Friday Night Football – Rape Chants – Living in Pleasantville
The first thing you’ll think to yourself as you cycle down Tower Road (here in south Halifax) on a late-October balmy Friday night is that you are on the movie set of Pleasantville.
This street, and all of the streets in this south-end Halifax neighbourhood, is heavily tree-lined – often canopied – with massive 150 year-old hardwood sentries, and the houses are beautiful Italian-inspired 1880’s works of Victorian art.
And with the rich warm breeze coming in off the harbour, and a near full moon sliding in and out of the clouds – the smell of earth rich and intoxicating after yesterday’s heavy rain, it’s all so beautiful! Simply beautiful!
I am on my way to Point Pleasant Park for a nighttime ride through the 200 acre urban forest, and I cross Inglis Street to the roar of a Friday night football game. The fans jubilance warmly rumbles through the quiet neighbourhood, and as I cycle up to the Tower Road entrance to Saint Mary’s Huskies Stadium, I see people in the opposite grandstand happily jumping from their seats like fireworks as everyone tries to do the wave.
Saint Mary’s football on a Friday night. Eight minutes left in the game and the home team down by 3. I arrive just as a magnificent punt has put the Huskies opponents back on their own 5 yard line. There’s still plenty of time on the clock. Big banks of clean white light gleam in the dark. Dads and a few moms stand watching from the near sideline. Stars twinkle in the night sky.
This south-end neighborhood is pure postcard middle-class. Big trees. Huge old $700,000 homes. Navy blue B’mers and black Audis sit in paved driveways. Everywhere, it is green lawns and precisely trimmed hedges. The high-end private Halifax Grammar School sits right across the street. Two universities, and the Atlantic School of Theology, provide further gravitas and dignity to the neighbourhood.
Solid middle-class money and solid middle-class dreams live here.
According to city statistics, the demographics here are 95% white (even higher if you ignore Saint Mary’s foreign student population.) The only blacks I see tonight are either playing football for Saint Mary’s, or working gate security.
Mount Allison’s team – on the other hand – in their big gold helmets and white jerseys, is so white, and with linebackers who actually have great streams of flowing locks of blonde hair, they remind me of Vikings.
But the Pleasantville veneer is thin. The Blacks really do still mostly play sports and work security around here. I’ve watched on Inglis and on South Park Street as people of color and young women in hijabs get harassed by local white boys rolling by in muscle cars.
Just this past week another young gay man was stabbed in the back and left for dead. He was a concert pianist. His spinal cord was severed, and now he is left to live his life in a wheelchair.
And this year’s Saint Mary’s freshmen, both males and females, got caught singing a song about how much fun it would be to rape under-age girls. In the video that was posted to YouTube, you see young men and women happily singing along with their pledge masters (Saint Mary’s Student Union representatives). The beat is fun, rhythmic, and easy to follow – just as you’d expect from some harmless student union-approved freshmen initiation tribal chant. But then you listen and realize that the lyrics are actually about how it would be delightful to have non-consensual sex with under-age girls.
According to the Canadian Federation of Students, 90% of young women who are in Canadian university programs, will be sexually assaulted at some point in their university career. 75% of them will not report their crimes.
Saint Mary’s Student Union President, one Jared Perry, tried to defend the actions of the students, and that of the union leaders, by telling the press that no one ever actually listens to the lyrics. The song simply has a great rhythm and was easy to follow along to. And, Mr. Perry reminded everyone, the song had, in fact, been used for the last ten years at Saint Mary’s, so no one thought anything of it.
No one thought anything of it. The classic cultural meme. So sewn into the fabric of college life – for this song, we since discovered, was sung at several Canadian universities – that no one even thinks about it.
Mr. Perry revelation that the song had been used for at least a decade, in turn, shone the media’s collective gasp of surprise squarely on Saint Mary’s University Administration, who immediately began to wring their hands, and asked Mr. Perry to resign his position as Student President. SMU administrators sternly assured everyone that they had no idea this rape chanting business had been going on under their noses, for the past decade, and that new strict freshman policies would be in place by next year. (To my knowledge, no one from Saint Mary’s Administration was asked to resign.)
But tonight, that’s all last week’s news. Tonight is about football, and warm fall evenings, friends and families, post-game frat parties, and a stadium full of twenty-something happy hormones.
Saint Mary’s has the ball with a minute left in the game. The fans are on their feet. After another quick blast of hip-hop bass, the MC asks the crowd to Make Some Noise! The crowd roars its approval.
Tonight we are awash in veneer. The hometeam has the ball. Tonight we live in Pleasantville.
(I wrote this two weeks ago for a local newspaper who ultimately decided not to publish it.)