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Brooks Smith | Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I’ve had many discussions with friends about Notre Dame’s lack of ‘counterculture’ or ‘alternative lifestyles’ or whatever you want to call it. But recently I had an epiphany: Notre Dame does indeed have a counterculture, in the sense that many of the core beliefs shared by this culture go very much against prevailing trends outside “the Notre Dame bubble.” I would single out the Irish Rover as one of the premier exponents of this counterculture — the voice thereof, if you will.

The Irish Rover is quite possibly the only “alternative” publication at Notre Dame.

The only other potential “alternative” publication was mass e-mailed anonymously to Notre Dame kids sometime starting in fall 2009, and stopped production at the end of spring 2010, when the would-be Jonathan Swift apparently graduated. The Prodigal Son was an all-out attack on Notre Dame, the liberal version of the Irish Rover. Where the Irish Rover desperately strove to overcome its low readership, The Prodigal Son reveled in its pseudo-underground trappings, even featuring a masked man holding up a big sack of marijuana at the end of its first issue. Shocking and edgy, amirite?

The most interesting thing is that these two publications were much more similar than they were different, even if the Irish Rover’s inspirations were Rush Limbaugh, FOX News and St. Augustine, where the Prodigal Son’s were Maddox, Christopher Hitchens and the Internet. The common element is tone: self-congratulation for ‘getting it.’ The best evidence of this tone in the Rover is in the masthead, which states with no hint of irony, “It behooves a watchdog to bark. Good, Rover.” The best evidence of this in the Prodigal Son is the extended story about a business major experiencing romantic rejection in Club Fever. (Fever-bashing is a fresh and relevant form of humor.)

In both cases, the critiques of the larger culture seemed more rooted in personal disappointment than responsive to actual social need; and sadly enough, in neither case were the critiques funny. Obviously the second point is more important than the first.

What initially tripped me up in considering Notre Dame’s ‘countercultural elements’ was the innate assumption that counterculture equals hip, cool and interesting. As often as not, ‘counterculture’ is more or less an elaborate structure of inside jokes, signs and countersigns, which is unintelligible to outsiders; and “coolness” is merely a measure of how badly those outsiders want to get “on the inside” and understand. Smug self-congratulation can actually be an asset to “cool” “scenes” in terms of making “outsiders” feel like “huge losers.”

Unfortunately, where outsiders experience no discernible attraction from the outside, these scenes tend to remain the same size. The Prodigal Son, where the size of the scene was one person, forms an extreme version of this. The Irish Rover’s scene is of course bigger (to be extremely generous, say one in 40 undergraduates) but still not on its way to any sort of growth. And that’s probably the way both scenes like; it preserves the aura of exclusivity, even if the number of applicants is zero.

So why aren’t there any other “alternative” publications, given the profusion of smart, driven Notre Dame students? I think the answer is that most of the smart, driven students are looking for jobs that will make them millions of dollars, to be completely reductive and overgeneral. Many students may not be like that, but it seems like people are busy enough here that they don’t have the time or energy to put one more constraint on their lives — starting and running a consistently entertaining, interesting and useful indie student publication. In any case, that’s my theory for why we don’t have one of those things. As for why everyone at Notre Dame dresses basically the same and why everyone’s social life revolves around football Saturdays … that’s a topic for another editorial.


Brooks Smith is a senior. He can be contacted at bsmith26@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.