Student finds Singled Out offensive

Singled Out is one of the more inane shows on television. I haven’t seen it in a while, but it used to star the tremendously talentless and dim-witted Jenny McCarthy and some moron emcee who proceeds to ask stupid and dull questions to the datee, a blindfolded young man or woman, and to the hopeful daters, a gallery of the opposite sex, depending on the datee. There is also an audience, smartly dressed and hormonally driven in that MTV way, that hoots and hollers the entire time and loves every second of the 30 minute program. The questions usually revolve around personal grooming habits, appearance, and sometimes there are double entendres, so a question category entitled “melons,” instead of being about fruit, is really about breast-size! Fabulous!

So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I found out that Williams College would reenact its own version of Singled Out for Winter Carnival right on Chapin Steps. I was in Baxter with some friends, and thought I would try to catch some of the show.

I was greeted with the image of the prize, Adonis himself, a ray-banned young Williams buck seated on the Singled Out throne. There were some lovely ladies ala Vanna White on the young man’s side, and in the center of it all, Pat Sajak, the emcee. To the side were the prospective daters, 15 or 20 female contestants.

As the weeding out process began, the emcee began asking the contestants questions, and if their answers agreed with that of Adonis, they would move to the next round. The questions about boobs and alluding to eating disorders were borderline offensive/amusing, kind of like how I find Sir Mix-a-Lot and 2 Live Crew so awful you can’t help but laugh.

The emcee was apt in his role, clever and funny, keeping the crowd entertained, and the game moving along nicely. But then things took a wrong turn.

Like Marc Sommers on Nickelodeon’s Double Dare, the emcee, working the crowd like George Soros is philanthropic, had four contestants perform a physical challenge revolving around whether or not they would and how much they could “swallow.”

Whoa.

These four girls took off their coats, got on their knees, tilted their heads back, and had masses of whipped cream shot all over their faces and in their mouths, while the crowd stomped and cheered. Meanwhile, the emcee made appropriately gross comments about “seeing how much they could swallow,” “creaming in their mouths,” and “shooting it all over their faces.”

Ummm.

When it was over, the emcee went from contestant to contestant, gauging the audience’s reaction, to see who would go on to the next round and who would be eliminated.

“How about contestant #4? She swallowed like a champ! Hell, she’s still licking it off!”

It was interesting to watch the contestants reactions move from one of mildly amused “Ho ho, oral sex, very funny,” to a more dazed “I cannot believe what just went on.” The girl who “lost” rushed embarrassedly off, wiping her face as she went.

Emcee went on: “Can we get some coke bottles for this next physical challenge? Hey, can I give someone some singles and they can run to the machine and bring back three Coke bottles?” They must be thirsty. How generous.

It just kept going. The emcee to Adonis: “You like a girl with endurance, someone who can go for a long time, right?”

“Uh. Yeah.”

“Okay, so I’ve got some balloons here, and we’re going to see how hard these girls can BLOW!”

Crowd: “Yaaaaaay!”

I left at this point. I felt uncomfortable. Most of the crowd stayed however, so they were either fine with what was going on, or too drunk to care.

Apparently I had missed many other golden moments when a bunch of guys vied for dates with the singled out girl. These included a homophobic tirade by one of the male contestants, more contests alluding to guzzling semen (bottles of Nantucket Nectars), and physical challenges like “ravage box,” in which the male contestants had to mangle and shred a cardboard box as quickly as possible (this stunt, the emcee was quick to note, was never actually performed).

I couldn’t really tell how the contestants felt about everything. They stayed, obviously, and performed these feats of oral dexterity, but they were trapped, in a way, by the pressure of a cheering crowd, and the knowledge they’d be heckled for being bad sports if they dared walk off, or (God forbid) say something.

Taking place in a public forum legitimizes, in a sense, such behavior, even if it’s in jest, and this legitimization makes it very difficult for people to speak out against the events. I was surprised that this tripe could possibly be sponsored by the College as a part of the Winter Carnival festivities.

What was also shocking was the sheer number of people present who couldn’t figure out why this display, in the middle of campus, was offensive and demeaning. Or maybe they did, but just kept their mouths shut.

An interesting footnote: the emcee is the also instructor for the women’s self-defense class, and former president of Men Against Sexual Assault. Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse.

I talked with him, to tell him that I would be writing an opinion piece, and invited him to write his own piece if he so wished. He declined, saying he had a lot of work, and he also tried to discourage me from letting my piece go print.

“From what I hear, you’re a pretty offensive guy yourself,” he said. “…you’d just be causing me trouble and wasting your own time, you’ll come off like a jackass and hypocrite, since you don’t really understand what was going on, you only know what you saw, and not my perspective.”

Aha. And what is your perspective?

“I knew almost everyone there, I knew all the participants, and they all thought it was okay. I mean come on, Winter Carnival, we were all drunk, it’s not a big deal. If I had gone to another school and done this to women I don’t know, that would be wrong. But I knew all the contestants, it was really like a family atmosphere.” Family atmosphere.

A girl sitting next to us chimed in to defend the emcee. “As a participant, can I say something? The entire thing was among friends and everyone knew each other, and everyone loves him and thinks he’s the greatest guy ever, so the people who were offended, they don’t really understand what was going on.”

The emcee: “People came up to me afterwards and said that that was the funniest hour of their lives. Their lives.”

Some pretty sad lives.

“Fine, that’s your opinion. But everyone up there knew me and knew I was kidding. I’m sorry if I offended anybody.”

His point is that he didn’t mean any harm, and was not intending for the display to be disgusting and disturbing, as it was to some people. He knew the participants, much of the audience, and they all had no problems with what happened and thought it was hilarious. That’s fine.

But where is the humor in this behavior? Is it a parody of people who really act like this? Is it, like he said, funny because everyone up there knew him and knew that he wasn’t the kind of person who would ever, ever intentionally degrade women or offend anyone? Am I trying to make a big deal out of something that was just meant to be a joke?

I am not easily offended. And I enjoy, as much as anyone, the right to be gross and puerile. But when in a public space, at an event sponsored by the College, that is advertised on the Winter Carnival posters and broadcast over loudspeakers from Chapin steps, you cannot assume that everyone who passes by, student and non-student alike, knows you, thinks you’re funny, and knows you’re kidding. Especially when what is being said and depicted are explicit sexual acts degrading to women.

I realize that probably no one cares about this, because it’s an isolated incident, it takes place every Winter Carnival, and everyone on this campus is too self-absorbed to care much about anything grounded in reality. But things like this affect the community we live in, and are representations, to an extent, of Williams College as a whole. Stuff like this doesn’t belong at Winter Carnival. Take it elsewhere.

I noticed a mother and daughter walking by Chapin as Singled Out was taking place. I can only imagine how the woman might have explained the scenario to her child:

“Oh, honey, I’m sure that man is only kidding when he tells those girls to swallow.”