Alright, I know I'm on foreign territory here, and I don't mean to step on any toes (sorry.), but I've heard that there are three things any upstanding Harvard student should do before they graduate: take place in the primal scream, be, um, naughty in the Widener stacks, and pee on the John Harvard statue. To my understanding, peeing on the statue is quite prevalent. I was wondering if anyone else, particularly any Harvard students, finds it as incredibly offensive as I do that there is a tradition to pee on that oh-so-famous foot that tour guide recommend tourists and prospective students rub for good luck?
To me, it just seems so arrogant and degrading as to be beyond belief. It's tough for me to articulate this, but I mean, all these tourists, many who basically see Harvard as the symbol of success, just want to share in a small part of Harvard's greatness by taking part in this tradition. All the prospective students who would kill (or kill themselves working) to earn a spot at Harvard just want a little extra luck so that they might be fortunate enough to be classmates with Harvardians. I guess my basic point is that these tourists and these prospective students look up to the Harvard kids. And it just seems so callous for those Harvard kids to pee on that statue, because it seems to me like it is a deliberate mocking of those tourists, and it seems like it is peeing on the aspirations of those students. It seems like the ultimate gesture of superiority and the ultimate slap in the face to those who dream of being like them.
I know this is a rather peculiar question, and I want to say again that no offense was intended. Is it just a thoughtless tradition? Do some people try to stop it? Is it done with deliberate malice or just drunken insensitivity?
Well you could take it as a symbolic protest against symbolism in general. While the act of peeing on the statue may be symbolically insulting to those touching it, it offers no actual harm (urine is sterile so in fact it manages to clean the foot) but at the same time mocks the supposed symbolism of a connection to Harvard born by touching the statue's foot for luck. These students (i.e. pis'sers) have a real connection to Harvard, not merely one born of symbolic ritual.
And really, if you become a Harvard student I doubt you'll feel as much sympathy for those tourists.
Well, Ali G, that's just it - "While the act of peeing on the statue may be symbolically insulting to those touching it." I'm not worried about immunological effects (although from a hygeine standpoint, it's gross on a rather visceral level - would you want to touch a spot where everyone has peed?) or anything, it's just that it does really seem symbolically insulting.
I know that no one at Harvard has much sympathy for the tourists. But it's the adulation of people like the tourists that keeps the "Harvard brand" thriving. If those tourists stopped coming, it would only be because they didn't think Harvard the pre-eminent name in education anymore, and all of the kids wouldn't be able to capitalize on the prestige.
I don't think it's fair to attribute this to any arrogance on Harvard's part. Every school has its harmless traditions--the arrogant thing would be for anyone not affiliated with the school to expect those traditions to change on their behalf, especially if they're not doing anyone any real harm.
And from my understanding the statue, or at the very least the foot, is cleaned off every morning.
For what it's worth, I've seen many incidents of peeing, and many incidents of foot-rubbing, and never the twain did meet. John Harvard's lap suffers the brunt of the punishment. It would take a contortionist to hit his foot.
I think this tradition is mainly about reclaiming a bit of Harvard for ourselves. Sometimes (like when we are asked to pose for pictures on our way to class) it can feel like we're on display for someone else's enjoyment, and that our school is a stage set for the public instead of a community for us. So it's just a little inside joke, a reminder that the tourists don't own the place.