Scarfies or barfies?

26/02/2009

Monday’s ODT welcomed students to Dunedin with an editorial headlined Dunedin’s lifeblood.

It noted a welcome decline in anti-social behaviour though cautioned:

Those so inclined might well find that there are consequences and that leniency from university authorities and the courts is harder to gain than they expect.

Columnist Michael Guest also sounded a cautionary note in his ode to students:

Welcome back, it’s good you’re here,
The year’s about to start.
But listen up and heed this well,
Take this advice to heart.

20,000 students,
The good old days are gone.
The sheer amount of numbers mean
That leniency’s a con.

. . . A rowdy night of fun and games,
Some disorderly dereliction.
You plead before a heartless Judge,
But no discharge without conviction.

With degree in hand, you’ll want some fun,
With international travel.
Canada’s closed, that’s just the start
Your plans will soon unravel.

. . . You’re all scrubbed up with suit and tie
You think your lawyer’s plucky
But discharges and suppression
Are only for the lucky.

You’re bullet proof? You’re fancy free?
It’ll be OK on the night?
The Judge will smile down on you?
And let you off? Yeah, Right!

This may be prophetic because while there was little sign of  Tuesday’s mayhem in George Street yesterday afternoon, retailers I spoke to were furious, as they had every cause to be.

Exactly who is to blame is a moot point, it may not only have been students and it definitely wasn’t only the first years. At least some of the trouble came not from those in the toga parade but by-standers  and as as today’s ODT editorial  points out there actions weren’t spontaneous:

  . . . it is beyond most people’s comprehension that anyone could actually plan to throw buckets of vomit and faeces at participants in the parade.

But first-hand witnesses are adamant it happened – and how else can you explain it other than premeditation? How else could such material be collected for that use? It is beyond abhorrent.

 The woman who organised what is thought to be the first toga parade, former Dunedin City Council events manager Islay McLeod,  is sad the event has become become nothing more than “an initiation rite through a sewer”.

Ms McLeod said the parade, which started in 2001, was initially called the first day parade and was created to welcome students the same way as graduands were farewelled.

It had gone from “scarfies to barfies in less than a decade. . .”

It’s difficult to understand how supposedly intelligent people could behave this way and this quote from a first year student who was caught up in the violence raises more questions than it answers:

“I think some ground rules need to be laid down for this event for it to be safe and enjoyable,”

Ground rules? We already have laws which protect people and property from disorderly behaviour, including casting offensive manner, but people who disregard them are hardly likely to be deterred or controlled by ground rules.

And one of the reasons for that is that on top of the total disregard for other people, their property, society’s norms and the law ,those responsible appear to have no sense of shame.

Paul Thomas  points out in another context:

The virus attacking our capacity to feel shame mutated into a more aggressive form and the unwillingness to accept responsibility became a refusal to acknowledge error or harm done, let alone atone for it.

 Commenting on that Macdoctor says:

Our sense of shame is derived from society. As society ceases to define what is acceptable conduct, people start stepping through the invisible, ill-defined boundaries at will. Society then feels outraged by this behaviour, because it is so far “beyond the pale”.  The look we receive back is one of incomprehension.

It doesn’t matter who they are or what they wear – gang members in patches, students in togas, business people in suits – when they behave badly we’re all outraged, but outrage  is impotent when faced with an absence of shame.

P.S. Dave Gee has photos of the parade/riot


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