monday night. The voices of my fellow Jumbos were beautiful, and I was thrilled to find a seat among the new students, but what didn’t thrill me was a skit, the final one of the night, which seemed to demonstrate the values of a university I’ve never attended. The skit performed by the Beelzebubs was not representative of Tufts, and should be wildly restructured, if not retired completely.
At the school that taught me social justice, the Bubs’ skit contained jokes that made dangerous light of transphobia, sexual assault, suicide and homophobia, all in a matter of minutes. The premise of the skit is simple. Two Bubs act as the door to a bedroom, another portrays your average Tufts first-year, and the rest rotate the delivery of punch lines, acting out hilariously awful things for a roommate to do on Day One. The skit has the potential to be uproarious; examples like walking in on a masturbating roommate are relatable and funny.
On the other hand, the first joke of the skit is a different story. The “average guy,” we’ll call him Jumbo Joe, walks in to his room. He is greeted by a clearly masculine student who says, in an affectedly deep voice, “Hi, I’m Jessica.” Jumbo Joe turns and runs out of the room. Apparently, a student put forth as trans-identified is the worst thing the Bubs could imagine. Not only that, but trans students as a whole are mocked by the pairing of an irrationally deep voice with a feminine name – the ability to “pass” as cisgender (not trans-identified) determines the entire worth of this imaginary “Jessica.” The Tufts I have advocated to improve, and the Tufts I have seen grow with the changing social climate, would not find this funny at all. Students Against Transphobia formed in the wake of Keith Ablow’s comments last fall, when students expressed feeling offended on their own campus due to the Tufts Medicine affiliated professor’s transphobic comments on Fox News. Institutionally, Tufts now has select areas of gender-neutral housing available, which helps address the concerns of gender-variant students who don’t feel comfortable being placed in on-campus housing based on the sex listed on their legal documents.
This campus was offended when an outlier declared intolerance, and Tufts worked to prove that we don’t support transphobia here. However, that was one person. Keith Ablow does not speak for us. But the Beelzebubs do. They especially speak for us when acting as ambassadors to the incoming class, during orientation itself, and demonstrate what is and isn’t acceptable here. When a transphobic joke is considered funny enough to share on the Cohen stage, it teaches the incoming class that safety is only a surface level concern. It suggests that safety is something for fine print and handbooks, not the actual daily life of students. The Tufts I attend doesn’t believe that, and the Tufts I intend to leave behind when I graduate in May won’t stand for that.
Other jokes in the Bubs’ skit are not much better. One involves Jumbo Joe entering his room and walking directly into his roommate pointing an invisible wand, screeching, “Avada Kedavra, Muggle!” (Avada Kedavra being the murder spell from the Harry Potter series). The spell clearly doesn’t work, so the roommate tries again, prompting Jumbo Joe to leave. Once the roommate is alone, he sullenly looks at the audience, points the imaginary wand to his temple, and whimpers, “Avada Kedavra,” insinuating suicidal ideation.
Anyone who still believes that suicide is a joke has some serious catching up to do. Colleges and universities are doing all they can to demonstrate to incoming students that their institutions are safe and nurturing; Tufts’ own Counseling and Mental Health Services (CMHS) made the rounds at numerous orientation events as well as hosting their own welcome. Of course we know that using a fake magic spell against oneself would never work, but the implication of the joke is that it’s universally funny for a student to feel despondent enough to think about suicide.
Finally, one part of the skit had Jumbo Joe shoved against the door by his roommate, who aggressively draped himself over Jumbo Joe in a sexual manner. When Joe made to protest, the roommate placed a finger over Joe’s lips and murmured, “Shh! No words.” Jumbo Joe attempted to struggle his way out of the unwanted embrace, but the vignette ends before the audience sees what happens to him. This one is complicated; on one hand, no matter what else is at play, this purported joke is finding humor in sexual assault. Jumbo Joe did not demonstrate interest in or consent toward his roommate, and wanted to leave. The very inclusion of this part of the skit may have triggered responses from any number of students in the auditorium who have had experience with sexual assault. Tufts students should know better than to find sexual assault humorous; we take it seriously, and make decisions based on it.