Post-Modern Protest – Can Dov Charney save higher education?

A vision of the past - The moustache has made a comeback, but the activism? Not so much...

With the steady gentrification of public higher education in California, perhaps it isn’t at all shocking that students at the United States’ most prestigious system of state-run universities have responded with a collective yawn to the ever-increasing tragedy that is the administration of the UC system. In a matter of months, we have borne witness to 32% fee hikes and a growing movement to eviscerate those academic programs that are not deemed “revenue generating” — or as most of us call them, the humanities. However, as Yudof et al. flail their arms in a feeble attempt to keep the UC’s from becoming glorified trade tech’s, not everybody is taking the matter so lightly. Last week at UCLA, a mass of 300 students mobilized a sit-in to protest the failure of leadership, lack of imagination and general cowardice displayed by the administration in the face of difficult times. The number of participants was inflated in part by students who were also expressing outrage at recent racist incidents that have transpired at the UC San Diego campus and the general decline or stagnation of under-represented minorities in the UC system.  

…for a moment, El Pollo Rico felt a twinge of inspiration. Maybe this next generation has its priorities straight. In an age where our value systems have been commoditized, warped and repackaged into Happy Meal soundbites, perhaps the tipping point had been reached and the kids were getting it right. But then I made a fatal mistake and did what no idealist should EVER do… I did the math.   

After weeks of publicity and news articles and outrage, the protest garnered the active support of 300 students. Technically that allows us to say “hundreds…!” But as of Fall 2009, UCLA had an enrollment of 26,687 undergraduates and 11,863 graduate students for a grand total of 38,541 (not including 1,434 residents and interns). 300 then represents a mere 0.7% of the student population. Zero… Point… Seven. That fucking blows. EPR gets that these are times of apathy and ennui and that the brave 300 should — like King Leonidas and his band of skinny-ripped compadres — be lauded for their courageous stand. Except for one other number that keeps flashing in my head… 8000.      

A vision of the present - Hand in hand... we SHALL overcome... finals week... and abstinence!

8000 is the lowball estimate of the number of students who participated in the last official UCLA undie run. Designed for students to let off steam in the middle of final exams, the undie run is a celebration of the strive for balance between healthy intellect, healthy body and healthy soul. Relax your noodle by running around in your chonies and emerge a karmically pure being. It’s kind of brilliant – and it’s kind of radical. There is an undeniable element of protest in the run – a rejection of the prescribed norm, a redefinition of the status quo, a bending of expectations, a peaceful undermining of authority through athletic expression and sartorial subversion – ALL while students are the most busy, the most preoccupied, and the most stressed out. So why can’t the future of public higher education garner the same support from those who have the most to lose?   

The answer is two-fold: Focus and Flesh. The undie run is successful in part because its purpose has been refined (or limited) with a laser beam precision: strip to your chonies and jog. No more, no less. Focus. Of course, its success is also due in large part to the fact that 18 to 24 year olds generally enjoy being half-naked around each other. Flesh.     

It is a philosophy that is fantastic in its simplicity. It worked at Thermopylae and it worked for American Apparel. Keep the mission simple, keep the people (almost) naked. For King Leonidas, the mission was to stop Xerxes and the Persian invasion. Equipment? A shield, a sword, and leather chonies. Result? Leonidas was immortalized as a hero and historic icon. For Dov Charney, the mission was to sell lots of t-shirts. Equipment? Urban hipsters and cotton chonies. Result? Infamy as a groping perv… but tremendous success for the company. So why can’t the same strategy save the present and future integrity of the UC System? There’s no reason it can’t. The problem is that thus far, the protests have been plagued by the perceived need to appeal to different constituents in different places at different times: 8 a.m. meeting to weave unity lanyards in South Campus; 9 a.m. finger painting protest signs at the freshman dorms; 1 p.m. march to Bruin Plaza for rally and discount apparel at Ackerman Union; 2 p.m. sit-in and burrito bar at Kerchoff Hall; 5 p.m. disco dance marathon for lower fees… no, no, NO, NO! Divide and conquer is what you do to your enemies. The well-intentioned yet myopic itinerary of summer camp activities that has defined the recent demonstrations only serves to dilute and defuse the impact of the protest.     

Solution? Again — Focus and Flesh. Unity of effect / Nudity of effect. Keep it simple. Keep it sexy. One event, one place, one time, one set of chonies. A peaceful congregation of thousands of students in Bruin Plaza — in their underwear — would be powerful, symbolic, well attended and would garner unprecedented media coverage. Performed in conjunction with coordinated publication of print and online statements from student groups, academic departments, and all those with the courage, imagination and vision to seek solutions instead of retreating to save the clothes on their back, the event would serve to galvanize and propagate the spirit of unity that those who value education should all share.   

A vision of the future - Que sigue la lucha ...para un futuro mejor!



~ by El Pollo Rico on March 13, 2010.

5 Responses to “Post-Modern Protest – Can Dov Charney save higher education?”

  1. Is this something you’ll be organizing?

  2. Hola Maria. A most excellent inquiry. Words without action are but empty vessels, so yes, EPR will put this theory to the test and see if today’s university students are truly willing to put their chonies where there mouth is…er…well…yeah. Stay tuned for updates. Abrazos, – El Pollo Rico

  3. Like your triste ironía

  4. Why stop at the chonies? Why not take it a step further?

    • Hola JackNasty, I’m sure up in crunchy Berkeley, full frontal political speech wouldn’t lift an eyebrow… in fact, it might not be recognized as political speech at all… just ultimate frisbee practice, so we want to avoid mixed messages. Also, rumor has it that our beloved chanchitos have been a bit on edge of late. So to ensure that there is no confusion regarding constitutionally protected free speech and California Penal Code Sec. 314 (indecent exposure… no pun intended), we’ll keep it in the tightie whities. Although EPR has seen some dudes doing yoga in spandex that are pretty indecent — but I digress. Finally, EPR is seeking to maximize numbers and the undie format has proven itself to be a popular option within people’s comfort zone here en el Sur de California. But if you and your compañeros want to get all Spencer Tunick with it, I trust your judgment.

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