USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘USC’
Customs
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USC Nazi Tree

Context:

My informant is a 21 year old student from the University of Southern California. This conversation took place in a university dining hall one evening. The informant and I were in an open space, and the informant’s significant other was present and listening to the conversation, as well. The SO’s presence, is the most likely reason that the informant was much more dramatic and told the legend quite jokingly, as if for the purpose to get laughs out of both me and the SO.In this account, he explains an urban legend from USC. This Nazi Tree was recently mentioned in an LA Times article.  This is a transcription of our conversation.

 

Text:

Urban legend turned truth at the University of Southern California, is that there on our premises lies a single Nazi Tree. Before you say, “What? The USC institution—gilded in white privilege—has a Nazi tree on campus?” Well, when you have Von KleinsSmid as a president for a decade, wild shit happens.

So essentially, at the 1936 Munich Olympics, there are obviously lots of USC athletes there, and, you know, in celebration and in giving thanks, the Nazi regime gave saplings to all the athletes. And so one sapling made it back to USC, and it was planted right in between the back of Bovard and the back of PED [the Physical Education Building] over by the Book Store, and so now enshrined on our campus is a gift directly from Hitler himself.”

  

Thoughts:

Though this is the first time I heard a formal telling of this USC urban legend, I did hear word of it in the first few weeks that I came to this school. The informant and I are in an organization together, Trojan Advocates for Political Progress, so discussion of this tree began again in our meetings due to the relevant name change of VKC (which is happening upon the discovery that Von KleinSmid was in support of of eugenics). Looking this up, I saw that the LA Times also mentioned “one of two [saplings] planted on the USC campus survives to this day.”

My informant proceeded to tell me that, after doing some research on Reddit, he decided to explore the campus area of where the tree is possibly located; sure enough, he found the tree, which he stated was “unmistakably the tree because there was a plaque in front of it dedicated to the 1936 Munich Olympics.” He’s not the first I’ve met one to search for this tree— this tree seems to have the same reputation as ghosts, where people hunt around to see if its existence is true. I surmise that, just like ghosts, it’s tied to our shame or guilt of our school’s racist and corrupt history. The official existence of this tree is just another factor that reinforces the notion that USC is racist, both past and present.

 

For the LA Times article mentioned above, please refer to this citation:

Crowe, Jerry. “To Protect and Preserve a Tree Rooted in Games.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times,                         20 Aug. 2007, www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2007-aug-20-sp-crowe20-story.html.

 

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Song for Finals

“Right before finals, the band usually plays at Primal, so we will play right outside Leavey Library, to like cheer people up before finals and get people hype for studying. The songs that we play are usually pretty variable, but at the end, we always play ‘Conquest’ at the end and scream ‘Beat the Finals’.” 

Context: The informant, EK, is a member of the USC Trojan Marching Band. We were having a conversation about the strange rituals and customs of the band that are specific to that one student group. This ritual is an unofficial one, as in years past they have gotten in trouble with the university, however the band is trying to bring back the tradition, with and without official approval. EK really enjoys participating in this ritual as she feels that it really exemplifies the motivating aspect of the band; she also loves seeing the students’ faces when the band starts to play

Analysis: While this may seem like a simple tradition, this ritual demonstrates the role and importance that the Trojan marching band plays for the students at USC. The band’s role is not only limited to promoting school spirit at football games and other sporting events, but also to energize and boost morale for the entire student body. As someone that has witnessed this performance while in the library, hearing the amazing band play uplifting and motivating songs brought joy to the hundreds of stressed and overwhelmed students in the library who had been studying for days. This impact shows how the band’s culture and traditions affect the people in their community, and is capable of reminding the students that there is more to USC then just working.

Along with this, the choice of song that they play at the end of their performance demonstrates the meaning and overall significance of the performance. The song “Conquest” is usually played by the USC marching band when the USC football team beats their opponent to celebrate beating the enemy. By performing this song, the studying students will get the same feeling that they would feel when the USC football team wins. They suddenly feel a sense of confidence and increased morale and ready to vanquish their enemy: finals. Along with this, the screaming of “beat the finals” at the end of the performance echoes the sentiment that finals is something that we all should put our effort into trying to win our finals by doing our best. 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Kicking the Lightpost – USC Band Tradition

“So the band has a tradition of, every time we march to the football stadium–the Coliseum–for games, everyone has to kick the bottom of the light pole as we are leaving campus for good luck. Then, we also kick it on our way back on [campus] after the game.

If we win the football game, we always play ‘Conquest’ at Tommy Trojan as, like, a celebration.”

Context: The informant, EK, is a member of the USC Trojan Marching Band (also called Spirit of Troy), and specifically part of the drum line of the band. We were having a discussion about some of the strange and somewhat rituals that the band does on game days (football) and how they affect the outcome of the games. EK feels an obligation to participate in this ritual as she is a member of the band, and fears the consequences of not participating in the tradition as it is a highly ingrained belief in the student group. The band, according to EK, relies heavily on many superstitions and traditions in order to ensure the success of the USC football team.

Analysis: For the informant, this ritual is extremely important for the band and to ensure a good outcome for the football game that they will be performing in. In this manner, this ritual is a demonstration of folk belief and superstition and how it supposedly affects the outcome of events that can be seemingly out of our hands. With this superstition, this group of performers can have a level of control over an unpredictable event.

There is also a participatory context for this superstition. If you do not participate in this ritual and kick the light pole, then if the football team loses, the band can blame the person who didn’t kick the pole. In a way, knowing and participating in the superstitions of the marching band is a way to figure out who is a member, and who is an outsider. Due to this, if you choose not to participate, or merely forget, your band members will see you as someone who is not really a member of that group anymore, and only after you resume your participation in that ritual can one resume their membership. This is mirrored in many other societal groups, from firefighters to physicians to USC students. Particular superstitions and customs are defining components of culture, and the groups that perform them claim them as a piece of their identity.

Customs
Game
Humor
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Greek Life Shotgun Pinning

Text

The following piece was collected from a twenty-two year-old girl who is also a student at USC in the Greek community. We were discussing a “shotgun pinning” that was to occur later that day. She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Collector: “So, what is it exactly?”

Informant: “Basically, it’s the people who are more wacky or untraditional in the way that they don’t want a normal pinning. So their friends set it up for them. It’s so much more fun than the normal pinnings. It’s funny.”

Collector: “What do they do?”

Informant: “First, the guy’s friends get him really drunk and the girls do the same thing. Then all the friends tie the couple to a mattress. They have to sit on the mattress in front of the house while all their friends give embarrassing speeches and everybody cheers.”

Context

The Informant learned of this custom within the Greek community at USC by first hearing it from other members, both in her sorority and friends in fraternities. The Informant then witnessed it herself. She believes it to be a non-serious, fun way to show off your partner but stress-free because that how the couple acts anyway. She remembers them because they occur at least once every year before the seniors graduate.

Interpretation

            Upon first hearing about the untraditional tradition, I laughed at the strangeness of it. But after witnessing one myself, I believe it to have a slightly different meaning. I think the couples that participate in the shotgun pinnings are, like my informant said, a non-typical sorority or fraternity member. By allowing their friends to handle it and force them to go through with it, the stress is removed from the situation. I also believe that everyone finds them to be more fun because no one is taking themselves seriously. If a couple were to participate in a shotgun pinning ceremony, I would immediately think, ‘Oh yeah, so they’re not that into the normal pinning.’ Then I begin to think about all the possibilities of that couple to dislike the Greek community and so they act in unconventional ways in order to make that point clear.

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations

USC High Dive: Graduation Tradition

Main Piece:

Jumping off the high dive at the USC Aquatic Center before you graduate

Informant: Apparently you have to jump off the high dive before you graduate from USC. It’s in the aquatic center and it’s like 30 or 40 feet high in the air. You’re supposed to like go break in or something late at night and just go do it. I haven’t done it yet, though.

Background: The informant is a sophomore here at USC. This piece was recorded in person at her apartment. She has yet to jump off the high dive, neither have her friends. The informant said she had learned of this tradition even before arriving on campus freshman year. A potential roommate who she had met over Facebook had told her of this tradition. The informant was apathetic towards this tradition. It was clear that completion of this task was not on her to-do list.

Context: For every single college and university, there are a myriad of “before you graduate” traditions like this one. Some schools value these traditions more so than others. Going off this conversation, it seems as if this tradition isn’t taken very seriously.

Analysis: I am interested in the origin of this tradition. Immediately I was drawn to the very literal relationship between leaping off the high dive and “taking the leap” out of your comfort zone and into the working world. Personally I had not heard of this tradition before this conversation. Additionally, I can think of another reason for the development of this tradition. USC athletics is quite possibly what this school is known for. As such, the department has separated itself from the non-athlete student body. Regular students can not use the facilities managed by USC Athletics. Possibly, this tradition arose as a sort of reclamation act for non-athletes here at USC. In breaking into and using USC Athletic facilities without their knowledge, non-athletes could be taking a subtle jab at the department as a whole.

Digital
Folk speech

Wombo Combo

Context:
Playing Super Smash Bros with some friends at my house and one of my friends, S, keeps shouting “Wombo combo” while beating us all. S is a 20-year-old male from California who plays Super Smash Bros a lot.

Piece:
S: *hits me and another person in the game rapidly* “WOMBO COMBO BABY”
Me: “Did you come up with that or did you hear that somewhere?”
S: “Aw nah man, LumpyCPU said it in an old YouTube video but it’s hilarious.”

Discussion:
The video is only 49 seconds and it is clear why S appreciated its value; it’s hilarious. It sounds like two young men getting over excited about their victory in an older version of the game and screaming at the top of their lungs “WOMBO COMBO”. It is clear in the video that other people appreciated the new slang and it created a sense of unity amongst players of this game. It also is a good way to get people around you to laugh by screaming a nonsense phrase that clearly demonstrates excitement.

Reference:
The original video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pD_imYhNoQ4

Legends
Narrative

Ghost in McCarthy Honors Dorm 3107

Abstract:

This piece is about a ghost sighting in USC McCarthy Honors Dorm Room 3107. A white figure sleeping with the informant in bed was spotted by her roommate and told to her later.

Main Piece:

“L: Last year I was in the dining hall and one of my friends that wasn’t one of my roommates was making some joke about my room being haunted. And I was like “what? No. Don’t tell me this.” And my friend was like “Oh did your roommate not tell you this?” So it was my direct roommate. So one night we were all hanging out and watching movies or something and the next morning my roommate asked that friend, “why did you sleep in my roommate’s bed last night?” And she was like “I didn’t sleep in her bed last night.” And my roommate said “No I definitely saw a really pale bed laying next to her at night.” So it was laying with me.

C: That’s the creepiest thing I’ve heard.

L: So I think it’s because I have all white blankets and maybe it’s because I had all my blankets pushed to one side and maybe looked like a person. It happened in May of last year, so I only had a few more weeks left in that room.

C: And you lived in the village so they were new?

L: Yeah they were new. So no rumor of them being haunted. But we were watching Buzzfeed Unsolved, so maybe she was super paranoid or something.

C: What room were you in?

L: 3107. In the lofted double. So we were high up. Like you can barely see each other from the beds because we are so high up. She thought it was my friend who was really pale, but then we thought it was a ghost.”

Context:

The informant is a 19 year old sophomore who lived her freshman year in Room 3107 in McCarthy Honors Dorm at the USC Village. She was the first year of students to live in the newly built dorms, so there was no rumor that there could be ghosts from past students or people.

Analysis:

Unlike the informant, I had heard rumors about ghosts being at the USC Village before. Though these ghosts were not trying to haunt students, it was more of the idea that they were haunting the school for taking over the neighborhood due to gentrification. I had heard from people in the community the continuing dislike of the expansion of USC, especially the USC Village. I have heard of ghosts from Denny’s that couldn’t afford to get a place in the Village due to this type of sentiment as well.

Legends

The Basement Nazi Flag

Main Text

Subject: USC has like, a Nazi Germany flag in the basement somewhere. Of like, Mudd Hall or somewhere, st…stashed away. Cuz’ like…it was hanging up during World War II or whatever? In this very building…I guess?

Background Information

The interview was conducted in the Von KleinSmid Center library basement, which is the “very building” referred to by the subject in the interview. The subject is a fourth-year anthropology student at the University of Southern California. During the year of this interview, they heard this legend from an acquaintance, who heard it through word of mouth.

Context

The subject has spread the legend “once or twice […] within the same group circle” in the context of “shitting on USC.” Given the university’s recent admissions scandals, they consider sharing the legend timely, as yet another example of “all the shit that USC has been doing, and that people have been frustrated about.” They have even experienced the urge to share this legend and other similar anti-USC rumors when campus tour groups are passing by, as an “exposé” of the university to otherwise blissfully ignorant potential and incoming students. The subject considers “shitting on USC” a personally significant activity in their life, because it annoys them that people laud USC for being a great school with great resources, when people ought to be more critical of the university’s blatantly unethical actions. They don’t want USC to “get away” with its corruption, and even though sharing the legend does little to bring tangible justice, it still challenges general perceptions of the school.

However, they mention they are “a little hesitant” to present it as a confirmed fact in their pursuit of encouraging others to “shit on USC.” They juxtapose the legend with other anti-USC legends that have had more factual verification, such as Traveler being a Confederate horse and Von KleinSmid being a eugenicist.

The Basement Nazi Flag legend is also not the first Nazi-related USC legend that the subject has heard. They draw parallels between this legend, and the legend of the Nazis having donated a tree to the university. They discuss how the Nazi Tree legend is similar to the Basement Nazi Flag legend, because the truth of both legends are difficult to confirm. On the other hand, they mention that the two legends are generally shared with different intentions: the Nazi Tree legend is sensational and often restyled as a tree that was donated by Hitler, whereas the Basement Nazi Flag is symbolic and meant to directly criticize the hidden corruption at USC.

Despite the questionable factuality of these legends, the subject argues that most people do take legends such as the Basement Nazi Flag seriously, given the political gravity of the subject matter. They mention that, even among those who share similarly critical opinions of USC, the reaction to hearing these legends is usually aghastness.

Interviewer’s Analysis

This legend is an example of folklore as counter-hegemony. Briefly, hegemony is defined as the total control over the terms of a narrative. In this case, USC maintains hegemony over its public image as a prestigious, top-tier university that is desirable to attend. The Basement Nazi Flag legend subverts this hegemony by presenting a visceral example of USC’s politically damnable history. What makes this legend such a powerful attack on USC’s character, is that it not only implies that USC is condemnable for having been affiliated with Nazis in the past, but that it ought to be doubly condemned for concealing that history from present company, essentially pretending like the affiliation never happened. The fact that there are several other similar, much more factually grounded legends such as the USC mascot Traveler being a Confederate horse, and former USC President Von KleinSmid being a eugenicist, suggests that even if the Basement Nazi Flag legend is not factually true, the anti-USC sentiments motivating its spread are rooted in historical reality.

For Further Reading

Two collections of the Nazi Tree legend reference by the subject appear in the Digital Folklore Archives. They are linked below here:

Folk speech
Humor

“Dark in Here!”

Context & Analysis

The subject is a BFA in USC’s School of Dramatic Arts Acting program, which is extremely competitive. I asked him if he knew of any theater traditions or sayings specific to USC’s theater program. I included the full dialogue of our conversation below for clarity.

Main Piece

Subject: ‘Dark in here’ is a big one for the BFA’s. Any time the lights turn off someone just has to go ‘Dark in here!”

Me: What’s the context of that?
Subject: It was a line in a scene and we—Mary Jo probably made them do that line for an hour straight.

Me: Who’s Mary Jo?

Subject: Mary Jo Negro is the head of undergraduate acting at USC, she’s our acting professor, she’s the one that cuts us [laughs]

Me: So what play was it taken from?

Subject: It’s a 10-minute play called ‘Tape’. It’s very bad. [laughs]

Me: So why did it become a saying within the BFA’s?

Subject: Uh, because we’re the ones that had to run through it for an hour—it was just that line. And so then every time the lights turn off we’d have to go ‘Dark in here!’—so the lights turn off and he [the main character] goes ‘Dark in here” and so now any time any professor ever turns the lights off somebody goes “Dark in here” and I hate it [laughs].

Customs
Folk speech

The SoCal Spell Out

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about some of his experiences at USC; particularly, I asked him if he knew of any strong traditions at USC (aside from the obvious ‘Fight On’). The subject is a member of the USC Triathlon team and is very active and involved on the team. He proceeded to tell me about this particular tradition he enjoys on the Tri team, which is also a tradition shared by many other USC sports teams.

Main Piece

“My favorite tradition is, like, the SoCal spell out, and it’s basically a lot of things that I think, like, USC athletic teams do here. It just consists of basically spelling out “Southern California”, like, really quickly and really loudly and then just, like, erupting in cheer at the very end. That actually is, like, really really fun to do and a good tradition to have, plus it also fills you up with adrenaline. So that’s a tradition that we have.”

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