Panicky Knee Jerks: What’s the Big Deal?

Why is everyone getting so defensive?

Over the course of the past two weeks, you must have heard something about the controversy regarding sexually suggestive games and cheers in some of the National University of Singapore’s Freshmen Orientation Camps, a media circus that detonated as a result of this very sensationalistic post from our beloved local tabloid, here.

Sexualised games at the orientation camps of local universities are nothing new however. It is part of a very old and very seasonal local news cycle that has been ongoing for decades: someone complains about the distasteful nature of  some NUS camp, local media picks up on it, nus admin promises some vague measure and says it will not tolerate it, media attention dies down, we go back to our normal lives. I faintly wonder sometimes if June/July just happens to be slow news months, that journalists have to stick their noses into what undergrads do in their schools. Until the next year. It’s seasonal. Like durians or the haze. Or the CORS bidding panic.

So I guess you can say I was pretty surprised at the backlash this time round – a sponsor of one of these camps pulls out (oooh cheap sexual pun hurhur), and even BBC news reports it. For once, NUS is world famous for something else, other than your standard Standards of Academic Excellence. I’m puzzled why people think this is a completely bad thing.

I’ve followed the controversy rather closely the past week. After USP Life imploded into grey, harmless ignominy with the exit of the last generation of Fearless Opinionated Seniors (quite sad really), I was quite excited to see people actually giving a shit about inane things.

With summer almost over and not much to do, I had quite my share of cheap thrills poring over NUSWhispers, the Facebook page where people (both in and out of NUS) pretend to express an intelligent opinion.It was a wonderfully fun exercise in critical thinking. I spent quite a while thinking about the arguments on both sides. Uncharacteristically for me, i declined battle with opinions I disagreed with, for the large part.

Let’s Go On a Fieldtrip!

It was interesting to watch the various taxonomies of strawmen that popped up. Usually from the Aggrieved Camp Aplogist side. I’d recommend any professor teaching a writing class to bring their students on an online field trip to this historical strata of NUSWhispers. The luminescent varieties of conflated reasoning and bad argumentation, coupled with a myriad rare blooms of bad spelling and grammar – it is an eye-opening glimpse into a psychedelic, steamy rainforest.

Listen to the ululating whines of “Is This What We Pay Taxpayers’ Money For, What is the Government Doing”, a phylogenetic cousin to “So This Is the Seventy Percent”, belonging to the same Phyla as “Boo to PAP”. Faintly you can also hear the invertebrate snickers of “#1 University in Asia like that one ah”, although methinks these are more opportunistic crickets than anything else.

Then plunge deeper in, and observe (from a distance, you don’t want to roll your eyes out of their sockets) the unrestrained chorus of “We Worked So Hard for This Camp”. It is the howler monkey of the Bad Argumentation Jungle, punctuating the clear air with its belligerent call. I believe it’s the distant sibling of an Older strain, the one that yells INGRATES OF A YOUNG GENERATION, but only time will tell.

Speaking of Time, there is also that other Elephant in the room you can observe. It is an emotional animal, and it trumpets (rather ironically, although irony is perhaps lost on such a fundamentalist species) “This Is Tradition, Stop It You Nerds and Conservatives”.

Bad Taste makes me Spit, not Swallow.

As someone who has attended, if only briefly, one of these more distasteful camps, I must admit that I wasn’t too unhappy at the sudden disproportionate media attention that’s been hurled at the overly sexualised nature of some of these camps. It isn’t that sexual innuendo is wrong. It isn’t that I’m that much of a prude. It’s barely about rape culture. (Someone on NUSWhispers actually pulled a stupendous SHOW ME THE STATISTICS THAT RAPE HAS INCREASED. SHOW ME LA.) I won’t attempt to dignify them, or waste my blogspace pointing to arguments so porous and loopy calling them ‘argument’ makes the word ‘argument’ cry in hurt feelings.

To me, it’s simply about basic respect . I simply don’t think any kind of orientation game warrants a Hokkien cheer insulting not only my opponents’ genitalia, but those of his mother and father. I don’t actually think the SAF even condones this anymore, say what you want about machismo and Tradition. It’s just plain bad taste to me. Sorry I’m not fun. Sorry I’m too individual. I think I paid more than fifty bucks to find that out. Nearly two decades of education did NOT prepare me to scream these things at strangers. I do believe all the books I’ve read and the schools I’ve been to hold me to a higher standard then agreeing to go along with such puerile forfeits.

But – rant over. That’s not the point of the post, as the title suggests. I do not intend to flog a dead horse, no matter how poorly the poor dead horse attempted to reason. Maybe cos it didn’t go to FASS, or the #1 University in Asia. I was looking for an original Opinion to post. I sort of got my wish this morning.

The Point of this Post

This morning i saw a whole rash of entries on my Newsfeed, yelling again about Hard Work they Put In, and – most stunningly and insecurely – Not All NUS Camps Are Like That, I’m Soooo Hurt. There’s even a picture of this guy with a hurt face. Get this, readers: someone took a selfie of themselves and effectively captioned it, I’m So Hurt By News Reports About My School Cos They Are Inaccurate. I’m not sure if I should applaud this new generation of Sensitive New Age Men that my university has produced, or to simply go with the #strawberry mob.

I’ve seen people post up (rather irrelevant) pictures of themselves smiling at some NUS camp they attended, insisting desperately that CAMPS REALLY WERE VERY FUN AND I LOVED THEM. I’m not sure how this enriches the conversation. Nobody is attacking your camp. They are attacking some of the uncomfortable forfeits and cheers at some of the NUS camps.

I was just befuddled. I thought we had moved beyond that. If a terrorist guns people down and then declares himself a Muslim fundamentalist, do all Muslims have to apologise for that one terrorist? If one SAF recruit is behaving badly on the train, are all SAF recruits, SAF personnel the same?

By that token, why is everyone so hurt that The New Paper said some freshmen were made to  participate in forfeits at “some of the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) orientation camps” (my italics)?

Why is everyone getting so defensive?

Why are people getting so frightened and panicky? NUS Provost has crafted a grim email about it. Mothership gleefully leapt into the circus with some clickbait (which I’ve gleefully read- for example, here). Even the Education Minister has weighed in on a seasonal wahoo as predictable as the flu and the haze (which, incidentally, is late this year – oh, is that a sexual innuendo, ho ho).

I was in school a few days ago to settle some paperwork. The last I checked, the buildings are made of brick, mortar and stone. The faculties are still staffed by capable and caring professors.The modules are still being bidded for by students locked in lockstep and stranglehold by their societal conditioning and their own ambitions. Scandal or otherwise, i’m quite certain this will die down in a bit. Nobody is going to stop applying to NUS because of some poorly-conceived game by some misguided seniors. I seriously doubt any academic worth her salt is going to boycott our eminent university and the conferences it organises because some excited twenty-year-olds made some bad cheers.

Sure, i find some of the cheers at some of the camps I have personally attended distasteful and offensive. But let’s get this clear, at least – it doesn’t invalidate the hours put in by hardworking camp committees. Hard work is furthermore irrelevant to the conversation. I can spend two hundred days studying for a research essay, my professor isn’t going to give me stellar marks just because I wasted two hundred days on a badly thought out paper.

NUS goes on. NUS will survive this. It’d be rather hilarious if it didn’t. The camps will go on. Perhaps they will be modified and regulated. Perhaps there will be some gnashing of teeth. Perhaps we will really end up in “Orientation Modules” where “the whole point of university is to study”, as a wannabe-sarcastic wit pointed out in NUSWhispers. But i do think it adds some colour and story to our university experiences. The alleged top university in Asia could do with some depth and nuance. You get irritated by the teachers’ pet who keeps scoring As and has no personality. I get irritated at how bland my school’s image is.

Am I hurt by what the mainstream public has to say about this?

Well, I come from Catholic Junior College. Thirty years after an unnamed student was reported to have had an abortion, people are still coming up to amiably ask me if CJC is “the abortion school”. What do I do?

No, i don’t get all defensive and upload upset selfies of myself saying “NOT ALL PEOPLE IN CJC GET ABORTIONS YOU KNOW.” (Admittedly this connotes other things but well…). No, I don’t go to my Confessions page and whine about how erroneous these allegations are. I’m not hurt. I just don’t waste my time with such opinions.

I think that anyone who measures a university by its orientation games is not someone who understands what a university is actually for.

“You study history ah?? What you going to be next time?? A teacher ah?? And what did you score for PSLE ah???”
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14 thoughts on “Panicky Knee Jerks: What’s the Big Deal?

  1. Some people are panicking cause NUS is cancelling all NUS freshmen activities including O Weeks which were planned few throughout this summer. For those whose camps are over, they are panicking cause this whole saga is bad publicity and may burn bridges with current or future sponsors. stop being a smart mouth and acting like you know everything just cause you have a good command of English and can write a good argument.

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      1. That was obviously not what was meant. “Acting like you know everything”.

        The comment raised the reason for the ” knee-jerk reactions” from the various students; which you have missed. They are defending their own faculties and camps not to make their camp look better than other camps, but to justify why theirs shouldn’t be cancelled.

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      2. You know, for someone who tries to assert what the original poster meant, I’m surprised you don’t get even a rudimentary idea of what my entry meant. Perhaps a closer reading could help.

        This was the point of my post, which was written BEFORE i was aware the blanket ban was called. There is no need to defend your own faculty and camp. Nobody said x NUS camp was like that. Even the report itself said “some NUS camps”. It did not say “all NUS camps”.

        Furthermore, as my post does mention, I was responding to people being so hurt at overgeneralised public perceptions of NUS camps being too sexy, posts which appeared on 28 July evening and 29 July morning, before the blanket ban was called. I was not responding to posts justifying why some camps should or should not be cancelled. it would be useful to read texts closely before coming to hasty conclusions about them. otherwise I may think that you are also “acting like you know everything”.

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  2. This was written before O week was announced to be cancelled I presume? The date of this article falls on the same day as when it was published in the news.

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  3. Oh right, reading your replies to comments below, this was before the ban on O week. Not to be result oriented or anything, do you think the ban invalids your argument?
    i.e. People got too defensive because they knew there was a possibility OSA might go so far as to cancel camps all together.

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    1. That’s a good question. I dont think the ban invalidates my stance, although I understand why there was/is so much heartbreak.

      My entry doesn’t touch on hard work. It was a response to being hurt by the public reactions to what has happened. It isn’t a post about the hard work put into organising camps. I can empathise with the pain and disappointment, but this isnt a post about that. i still stand by my point that we shouldnt be so worked up. NUS will go on. Let the so-called educated so-called public say what it wants. Working adults who measure a university by its orientation games are not working adults worth fighting with.

      Recent events only invalidate my post IF you read the title of my post, not if you read the actual content inside.

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