Ethical Condundrum

One day, the campus exploded in controversy. For it seems that on the previous night, someone or ones had thought it best to use strings of Christmas tree lights to fashion a huge, quite naughty hand gesture, high up in the second-story window outside one of the dorms and in full view of the freshman quad.

This would not have been such a big deal had it been, say, a defiant fist, or even the immortal, beloved middle finger, and not what it was. The gesture (I am told) consisted of a raised fist with a very peculiar configuration of fingers sticking out. Now I probably would have just thought it some au currant form of protest by the Students with Disabilities against the Latinos over some disputed corner of the student center. I would have been wrong. Apparently, it has much more to do with postmodern sexual practices involving at least one female. In the interest of all that is decent, I will not repeat the name of the gesture here. Suffice it to say that news of its erection (albeit short-lived) had spread like disease, and soon the entire community was gripped in an atmosphere of excitement. And when there’s excitement, you can res assured someone will be angry. And anger leads to fear, and fear leads to regret, but somewhere in between fear and regret, there is protest. A mob of angry torches and pitchforks headed straight for the Dean’s house, stopping only briefly at the snack bar to cash in on dinner points. Walk-in hours is whenever an angry mob of coeds says it is.

But let us now look into the mind of this Dean who, I’m not afraid to tell you because I know you will know this is merely a statement of fact and not part of some secret misogynistic agenda, happened to be a woman. And like all women, she knew right away this was a delicate matter. On the one hand, the college enforces strict freedoms of speech upon its student body. On the other hand, this was some pretty offensive speech. This situation was what small group leaders refer to as a conundrum. Now realize that we are a first rate Ivy League equivalent and that a dean here (there of six of them at any given time) is not just some frustrated sociology professor, but a frustrated sociology professor at an Ivy League equivalent. So they take their conundrums seriously. “What! That’s an outrage! Free speech be damned, that’s disquisting!” If her well rounded liberal arts background had taught her anything, it was that this act could only be described as a quasi-fascist assault with neo-modernistic underpinnings and gothic overhangs. It was probably against penguins too. And maybe, just maybe, there was a school regulation against that. She had thought too much already. The mob stirred. She would have to act fast to avoid the irreversible question, “Who’s side are you on anyway?”

She picked up the red phone and made that sort of raised finger gesture an important person makes when they pick up a phone in a room with other people (usually an office or Starbucks).

The coeds were still. Soon, a man’s voice on the other end, sort of a local blend of Eastern hockey coach and NYPD Blue rerun. Trust me. You could do worse around here. The voice told her not to worry. The fire-marshal had gotten the college out of ethical conundrums before, and he would not fail them this time. Oh yes, the lights were a definite fire hazard and a threat to all, including and especially penguins. Fires are no joke. Everyone knows that. Even the Latinos know that. (Whether it is something they can accept…)

As expected, the school paper did a story. The next week, several inarticulate letters to the editor from impassioned students. And the week after that, from the professors, whose arguments were sound, but did not resonate. Salman Rushdie declined to come and give a talk, his spokesman politely emailing how that was not really his thing anymore, at least, not for under ten grand. And so the new rules took hold, and students removed tiny Christmas tree lights from their windows—to the other side of their rooms. Some even got rid of their lights altogether because of a rumor that violators really were being executed.

A wave of atonement swept across the entire campus. Many undergrads stopped shaving, while others denounced sex altogether (especially those who had not had it). Some of the women put on veils, partly out of ignorance, and partly, just in case. The wave grew. Students looked for new ways to atone. Overdue library books were turned in, parking fines paid, cars were registered. Pete Resnick (Lacross) tried to register his girlfriend, which backfired as she ended up being sent back to the Ukraine. Who could have known? But the Dave Matthews band did come and give a show because it was on their schedule. This seemed to make everyone feel more at the center of things. Crisis over.

Où sont tes héros aux corps d'athlètes / Où sont tes idoles mal rasées, bien habillées / Dans leurs yeux des dollars / Dans leurs sourires des diamants / Moi aussi un jour je serai beau comme un Dieu / Apollon deux mille zéro défaut vingt et un an / C'est l'homme ideal charme au masculin