As an ambitious freshman at Yale, I awaited April with glee, hoping that I, too, would one day get initiated into Skull and Bones, Scroll and Key, Dumb and Dumber, and Macaroni and Cheese. Then, after five minutes of fantasizing, my rationality returned. And it was then and there that I decided to form my own society — just as dozens of disappointed secret society rejects have done in years past. And so I am officially announcing the creation of Screen and Bed, wherein on Thursday nights I will watch Must-See TV and on Sunday nights I will sleep.
According to my sources — a top-secret ad right in the pages of this very newspaper — a number of societies began informing people that they would be tapped Thursday. I personally assume that by this time next year, said taps will be shuffling over to High Street where, instead of watching the season finale of Matt LeBlanc’s new show, they will suffer through some faceless entity’s description of her revolting sex life in gory detail.
I know what you’re thinking. I can poke all the fun I want, but secretly most of us agreed with Josh Bendor ’05 when he said that though secret societies are “ridiculous,” it is nevertheless true that “anything that’s selective is therefore exciting if you’re chosen … I wouldn’t call it hypocritical; it’s just two sides of human desire.” (“Pressure mounts as secret society tap night comes knocking,” 4/2). Bendor is absolutely right. The majority of us not planning to enter business or high-stakes government pride ourselves on our egalitarian sides. Many of us keep up the facade for three long years — until the envelope gets taped to our door or we find ourselves standing in the Morse courtyard in a bra and underpants. But should we really betray our egalitarian leanings to engage in long boring nights of listening to other people’s life stories (“And my second grade teacher’s name was Mrs. Wilson”)?
More seriously, however, I just can’t see how further segregation into elite groups will ever help us remember the values that have us idealistically creating organizations like the Student Campaign for Child Survival or 2004ward. We have all heard the conspiracy theories, but I don’t really believe that Skull and Bones is running the world; I fault it more for ever propelling someone like George W. Bush to power. (We might all consider kidnapping the 2005 initiates to ensure that such a thing never happens again.) The only true purpose of a secret society, at this point, is to prevent its members’ friends from being excluded. It would probably be more detrimental to my professional life to get excluded from a really amazing class at Yale than to get excluded from a group named after a beatified Sesame Street character — as in St. Elmo’s. A lot has been made of the exclusivity of secret societies, but ultimately it’s not really that big of a deal. It’s not as though societies exclude people from, say, proper health care, or, I don’t know, marrying someone they love. But that is precisely why the exclusivity is so preposterous. As a group, Yalies are clearly willing to endure a lot so they won’t be excluded — but to gain what, exactly?
From my extensive research on the Internet — clicking on the first ten sites that showed up in Google — it seems that most people trying to defend societies argue that people don’t take them nearly as seriously as “outsiders” think. In that case, why are they shrouded in mystery? The ethos of secret societies has helped the University foster an environment where societies are indulged by having their locations left as blank spots on Yale maps, and even organizations like St. Anthony Hall or the Elizabethan Club — both of which ostensibly have noble, intellectual purposes — become unnecessarily exclusive.
If the egalitarian argument is unappealing, what about the ultimately pathetic nature of the whole endeavor? I’m all for tradition — unless it involves pretending to know how to sing “Bright College Years” — but really. Tombs? Human bones? Cheap Grim Reaper masks? “Tap Night” (ooh, does that involve patent leather shoes?)? Sounds like an Ivy League version of “The Lord of the Flies.” The lack of common sense on an already lacking campus can be palpably felt in mid-April. Indeed, as a friend recently pointed out, it would be preposterously easy for some gangster in a cheap Halloween costume to come knocking at a random Yalie’s door on Tap Night and kidnap him. Chances are 1,000 to 1 that said Yalie would not only cooperate, but would respond to the attacker’s advances with delight.
But secretly, my main opposition to secret societies is the waste of time they represent. I don’t need anyone to choose my friends for me; I have proven myself quite capable of choosing bad friends myself, thank you very much. In any case, I’d rather spend time with my real friends than with a seemingly random people I got to know best when we stood naked together on a prominent part of campus while singing the latest pop song I don’t know. And further, not being much of a partier myself — unless you consider a Shirley Temple and my physics textbook a party — I really don’t need a group of random people to organize my social life. A night with Bob making me drinks at Richter’s — that’s right, in public! — will do just fine.
And so I suggest to the class of 2005: wouldn’t it be really funny if we all just said no?
Jessamyn Blau is a junior in Morse College. Her columns appear on alternate Fridays.