My friend is a student at Cal Poly Pomona. But when he was in high school he was in the marching band. His high school’s marching band had a particularly strict sense of hierarchy, and so freshmen who were just joining the band were expected to “stay in their place.” This is an account my friend told me, of a freshman who was particularly unruly and how upperclassmen retaliated during band camp, a week in which the band members train and get to know each other:
“There was this one kid, who, um… who was a freshman, and he was pretty much just a general asshole. Um, he didn’t show up to practice, he’d cut in line past seniors to get to food and stuff like that, and… he was even worse to people who were, like, of his year. And… yeah, so basically he’d go around stealing people’s stuff. And so, one of the seniors were like… “So um,yeah, this is too far so we need to get back at him.” So we took duct tape and we duct taped his sleeping bag… until there was more duct tape than actual sleeping bag. And… yeah, basically it was like… justice. But kind of like, vigilante justice or something like that.”
[“Do you feel that pranks like this kind of enforce the hierarchy you guys have? Like, if people fall out of line…”]
“Yeah, for sure, ‘cause generally if you are being really… arrogant, and, you know, just a general douchebag… we try to put you back in your place.”
My friend definitely thinks that this disproportionate retribution was effective in perpetuating the cultural hierarchy of his high school band. The duct taping tradition in that particular community far predates my friend’s account. He remembers it as one of the more common gestures used in disciplining freshmen.
There’s a certain discontinuity betweem the nature of the prank and the values it’s supposed to reinforce. Band requires a lot of self-disicipline and respect of bandmates/directors, yet this prank is demeaning to the target. I think this irony can be explained by the way band’s hierarchy works. As my friend said, the targets of these pranks are usually unruly or arrogant freshmen. So, as a form of reciporcity, the upperclassmen return acts of disrespect with more disrespect. On the other hand, it seems likely that duct taping is something that amuses high schoolers because it demeans the target. There’s a constant struggle of being “better,” and strict hierarchies like band help to reinforce that way of thinking.