School pride is a very strange thing.
I have often found myself comparing it to patriotism or nationalism, however the funny thing with that comparison is that I often relate nationalism to racism. Hmm.
Since arriving in Berkeley in the fall of 2012 I have been able to experience the elucidating pleasures of the pep rally, the monotone dictatorship of the American football chants and a lot of pricks wearing a lot of Cal merchandise. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, I’m just saying that it’s quite a strange thing for me, as I’m simply not used to it. At my university in London, and at most British universities, very few people care about this kind of thing, no one really attends sporting events and only occasionally will you see certain attendees of Oxbridge sporting their schools jumper along with scarf, deck shoes and history of elitist inbreeding. Most other schools simply don’t buy into it.
In comparison to Berkeley’s many stores that feel it necessary to sell paper that has a bear on it, my university in London simply has a small corner shop that sells hoodies, water bottles and key chains and even then the main custom is found by way of London’s population of wandering Asian tourists. Some things then are universal. (That just there was a joke about the huge Asian population on the UC Berkeley campus, people here do that a lot whilst pretending not to be racist, so I thought I’d have a crack.)
Even now, one semester into my stay here, I find myself bewildered about the huge fuck everyone seems to give. The most aware I became of this was at the Cal vs Oregon American football game. I noticed that for some reason UC Berkeley seems to have hired about 3 guys who like to wear brown chinos and who really like to shout random shit at a crowd of people whilst they are wearing said chinos in hope that the crowd will repeat what they have just shouted in a way that doesn’t sound shit and conceited. And, apart from the last bit about it all sounding very shit and conceited they pretty much nailed it.
If this occurred at a (genuine) football game in England this is how it would play out:
Dude in brown chinos: "Every body repeat after me… Roll on you Bears…Roll on you Bears!"
Crowd: “YOUR CHINOS ARE SHIT … YOUR CHINOS ARE SHIIIIT …The Dude at the front… YOUR CHINOS ARE SHIT!”
This difference I have found to be quite huge. Let me explain: from what I have gathered quarterbacks at high school in America are very popular and get more than their share of girls. Most of what I have gathered is admittedly based on High School Musical, so I have decided to believe that most of said quarterbacks (or basketball central persons) do not also have musical talent and that they choose to attend to the awaiting onslaught of sluts rather than pursuing an inexplicably hot transfer student whom is good at math(s) but also has a convenient musical talent. In contrast, I was the captain of my high school football team for a while, a seeming equivalent, but seeing as though no one from my high school came to watch any of our games it is understandable that there was no slut onslaught waiting for me. Bummer. Although to be honest, I’m not even sure if my high school had any kind of mascot, I think we were ‘The Sheep’, but I’m not sure whether that was meant in its singular or plural sense. Nonetheless, I doubt that a lot of sheep is that much more intimidating than one sheep, so I shan’t worry about it too much.
At many sporting occasions here at Berkeley, and I imagine it to be similar at other American universities, people are picked on quite nastily for wearing a shirt that is the color associated with a rival school. Hundreds of people shout mercilessly at a single outcast person until they have removed that particular item of clothing. Here’s the punchline: It’s almost as if the American student population aren’t aware that people’s choice of clothes do not necessarily match, through the random and arbitrary association of color, their actual views, opinions and sporting inclinations. Boom. I mean I have literally witnessed huge groups of people scream ‘TAKE OFF THAT RED SHIRT!’ (Stanford colours) at a certain individual until said individual is forced, out of embarrassment and a retarded version of shame, to take of said red shirt.
Again, if this were to take place at an English university I think it would play out as such:
Crowd: "Take off that red shirt!"
Dude in red shirt: “No! Collectively you are a cunt.”
Admittedly I did try and get involved with the spirit of things here, I mean I tried to join in the chants of ‘GO BEARS!’ at the American football games but I always found that I was too self aware to take it seriously. I understand that people embrace school pride to feel a part of something and that is no bad thing in itself, it is only when you take that sense of belonging to the extreme of excluding people from that community just because they are wearing a red shirt or something equally arbitrary that the comparisons to nationalism and racism can come about. I simply made this extreme comparison for comic effect but there is some truth to it and it is for this small reason that I can’t immerse myself into the overwhelming school pride that resides on this campus. So although the films make out school pride to be a glorious and all-encompassing thing (‘films’ = High School Musical) we need to remember that these people actually think that they, as academic communities, are a bear, and that’s just a little bit weird.
By Daniel Cooke