Hughesian Nightmare: what we can learn from the Little Theater vandalism–and from what follows

Collage by Jack Braunstein ('13)

Ajay Nadig ('13), Eastside Staff

On Thursday, the Little Theater was vandalized.  Scripts were torn, and the walls were scrawled with the text “Theater kids are dykes and pricks”.  I’m watching my Facebook and Twitter feeds explode with angry statuses.  What I’ve noticed is that this disturbing event, however awful at face value, comes with another tragedy: it stratifies us back into the social boxes that we pride ourselves on being above.

Our conception of who we are as Eastonians comes from not being the stereotypical high school class.  This sense of identity is based firmly in the notion that our worth as people is not defined by what we do during school: you can be smart even if you play sports, you can go to an Ivy League university even if you’re quintessentially “popular”,  you can shift between discussions about hitting the gym and AP Calc homework without batting an eye.  Our ideal principle for judging people is that what you do in class and after school doesn’t define who you are, but rather just makes you a richer and more interesting person.  This speaks volumes about how youth culture has matured in the last 30 years, from John Hughes’s cruel The Breakfast Club caricatures to 21 Jump Street, where Jonah Hill laments, “Being cool these days just takes being optimistic and eco-friendly”.  Granted the latter is over-optimistic, it’s a caricature of the culture we live in the same way The Breakfast Club is a caricature of the culture those before us lived in. In any case, this culture is by and large much more friendly and inclusive than those of the past, and has simultaneously prompted the growth of an incredible diversity and unity at East that’s hard to come by in many high schools.

This brings us back to what happened in the Little Theater.  This awful event throws a wrench into this vision of ourselves.  It shatters the mirror in which we saw our enlightened, tolerant culture, distorting it and making us unrecognizable.  Students in the theater program thought they were safe, that the culture they lived in every day from 8 to 2:30 (and way beyond during spring musical season) accepted them, and didn’t mask their personality with an all-powerful “theater-kid” stereotype.  The writing on the wall shatters the conception that they lived in a place where they are free to come as they are, and be who they are.  When this illusion was shattered, we reverted back to that ugly Hughesian nightmare: I see the terms “theatre kid”, “sports kid” litter my social media feeds. I see students in the theater program posting militant statuses about “the wrath of D-wing”, and other non-affiliated students tweeting their support for “theatre kids”.   Even if through a supportive gesture or a show of unity, terms like this stratify us further, inventing rifts between us and destroying the larger unity that we’ve built.

Collage by Jack Braunstein ('13)

This isn’t to say that I don’t believe in showing support for fellow students in this time of pain and hatred.  What I do believe, however, is that the real tragedy of this event may not lie in the event itself, but in what follows.  The ripple effect may hold an unsettling future for us, how we perceive ourselves as a school, and how we perceive our culture.  And, in the case of our school culture, how we perceive ourselves defines who we are.  Let’s not let the petty actions of some backwards, uncultured vandal ruin the environment that we’ve created for ourselves.