When you consider that everyone in my generation who has attended public school has been fed a steady diet of sex education, substance abuse warnings, and diatribes on the evils of tobacco since second grade, you might think it would be safe to assume this group of young people had mastered the nuts and bolts of such relatively simple topics. Apparently not. Judging from the posters that pop up on the walls of campus buildings, we are in dire need of immediate and in-depth remedial education.
What’s the big deal about posters? In one sense they’re not a big deal, but in another sense they are. Sure, they’re just pictures with slogans, but those pictures with slogans have a cumulative effect. They constantly, steadily, quietly promote an immoral lifestyle. It is a rear attack on morality. The attack may be a silent one, but it is a successful one in that it often has the end result of desensitizing viewers to morality and absolute truth. Week after week, the posters portray a message which eventually wears on one’s conscience. The posters paint a picture of the abnormal being normal and of sin being attractive, fun, hip, consequence-free, and desirable.
The first poster that caught my eye as a freshman was right around the corner from my dorm room. I saw it as I was moving in boxes.
“ONE OUT OF 3 AMERICANS DON’T DRINK
—AND THAT’S OKAY, TOO.”
The poster seems relatively benign but there is an element to the message that is condescending. First, it points out that if you don’t drink you’re in the minority. It may not be intended, but the tone of the poster suggests that you’re out of the loop if you don’t drink, but try not to worry about being out of the loop. And odd. And in the minority.
A lot of money, time and effort go into the posters that publicize weird programs and events. The strange thing to me is that a lot of these programs and posters are created by adults in their 40s and 50s; people you’d expect to have some degree of maturity or decorum.
Sexual Assault Awareness Week kicked off soon after classes started with a poster blitz featuring a photograph an attractive young couple with their heads nestled together. They were looking at the camera with that forlorn “I’m-so-misunderstood” look that is popular among models today. The copy on the poster read:
My strength is not for hurting.
So when I wanted to and she didn’t, we didn’t.
MEN CAN STOP RAPE
Respect, equality & peace.
Everybody’s got a right.
Well, that’s what the poster said for a couple of days until someone took a felt tip pen and made an addition. The poster then read:
MEN CAN STOP RAPE
so can mace and a 9 millimeter
Another poster that made a debut was a bright blue number with a red stop sign in the center and big yellow parentheses on the right and left sides. The text said:
((RESPECT THE BOUNDARIES))
A good message, but somewhat contradictory to every other message on campus that says we shouldn’t have to live by boundaries, as that would be restricting freedom. Respect the boundaries in relationships, but don’t respect them anywhere else?
Sexual Assault Prevention Week was followed by more sexual activity, or non-activity, depending on your boundaries as we commenced with The Battles of the Sexes.
Meet with a bunch of Guys & Girls
to ask them questions about
college life, dating
and anything else you can think of
No mention of Jerry Springer, but you had the feeling if he had stopped by, he would have fit right in. After Labor Day and before Columbus Day, the campus celebrated National Coming Out Day. Cafeteria tables were adorned with bright orange flyers listing famous people who had come out of the closet and explained that the first step of coming out is “coming out to yourself.”
This coincided with a lecture put on by the Campus Alliance on “What the Bible REALLY says about Homosexuality.”
As the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays approached, the campus was blanketed with pamphlets and flyers about a lot of drinking awareness programs. (Again, the underlying assumption that everybody does; so, if you don’t, what does that say about you?) The Alcohol Self-Test pamphlet, widely circulated, tested the reader’s knowledge about alcohol with brain teasers like:
Alcohol slows down your reaction time.
True ___ False ___
The checklist on “How Safely Do I Drink” offered these:
I never drink on an empty stomach
I don’t gulp my drinks
Yes ___ No___
If I am taking any prescription drugs I don’t drink
Yes ___ No ___
A couple of days later, “Getting What You Want From Drinking” was distributed at every cafeteria table. It was an informative pamphlet on how to drink more safely, how to avoid weight gain, along with information on hangovers and morning-after crashes. Again, these messages are like the nagging wife compared to a dripping faucet in Proverbs. The steady beat of the assumption is that everybody gets rip roaring drunk; therefore, if you don’t, what does that say about you? Curiously, despite the fact that most freshmen and sophomores on campus would be underage, there was never any mention of the risks of being busted for underage drinking and the consequences likely to follow.
Also in December came a special event complete with accompanying posters featuring Rebekka Armstrong. Armstrong was featured in a program called EXPOSED that tours college campuses.
Armstrong, by way of background, is a young woman who “aspired to become a Playboy Playmate at 18.” One can only assume things didn’t go well with the SATs. The poster continues: “Against all odds, she was chosen out of hundreds of thousands of young women to become a centerfold. Miss September ‘86 became an immediate fixture in the star-studded world of Hollywood.”
Hollywood brought Armstrong a lot of new experiences, including becoming HIV positive. No other female speaker on campus had the poster play that the former Playboy Playmate did. That’s a rather sad commentary. When you think of all the women of notable achievement, women of truly great accomplishment, women who have used their brains and talents to advance not only themselves, but other people, it’s ironic that the campus chose to invite and heavily publicize an event by a former Playboy bunny.
The poster promoting the former bunny’s appearance had a picture of Armstrong in a Playboy bunny shirt and low slung jeans with another photo inset in the lower corner. In the inset photo Armstrong was buck naked, playing coy with the camera, hooked up to an IV. As if HIV could somehow look sexy and attractive.
Again, a poster subtly and silently promotes immorality as the new morality. It was no great shock that Armstrong’s appearance was made possible by the Playboy Foundation. The irony here is not to be missed. The most exploitive, anti-woman, the-chick-is-nothing-but-a-sex-object corporation in the history of the nation is producing a program to alert the uninformed about the possibility of becoming HIV postive! Whatever. And I don’t say whatever lightly. I say whatever because the College alliance group is fond of saying it. It’s a new sexual identification group.
The Alliance is continually putting up posters advertising weekly meetings for those with different sexual orientations. Because this is a campus the promotes diversity, the poster says:
Gay. Straight. Whatever.
And, in case you were unaware, Cross Dressing Day is celebrated February 1.
Show off your costume in the Dawg pound!
Prizes will be awarded for best dressed.
From the looks of the poster, short skirts, thigh-high socks and midriff shirts were in. So was heavy make-up, blue eye shadow, and bee-stung lips. Crossdressers must not have gotten the memo that the natural look is back. Less is more.
February is a big month for “special activities,” as it coincides with Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day has been so dragged through the mud, a lot of students would rather skip it and head directly to April Fool’s Day.
Relationship Week is observed in the middle of February. There are a variety of activities and plays throughout Relationship Week, all of which culminate in National Condom Day on February 14, when free condoms are given away in the cafeteria. (What? You’re not having pre-marital sex, hooking up on weekends? What’s wrong with you?)
Relationship Week, ad nauseum, yielded an abundance of poster and flyers including a hot pink number featuring the following:
Tips for Guys to Make a Relationship Work
1. Don’t Lie About the Important Stuff
Don’t lie about important things. No good can come from saying you come from a rich family when in fact you don’t, or claiming you’re a subdued intellectual when in fact you prefer beer and football to talking about Tolstoy, any day. (Good advice. Lying is never conducive to healthy relationships.)
2. Don’t Start Criticizing Your Partner
Some say there is no right time to express your opinion negatively when a relationship starts, but if you feel a strong need to do so, make your comment a mere suggestion and not an insult. Instead of “That dress is ugly,” say “I preferred the beautiful black one you wore on New Year’s Eve.” (I only hope these people aren’t interpersonal communication majors.)
3. Don’t Meet the Parents
Although you love your parents and quirky Uncle Bob, it is best to introduce your family at a time when she’ll easily understands (sic) your motives and is able to put up with some uncomfortable questions from a rude grandfather. (Who’s rude?)
4. Don’t Focus on Sex
It is important that you show them that sex need not come first. If you want to make this relationship a serious one, don’t think of sex as a top priority. This is a great move on your part, as you are showing your special someone how smitten you are with their mind. (The message here is that obviously you want pre-marital sex and will get pre-marital sex, but to do so it’s best to be manipulative about it. The strategy on being impressed with the other person’s mind will probably work as long as they don’t try talking about Kierkegard.)
National Condom Day was followed by a campus-sponsored activity called “Just How Kinky Are You?” Here we are, scholars in the making (at least in my rich fantasy world), and the university sponsors an event plumbing the depths of kinky. This hot pink poster featured:
The Game of Naughty Clues
Sexy Games and Dirty Minds
The posters and special weeks start winding down in the spring with the exception of Spring Break, which is the last big hurrah. The Counseling and Consultation Center—a place you’d think would be staffed by health professionals knowing something about STDs and the micro-organisms that can pass through condoms, and might even occasionally think about morality, ethics, and emotional well being—began distributing Spring Break flyers titled:
The flyer included instructions on how to:
PARTY TO LIVE!
This flyer detailed what to pack for spring break—condoms, sunscreen, and condoms—and even offered a technique for “enhancing sensation.” You have to wonder how that conversation went in the counseling office. Then again, it’s probably best not to. Ever the voice of reason, the flyer also admonished students to set a drinking plan and what to do in case a drinking buddy:
. . . can’t be roused by shaking or shouting, has shallow, irregular slowed respiration, has cold, clammy pale bluish skin, took downers with alcohol, is severely disoriented or anxious, sustained a blow to the head, has a bleeding injury or drank way more than their usual amount.
The flyer continued:
Now, a few words about GHB. GHB is made on the street. Yeah, so what? You never really know what’s in it or how potent it is. When combined with alcohol, GHB can be even more deadly (among other things you can STOP BREATHING).
Don’t say they didn’t warn you. Don’t say they didn’t tell you that deadly means to stop breathing. Don’t say they didn’t spell it out.
Essentially, the pre-spring break message was get out there, drink, party down, and try not to kill yourself. Hey, and be safe! OK? And above all, KEEP BREATHING!
Sex in the Lounge?
A friend at the University of Pittsburgh was very confused by a message she saw posted on the dorm’s official message board. The message said, “Sex in the lounge—9 p.m.” She asked a dorm-mate if she thought there actually was going to be sex in the lounge. Her friend looked at the sign and laughed, realizing the message board was inviting people to watch Sex in the City, in the lounge. The point is, the campus atmosphere is sometimes so raunchy, sex in the lounge is believable.
People will respond differently to the barrage of tacky posters advertising events on campus. Some people are oblivious to the posters. Others detach themselves and laugh at them. Personally, I was discouraged being bombarded with their ridiculous messages. For the first few weeks, it was another wave in the blast of culture shock. I realized most of the posters aren’t created by students, although some do come from students with an agenda. Others apparently come from very frustrated middle-aged people at the counseling center. There’s really not much that can be done about the posters. If they are vulgar, you can complain to your Resident Assistant (but they have strict orders to display every poster). Those who are deeply offended sometimes take the posters down themselves. After some gay posters were plastered all over campus, one had been taken down off a bulletin board outside one of my classrooms. I noticed that the missing poster was soon replaced by a terse note from the Gay/Straight Alliance saying that it was a hate crime to take down their poster. If you’re contemplating the idea of taking the posters down yourself, use your judgment, or at least know what the punishment is at your school if you get caught.
Keep your eyes open and your mind sharp when you’re bombarded with a deluge of immoral messages from posters in the hall. Think about what they are really saying. The accumulative impact of these posters can be significant. Don’t fall for the lie that an immoral lifestyle is normal or desirable. There are people out there that can tell you otherwise, they just haven’t made it to the posters in the hall yet.
Whether you’re the type to take the posters as blaring personal insults or the type that generally doesn’t notice the tacky poster until a friend draws attention to it three weeks after it’s been on the wall, it is hard to ignore them forever. As insignificant as it may seem at the time, these subtle visuals have a cumulative effect—the effect is disheartening. And what is even more disheartening is that there is not much that can be done about it. Cognitively, the best thing to do is distance yourself from the messages. The messages on the posters may be reality for some people, but remind yourself, they’re definitely not reality for all people.
You’ve Got Mail
I think for me it was difficult to connect. I wasn’t real motivated my freshman year when I went away and was discouraged by the things going on around me on campus and in the dorms. I connected with an on-campus church, the Revolution. It was oriented toward the college crowd and was real good about getting students introduced to other students and helping to plug them in, not only with their peers, but also with people of authority in the church to help ground us and create different levels of accountability. Sometimes it felt like the church groups were more like social groups, but that could have been a reflection of a poor attitude on my part. I looked at one or two other groups on campus, not too many, and they seemed to lack much depth which turned me off to them.
A question that needs to be answered is “why are so many professors so hostile toward Christianity?” Part of the answer is, in my experience, most of the textbooks (and thus the professors in college, as their information comes largely from the textbooks) are very biased against Christianity. The professors are not trying to be cruel, but genuinely believe that Christianity has been, as a whole, a force for evil in history. I can remember only a couple of favorable references to Christianity in college (and I had a minor in history). All of the rest were very negative and influenced me, as an adult, to become an atheist. It was only when I explored the anti-Christian allegations, such as the Crusades and the Galileo affair, that I learned the full story. It was then I realized that I had been badly mislead in college. The information I later learned is available to those who dig into these events and read widely, but is not commonly found in textbooks or college lectures. The facts about Galileo are widely known among Galileo scholars, but this information rarely works its way down to the common people and into the textbooks.
—Jerry Bergman, Ph.D.