In 1978, the Pail and Shovel Party ran for student government at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, on a platform of corruption – and they won. Jim Mallon, a founding member of the party, explained his party’s political strategy and its banner’s origin: “We wanted to convert the UW budget to pennies, dump them in Library Mall and give students pails and shovels to pick them up. We also promised to move the Statue of Liberty to Madison.”
During its time in office, the Pail and Shovel Party embarked on a number of pranks that, at least among UW students and alumni, are legendary. Two of P & S’s most popular stunts were the construction of a miniature statue of liberty on a frozen lake and the planting of hundreds of fake flamingos on university property. My personal favorite, though, was its passing of a resolution that required all funding requests to be “delivered in song.”
That a group of pranksters were elected to student government doesn’t disgust or surprise me – it makes me envious. The only difference between an openly corrupt government, and any other one, is that the former is being honest. This, and a sense of humor, marks the vast and unfortunate difference between UW’s Pail and Shovel Party and UCSB’s Associated Students.
I dream of having a student government that cares most about mocking authority – its own and everyone else’s – rather than one that misguidedly inflates and parades its power and wisdom. College is a time to indulge in silliness, not to hide it beneath pretensions of stoicism and righteousness. We have the rest of our lives in the real world to make heavy weather of who is right and who is wrong. For now, let’s everyone have fun.
This is not a recommendation for apathy. In fact, it’s just the opposite. This is a call to action. We need our university’s malcontents to organize and run for student government in the spring, and to save us from another painful year of portentous, ineffectual leaders. We need a government that is purposefully incompetent, not naturally so. We need leaders that aren’t afraid to render themselves moronic for the sake of a joke. In other words, we need the best: The lazy intellectuals, the self-deprecating comedians, the passionately dispassionate.
Perhaps my dream isn’t so far-fetched. As A.S. elections stand, voters rarely know anything about whom they’re voting for or why. A candidate isn’t chosen for his or her charisma or political acumen. Instead, they’re elected as a direct result of having the most clichŽd billboards on campus.
However, if candidates engaged in hijinks similar to those of P & S, they would at least be elected for true notoriety, as opposed to a “cute” parody of an iPod commercial.
The notion that only the ostensibly “serious” care about “serious” matters, and that jokesters don’t care about anything, is a bothersome misconception. Often, the “serious” types are simply narrow-minded people that have pledged themselves to some kind of dogmatic mentality. Their grave demeanor stems from an inability to be self-critical. They lack the ability to recognize that some of their own ideas could very well be just as ridiculous as everybody else’s. On the other hand, clowns and comedians have examined most possibilities – analyzing all the arguments and the justifications – and they are at least aware that each view has some level of perversion. So, they poke fun at the world, not because they don’t care about it, but because they’ve seen it for what it is.
Besides, humor is far from ineffective. What better way to flash the bird at the American government and its institutions than to make a complete parody of them? A.S. passes resolutions and states its positions on issues, but who cares and who listens? A prank, however, can grab and hold the attention of the masses.
Student government would then be a real democracy. It would be a performance with constituents as audience members – and the audience could always join the raucous on stage if they wanted to. There would be no clashes of ideology because our government wouldn’t have any intelligible ideology. Of course, our current clamorous government officials and their supporters would pose a problem. But they could be paid off.
Pranksters of the university, unite!