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Earnest “Shitposiums” celebrate pet-passions

The air in the lecture hall was heavy with the smell of Domino’s pizza. It was 5:00 p.m. and a group of students had gathered in the tiered rows of Science Center 150. Munching politely on pizza and other snacks, including mac and cheese, pretzels and carrots, the audience listened to the findings of Autumn Carney’s‘19 research on which showers in Peet are the best.

After using each and every one of the Peet showers for a total of at least two minutes each, Carney concluded that the best shower in the dorm is located on the first floor. The fourth floor showers, according to her research, are the worst.

Carney’s was one of the many “Shitposiums” conducted on Symposium Day this past Wednesday. Shitposiums are, at first glance, a simple spoof on the academic, credited and research-based presentation. Whereas a normal symposium makes an argument based on an understood seriousness of its research, a shitposium focuses on the personal passions, pet-peeves and obsessions of the presenter.

You’d expect an event like this to aim for laughs, but what was most disarming and delightful about this past Shitposium night was its earnestness.

Carney stayed at the front of the room fielding questions long after her presentation had ended. Attendees asked her about her methodology (a rating system of 1 to 5), what was the control group of her experiment (the favorable qualities of the 1st floor showers) and how often did she use each one (most once, but a few twice).

“I didn’t expect there to be this many questions,” Carney laughed before ending her presentation.

Each presentation was punctuated by a brief intermission as the next person on deck set up their powerpoint. The atmosphere was relaxed. People filtered in and out throughout the shitposiums, and stepped up in the breaks between to grab snacks and talk to their friends.

Next, Pieter Bonin‘19 gave a presentation entitled “Snek vs. Snake,” which talked about the attributes of different types of snakes, explained in an internet vernacular. Bonin, who has personal experience with snakes, fondly explained that they are very stupid, tube-shaped animals.

Some of the terms Bonin used to describe and categorize snakes included “Danger Noodles,” “Boop Snoots,” and the mimicry-based “You’ve been faked snek.” Bonin’s presentation was greeted by audience questions about snake classifications and identifications. Audience members used Bonin’s own terminology in the phrasings of their questions.

Another notable shitposium came from Aaron Hirst‘19. Hirst’s shitposium, entitled “Bertolt Brecht: Why and How I’m Going to Punch Him Out, and Why You Should Join Me,” an impassioned and frustrated presentation on the theatrical theories of Brecht, inventor of Epic Theater, and why they are fundamentally flawed.

Hirst explained the tenets of Brecht’s Epic Theater, verfremdung and gestus, the practices of isolating an actor from a character and boiling down characters to gestures, respectively. Hirst talked about how Brecht wanted to make his audience active rather than passive, writing exclusively for upper class theater goers of the 1930s in order to convince them to do something to change society.

Plays in the 1930s, Hirst argued, were just bad, but they shaped the cultural environment that germinated Brecht’s ideas about theater, ideas he argues that harm the medium as it stands today.

Hirst said that the Brechtian play Beloit put on last year, “The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui” wasn’t good, and that modern productions of Brecht are ineffective because theater is no longer the primary medium through which people absorb culture.

The presentation moved from an examination of Brecht and transformed into an examination of Hirst’s own frustrations with theater. Hirst stated that theater appeals to a very specific demographic of people who already enjoy theater, i.e. “Democrats who have money” and that makes it an ineffective medium for communicating information.

Theater is dying, according to Hirst, who at this point of the presentation was visibly disgruntled. However, he stated that the movie “The Big Short” uses Brechtian elements effectively, and could signal the beginning of a promising new genre in film.

Noel Jones‘19 gave a thoughtful and well-researched presentation on “Flat Earth Theories.” Jones took it on themself to consolidate much of flat earth theory into a statement of purpose, which read as follows: “The Flat Earth Society mans the guns against oppression of thought and the Globularist lies of a new age. Standing with reason we offer a home to those wayward thinkers that march bravely on with REASON and TRUTH in recognizing the TRUE shape of the Earth – Flat.”

Jones’s shitposium was fantastic and dry, humorous but clearly thorough and done in the spirit of learning more about other people’s perspective. Evidence for a flat earth includes the fact that the horizon always rises to meet the eye, the curvature to the horizon is not visible from airplanes, and that NASA’s images of Earth from space are doctored.

Gravity is not real, “things just fall,” and the other planets in our solar system are round, just not Earth. Antarctica is not actually a continent, but a massive ice wall that rings the flattened Earth together. An especially fringe theory dictates that Australia is fake, and that everyone who supposedly lives there are in South America and are just pretending.

“In some versions space exists. In some versions it doesn’t.” Jones explained, calmly seated at the front of the classroom.

Though their presentation was humorous, Jones ended on a sincere note. They explained that many people who believe in Flat Earth theories have been given reason to distrust academic authority, and often lack the resources to become better educated. Jones encouraged empathy for those people, while acknowledging that their presentation had been poking fun at them.

The shitposiums could have easily been a cynical and parody-based spoof on research-based presentations. Instead, they were a celebration of the niche interests of individuals. The atmosphere was accepting and earnest, wry but curious, amiable and well-fed. Wednesday night marked the promising continuation of a new tradition, a DIY fest of pet-obsessions for people who want to learn.

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