‘M@W’ challenges ideals of perfection

They’ve prompted peals of laughter in Paresky and even snagged a few smiles in Schow; in this last year, Tumblr sites such as Ephs Sleeping in Public and What Should Ephs Call Me have proven to be contagious. And to a certain extent, the appeal here is obvious. Who wouldn’t want to discover a photo of his or her entrymate sprawled out in a monkey carrel or drooling during class? Who can’t appreciate a funny link comparing the despair of a student walking up Mission Hill to that of Belle after the Beast locks her in the dungeon? But when a new site was added to the Tumblr pantheon this fall, I – along with hundreds of other eager Ephs – was thrown a bit of a cyber curveball. Call me crazy, but I think Mediocre at Williams (M@W) may have changed the face of on-campus Tumblrs entirely.

Created by sophomore blogger Sophia Rosenfeld ’15, M@W showcases Williams students’ own shortcomings, one witty sentence at a time. Posts vary from confectionary confessions like, “I’ve never been on a sunrise hike or a polar bear swim,” to more poignant concerns like, “I’ve never hooked up sober during my time at Williams – I am terrified I’ll never have a real relationship.” But whatever the subject, M@W manages to be a forum for brutal – and often self-deprecating – honesty. “The first time I went on, the only thing I could think was: too real,” recalled Betsy Hart ’14, a patron of the blog.

It was created, as most of the great innovations by college students are, in the middle of a late-night study session. “The website was founded in a moment of essay-writing panic,” Rosenfeld remembered. “I was just feeling so incompetent.” And with that woefully self-critical statement, genius was born! “It started out mostly as a way to vent and procrastinate, but I sent the link to a few friends and it caught on much more quickly than I thought it would,” Rosenfeld said. It has become a typical topic of conversation among Ephs and a site visited by hundreds.

As it has grown, the site has come to address the emergence of a new idea, one that Rosenfeld calls “effortful perfection.” “We’re told about the cult of effortless perfection from the first day we arrive on campus,” she explained. “But we don’t talk about the glamorization of this other attitude where people end up bragging about how little sleep they’re getting and how they’re completely overcommitted.” While Rosenberg praised students at the College for their dedication to “giving their all to this community,” she sees the emphasis on achieving “perfection” as a student, effortless or otherwise, as a harmful one.

Rosenfeld hopes a first-time visitor of the site would “first find it funny, but then move beyond that. I would want them to say. ‘Wow, there are other people like me!’” she explained. And that’s just what it does! It was nice to read that someone else is embarrassed that they “only speak one language” and “didn’t get an ‘A’ in Psych 101,” and it’s helpful to know that another Eph “doesn’t sing or play a musical instrument” and “[relies] on their TA sessions more than [their] own brain.” In short, there’s a sense of solidarity on the site. “Honestly, after going on there for a while I just feel better about everything in my own life,” noted blog-frequenter Cornelia Burleigh ’13.

It is important, as we all know, to find this solace in a place where success is standard. It is necessary to hear once in a while that, as one poster comforted, “Williams is not real life. Real life is turning out to be way easier.” But Rosenfeld more than anyone recognizes that this cyber-camaraderie is not enough to take on the big issues. “It’s a great avenue for perspective, but it’s important to realize what the site can and cannot do,” she said. Hopefully, we can take our candor off the screen and into real life as we continue to tackle academic stress.

“As 19- to 21-year-olds, we are inherently going to be selfish,” Rosenfeld noted. “But maybe if we can find this blog, this aggregate of heartbreaks and manifestations of stress, we can come to find some insight and comfort.” Frankly, I couldn’t agree more. Sure, we love an excuse to put off churning out that problem set and yes, we’re always looking for a reason to avoid that paper. But maybe our obsession with these blogs – with this blog specifically – is something a little bigger than that; maybe it’s perspective – not procrastination – that we’re craving. And with this new Tumblr, that’s just what we’re getting: a reminder of our place at an elite institution, beneath purple mountains and in a cult of “mediocrity.” It’s just a bonus that it can make us giggle, too.

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