Tag: University of California

Day 996: The Greatest Prank In The History Of History

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“That putz, Bolton. This will totally blow his mind.”

The above may have been uttered between the cool gusts of sharp giggles at a gathering of the Berkeley chapter of E Clampus Vitus, an organization designated either as a “historical drinking society” or a “drinking historical society”, depending on whom you ask. These are folks who are dedicated to the noble history of the American West, though they prefer to cozy up to their history with a frothy glass of smirk. Call them deviant scholars, outlaw students of the distant past and the eternal spirit of yeeha. Practical academics and impractical jokers.

The brass plate left by Sir Francis Drake near the bubbly Pacific coast is little more than a whopping banana peel, left on the ground to trip up one unfortunate mark but soon elevated into an established part of the natural vegetation. The so-called plaque that signifies the terminus of European exploration across our happy little continent is a hoax, a forgery, a one-off gag that exploded into accepted fact.

The lesson here is that history, for all her dates and names and oft-inexplicable motivations, can be a blast. Especially when iniquitous historians with a smirking sense of humor mess it up on purpose.

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Herbert Eugene Bolton was one of the most respected historians of American western expansion, the author of a now-commonplace theory that asserts that we should look at colonial expansion across all the Americas holistically, rather than piece by piece. He was a brilliant man, the fantastic mind who established the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley as the preeminent historical resource it is today. He was also a member of E Clampus Vitus. One would expect he’d have been on the lookout for shenanigans. Read more…

Day 468: The Rad Fads For The Soon-To-Be Grads

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Today I’m writing with a tiny lead weight tugging at my ventricles, that slight but heavy feeling of a closing chapter. I have spent the last three years getting caught up on my Bachelor’s degree, and today I attend my final classes before getting plunked back into the real world of office-dronism. As an adult with a family and pets and a mortgage and all those infernal trappings of grownuphood, I have had to forsake some of the traditional aspects of college life.

I never joined a fraternity, despite having prepped extensively by watching Animal House dozens of times in my life. I joined no clubs, took part in no activism, and experienced zero drunken three-way orgies. I have conducted no keg-stands, joined in on not one hacky-sack circle, and the last time I drank beer through a funnel was four years ago, at my brother-in-law’s wedding.

But now is not the time for regret. It might be time to look at what I’ve missed out on, but I suspect I’ll do so more with passing curiosity than with any morose self-kicking. Take for example the panty raid.

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The first panty raid went down at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. From what I can gather, panty raids also hit their peak with this first effort – it was pulled off with such planning and forethought, its perpetrators should have been given extra credit. The men snuck inside through the heating tunnels under the Women’s Building. They then let their buddies in through the door, locked the housemother in her room, and cut the lights and the phone lines until they had acquired whatever was their requisite number of female undergarments. It was an elaborate job. Read more…

Day 201: The Diggers Take Aim

There was a time long ago, before caring became unhip and irony closed its shutters on the glaring sun, when joining a movement was – to many, anyhow – a rite of passage within one’s internal sense of community. Sure, the “99%” movement is still going strong today… or so I suspect. It’s hard to say; once they dropped out of the 24-hour news media cycle, most people I know stopped keeping up with them. Our local Occupy protest was shut down last year, with relocation penciled in by its organizers, but it never really happened.

Sometimes it seems the 1960s counterculture movement has been reduced in the collective consciousness to a stereotype, a mass gathering of bright-colored clothing and guys who all look and sound like Tommy Chong’s character on That 70’s Show. This is a tragedy of our narrow attention spans. Our parents (and, let’s face it, grandparents) wanted to change the world, and truly believed they could.

Also, the weed back then was really weak. So somehow I guess that makes their motivation more genuine or something.

Ideas for social change bubbled in a virtual froth through the youth generation of the 1960s, some feasible and productive, others mired in faulty premises and unattainable outcomes. Some of the talented kids started bands to preach their messages. Others were more comfortable in the realm of theatre.

Enter the Diggers.

It’s hard to classify the Diggers as an improv troupe, but that’s technically what they were, just as the closely-related San Francisco Mime Troupe is technically a theatre group (not a mime group, so they will be spared my scorn at the foul art of mimery). But both organizations were primarily focused on the message behind their art.

The Diggers grabbed their name from a 17th century agrarian movement in England, in which a bunch of farmers figured their lives would be better if everyone lived in small egalitarian communities, redefining the notions of property and entitlement. They set up colonies, similar to the peacenik communes that dotted the western landscape in the later years of the counterculture movement. And much like the communes of 40 years ago, ye olde Diggers didn’t experience a lot of staying power in their carefully crafted lives off the grid. Read more…