Following the Computer Science 50 and Science of Cooking Fairs, the Harvard undergraduate body (in the most literal sense) participated in a multi-dimensional, public exposé this Wednesday, the annual Anatomical Science Fair, or what some refer to as Primal Scream. The students showed their overwhelming support for the biological sciences and the theory of evolution by symbolically and collectively devolving into a naked group of bodies, running around the Yard in 30-degree weather like a pack of Brazilian Spider Monkeys.
Not really. In fact, there’s nothing scientific, primal, or monkey-related about it—besides all the bananas. For the past week, I’ve heard my professors and friends say Primal Scream is a detrimental and patriarchal sausage-fest where a bunch of drunk kids expose themselves and expose how susceptible they are to peer pressure in the process. It has no point. No community outreach. No advancement of learning. No tangible benefit can come from risking health and pride by streaking through the Yard before finals week. That makes it sort of a unique event at Harvard—there’s not a single good reason to do it.
And that’s exactly why Harvard students should do it.
It seems like everything at Harvard has a point, excepting the construction outside the Science Center. All the buildings have labs and classes so students can get A’s and make a lot of money. The clubs have productive events so students can pad their resumes and make a lot of money. Even the statue of the founder, one of the most useless objects on any college campus, often serves as a useful meeting place and photo studio, among other things.
It all combines to make a fast-paced and exciting college environment for some of the smartest students in the world to follow their passions and compete against one another. Most Harvard students have a drive to succeed and look smart among their peers. But after a long semester of all-nighters and freak-outs, the debilitating pressure can take a toll.
So, it’s nice that right before finals, right before the driven students of Harvard have to face the institutionally mandated measure of their scholastic success over the long semester, they act like idiots. They go against every one of their studious and social Harvard instincts and just exist for a few moments in a purely physical way—a way that everyone can see. The only thing primal scream can add to our resumes is a few embarrassing photos. The only thing it can add to our studies is a better understanding of Freud’s theories. It has no point whatsoever. And that makes it liberating.
For me, taking the plunge into the naked night was a big step. Nudity is not one of my strong suits. The closest I usually come to being naked is in the shower, and even then I wear a full wetsuit and water weenies. I was nervous, a little scared even. But somehow, I found the stupidity (in my case it wasn’t that hard) to walk out of Grays with my friends into the cold Cambridge night with only a layer of polyester-cotton towel separating me from everything else.
The night air sent a chill down my spine as I ran to the crowd gathering outside of Hollis. I squeezed my way in amongst the bodies and felt the warmth of their excitement. A chant was thrown into the air— “USA! USA!” —and then the countdown came: “Eight…seven…six…five…why did I sign up for this?… four…I didn’t sign up for this…three…oh well…two…here we go…one…” The clock struck midnight. My towel flew open. I ran. I screamed.
I saw friends lining the pavement, cheering me on. I saw the band playing fight songs. I saw the Yard, the country’s great symbol of scholastic prestige and old, honorable times, filled with a thousand butts. For a few cold, embarrassing, miserable, and great moments, finals and the worries associated with them seemed like light-years away. After a first semester in college spent pushing my every intellectual and personal ability to try to stand out among a class of incredibly talented and passionate kids, I felt like an idiot. And it felt great.
So, I encourage Harvard students not to overanalyze primal scream. It’s not a patriarchal sausage-fest. It’s not a peer-pressure forum. It’s not a masochistic test of tolerance for embarrassment.
It’s just stupid—no ifs, ands, or…well…
Dashiell F. Young-Saver ’16, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Grays Hall.