A recent article in The University News brought to my mind a chapter of Moby Dick in which the melancholy Captain Ahab, upon witnessing the debaucheries taking place on another ship, the Bachelor, cries out, “Thou art too damned jolly.”
The Campus Activities Board (CAB) seemed to be shouting this same thing to University of Dallas students when they announced that they would ban the beloved “Stacy’s Mom” because of the allegedly inordinate love that we have for it.
Are we in fact “too damned jolly?”
While it is difficult to dispute the claim made in last week’s newspaper that the lyrics of “Stacy’s Mom” are “disrespectful,” I would be hard pressed to find lyrics of any pop song played at TGIT that are notable for the purity of their content.
But the content is not the main issue. According last week’s article, the real problem that CAB has with the song is found in UD students’ excessive celebration of the anthem that verges on idolatry.
Apparently, this behavior does not reflect well on the University’s values. This claim deserves consideration, especially by UD students, who all read the “Republic” as freshmen, in which Socrates famously proposes that art forms, including music, should be censored. He, and his interlocutor, Adiementus, claim that this censorship is necessary because music affects the subconscious and has the capacity to “flow gently beneath the surface into the disposition and practices” of a man until it has finally corrupted him and the city in which he dwells.
Do the disrespectful lyrics of “Stacy’s Mom” corrupt our souls and make us lawless? If so, is it desirable that we then refrain from expressing our supposedly inordinate love of this song so as to achieve a kind of purity that would better coincide with the identity of UD? I hope not, but I’m inclined to trust Socrates’ reasoning over my own.
Yet in spite of Socrates’ compelling arguments, most philosophy students, if asked whether or not they would want to live in Socrates’ imagined city, will respond with a resounding “no.” The restriction on freedom and the lack of any artistic outlet for human spirit and passions seems designed for someone who was not fully human. I trust the gut reaction of students who instinctively see something undesirable and less than human in this city.
I don’t mean to suggest that CAB, by banning “Stacy’s Mom,” is establishing the regime proposed in the “Republic.” But I do think that they overlook the importance of what the city in speech lacks: a place for spiritedness.
UD students and professors embody a union between the head and the heart. Members of our community are not simply known for their passion for their studies or their intellectual achievements. Rather, they are also known to be light-hearted, lively and enthusiastic for more than books. After all, the goal of liberal education is not to live in the library but to live well.
Students can, and do, spend hours reading Aristotle and partake in quirky traditions within the same day. UD students tend to approach both studies and unusual traditions with joy. Here, students grow to be fully alive by developing a healthy balance between cultivating the intellect and learning to release the often inexplicable but ever-present passions by partaking in song and dance.
So are we, as initially asked, excessively jolly? I think not.
Rather, we chart a middle path between the two extremes embodied by the pensive but gloomy life of Ahab on the Pequod and the thoughtless self-indulgence seen on the Bachelor. We are neither of these; part of our excellence as a community stems from purifying the desire for the life seen on the Bachelor, but at the same time knowing when to step outside of the puritanical obsession embodied by the Pequod.
“Stacy’s Mom,” is an admittedly goofy song, but the joy and spirit that surrounds it has allowed for it to become an opportunity for us to exemplify our spirit rather than only our intellect. If you don’t realize how unique and beautiful this balance is, step outside the UD Bubble and see how few communities achieve this middle ground.