Initiation tradition/Practical Joke
In my informant’s school (grades 7-12), there are weekly school gatherings called Town Meetings. In these meetings, any student may make an announcement. It is tradition that when the first 7th grader gets up to make an announcement every year, the students break out in applause, but do not stop applauding. The noise of clapping too overwhelming, the student awkwardly stands on stage and cannot finish the announcement. My informant thought this was funny, and enjoyed the tradition.
Although embarrassing to the victim, it allowed everybody else to laugh together, reinforcing the community. This is also a liminal activity that introduces the new students to the school, a form of initiation. Knowledge is key here; those that know the joke can partake. The seventh graders, who do not know the joke is coming, are the “other”. Once they know, though, the 7th graders become part of the community. A year later, those 7th graders (now 8th graders) can be part of the joke and laugh at the new 7th graders too.
Unofficial tradition/Practical Joke
My informant described a unofficial tradition in a school when talking about pranks. The following is a transcript of our interview:
“During the assembly before Christmas – the SAC (student activities committee, which is basically an amateur SNL) Christmas assembly, there is always a streaker. We do the assembly, unlike the others, in the main common area for the school because it’s a big area, and the area we use for a stage is where the Senior couches are, and there is basically a huge window out to the backside of the school where there is a field. So people while we do the assembly, people — because this is always in the dead of winter and there is snow on the ground – so people go streaking and wear masks of some variety, doing something funny. People don’t always get totally naked. No one last year got naked, but when you’re in a speedo in freezing weather its really cold and still funny.
To my informant, “it’s a tradition, and every year the administration says NO ONE CAN STREAK THIS YEAR, but every year people do it. It is a demonstration of student power versus the administration.”
Not only are students demonstrating their own power by disregarding the administrations threats, they also interrupt a mandatory event planned by the school. Thus, the students are demonstrating that they are also not under the control of the administration by ignoring the “mandatory” nature of the gathering, and they insult the administration by making a mockery of their gathering. Moreover, the streakers break school rules by disregarding the dresscode. The masks students wear protect them from getting into trouble, but also provide an extra element of comedy to the scene. Though breaking school rules is a key component to the tradition, the other part is comedy: the daring acts of defiance are also aimed to entertain fellow students.