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Culture Tantrum

Stephanie Deprez | Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Welcome to the first installment of a weekly column that will explore the grand facets of culture that pop and fizzle around campus. Last semester, I had the privilege of bringing you three artists who were “under the radar” every week. This year, I have been given free reign to discuss the more savory bits of music, television and movies.

I plan to discuss getting re-acquainted with your favorite TV show after it jumps the shark (I’m looking at you, “House”), conversations with people who listen to pop songs on repeat in order to learn lyrics they can shout at the ‘Backer, what it’s like to participate in a drum-off with nearly no prior instruction on the instrument and why I think “True Grit” was God’s gift to the picky critic. First, let me explain the moniker this column is currently toting: Culture Tantrum.

Tantrum: “violent, uncontrollable outburst of rage, esp. in children.” In most cases, when we think of a tantrum we think of a 3-year-old in a grocery store, pitting his entire will against a universe that won’t allow him to have the doggie chew toy that he’s grabbed and wants to treat as a stuffed plaything. We imagine a little girl red in the face, sitting in the middle of a daycare, screaming for her mother. We think of children and pain. But I would like to propose another view of this emotional release. That which I have described would most likely be called a temper tantrum, which arises from a sharp inflation of the temper. I would like to remove the first word and focus instead upon the second.

As someone who has experienced a number of tantrums throughout my younger years, I know what it’s like to find myself powerless at the hands of others, screaming in my infant indignation. I’m sure you can all recall more or less the attitude adopted by your toddler self when that which you had expected was suddenly subverted. We all threw a tantrum. Wailing with young lungs testing their strength, pushing back at the world with arms new to their agility, we knew we had lost, but we weren’t going to let the issue die without a fight. We wanted the world to know where we stood before we went down. It was a charge to utilize our only cards — we could refuse to move, and, boy, could we make noise.

But when it was over, we had accepted our fate; our eyes were dried by our mothers, their own eyes bleary from the effort exhorted to calm us down while trying not to lose themselves in maternal pity for their child. We felt — better. Stronger. Like we had something to say and, by George, had said it! Unnoticed by our kid-sized minds, we had just experienced one of the great facts of being human — the emotional catharsis.

This is necessary training. Our emotional abilities have matured (at least I hope) and confined our tantrums to the dorm room, the empty classroom, the blog. But our need to speak our minds in that bloated moment when we know we’ve been wronged still exists. Feelings cannot be controlled, only contained. We choose to unleash them to our friends, our parents or our dog. I assure you my golden retriever will, at a moment’s notice, recall for you the last 15 ways the world fell out of whack and failed to do what the loving master had expected. Such a good sport, Molly.

What happens, then, when a tantrum moves from the dorm room to the middle of South Quad? The only way it will be taken seriously is if it adopts that last lingering Victorian virtue: civility. Our real vice is not that we are wrong, but that we’re no good at telling people why we’re right. Someone in the heat of a tantrum doesn’t know how to talk to the passing student and explain the source of her exasperation.

But what does any of this matter? You’re going to blow off steam where and when you choose. I myself am choosing these few inches of paper. After four years as a “Scenester,” embracing the insults as well as the free CDs, I have discovered that the only way to get people to pay attention is to be civil. Too many times I have written in this spread, bashing about in a bombastic sea of banality and bad alliteration. Seriously.

Today I begin a column that will run through my last semester (and out the door!), which will seek not so much to elevate my opinion in a slew of superlatives, as it will provide the view from my window. This will be tough — I may be brazen, but I know myself and my shortcomings. I’ve completed a major in film slightly skewed towards television. I’m about to complete a major in vocal performance. I soak myself in copies of Entertainment Weekly and can go toe-to-toe about indie bands with nearly anyone. I like the idea of going to church and to the Oscars. So today, amid the snow and food in South Dining Hall, I offer you my column, which will be, for lack of a better title, a civil sort of culture tantrum.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Stephanie Deprez at sdeprez@nd.edu