Column | Dec. 12
This is a campus structured around success. We chose Princeton because we wanted it to be as important as it promised us we would be; Princeton chose us because we had proven that we wanted it. In high school, we had shown ourselves to be — more so than hundreds of thousands of other high schoolers — responsible, intelligent and obedient; teachable and tractable. Now here, we are being primed not to enter the workforce, but to command it. We are expensive parts of an even more expensive machine that churns out value-creators, trained in how to lead, how to innovate, how to generate capital. Some day soon, we are told, we will control Capitol Hill, Wall Street, Silicon Valley and we must learn how to be these kinds of people: Leaders, trail-blazers, bosses.
It’s a rhetoric that permeates every aspect of our lives and it is most problematic in how it mutates the Street — one of the only spaces we have on this campus to relax, though thankfully not the only — into something stressful, hectic and ethically problematic. It’s a kind of economic system with passes and spots as currency. The easier these are for you to get, the more powerful a member of the system you are. It’s a hierarchy of users and the used. For certain campus demographics, going out involves as much networking as a career fair, sometimes even literally: Club cultures don’t only coalesce around shared social circles, but shared career goals. The two depend on each other, in a kind of quiet but ominous symbiosis.
The biggest problem I have with “hook-up culture” or whatever The New York Times is calling the way our generation socializes right now is not the random sex and excessive drinking but the monetization of the lived experience. The more crazy and egregious and humorous your exploits, the higher your social value. The best partiers I know capitalize on their excesses, converting them from possible regrets to proof of how fun they are. They got so blacked out, they tell you, had such random sex and walked home in their sweatpants and ran into their preceptor and passed out in a random entryway. It’s another deposit into the bank of social capital: My partying has value, they say. My partying is helping my brand.
But imagine a night out that doesn’t advance your career, whether social or actual. Imagine a night that doesn’t involve capitulating to the demands of the existing power structure in order to obtain little colored pieces of paper that imply you’re a functioning member of their system. Imagine that instead of going to an eating club where everyone is running around frantically trying to get everyone to notice that they’re there, always looking around for someone better to talk to, searching for someone to make out with so they have some proof that the time they spent removing themselves from achieving actual success was not in fact wasted, you could spend your nights out not in frantic competition, but in a loving and warm environment.
Luckily for everyone, I have an answer, and the answer is: The pregame.
It’s time for us to embrace the revolutionary potential of the pregame, to stretch it out extra-long, maybe so long that it becomes the whole night, that you don’t even go to an eating club afterwards. When a pregame is good — and I’ve been to some wonderful pregames — they don’t start over a listserv or a public Facebook event; they start when someone you know sends some text or some email like, “Hey, I’ve got a little alcohol and some free time, let’s chill, come over whenever, I’ll be here.” They’re good because everywhere you look, you see someone you love, or at least feel warmly towards, and no one is trying to get you to chug some weird flaming drink, and no one is dressed for any theme, and no one wants you to take a picture of them or be in a picture with you so they can upload it and prove that they were in x place at y time with z amount of socially powerful people.
By harnessing the power of the pregame, we can subvert a system of value that not only defines what it means to be a successful Princeton student, but also what it means to have fun. Someone might argue that a better use of free time might even make us more productive workers, but I am uninterested in that angle. What is more important is that we realize how important our unstructured time can be and to embrace it. We need to remember how valuable each of us are, and how valuable every second we have is and to spend that time chilling out about it.
Susannah Sharpless is a religion major from Indianapolis, Ind. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.