Arts & Culture

This American Life Ira Glass Man-Fatuation Post: Back To Penn State

It’s the trip Ira Glass and Co. probably never wanted to take again. Read More

By / November 23, 2011
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This week, TAL does it again.

Two years ago, This American Life ran an episode called “Number 1 Party School” about the country’s then number 1 party school: Penn State.  Half of the episode, which was re-run this week, really delved into the jovial, often debauched atmosphere at Penn State.  Ira sat with a TAL staffer on her front porch smack in the middle of the Penn State campus, as the two watched drunken students drag stop signs back to their houses, throw trash on people’s lawns and actually pee within their eyeshot.  The following story from two years ago is meditation on the drinking problem at Penn State accompanied by the question of whether it will or can ever be fixed (The answer being “no” because it would irk wealthy alumni’s.) The lead off rerun story gets right to the heart of the current news bomb by investigating the world of Joe-Pa Penn State football and tailgating.  It’s amazing hearing about these kids who set up shantytown style tents in the weeks before football season to score tickets.  One can’t help but wonder listening to this story whether there’s any nihilistic, artsy kids at this school.  It would seem that the answer is no.  At Penn State, there is no Nietzsche, only Joe-Pa.

Thus the stage is set perfectly for the first, new half of this week’s episode (although thinking back on it, the old part probably would have been more effective if played first.)  In the aftermath of the recent news that a member of Penn State’s athletics department had molested at least 8 boys and that members of the administration, knew about it, and didn’t nothing to stop it, the campus at Penn State has been turned upside down.  Riots have broken out, the alleged molester’s house has been vandalized and half the athletics department have been fired.  Apparently football games aren’t the same either and it’s gotten so bad that one football fan compared it 9/11.

Of course this seems melodramatic to any non-football fan or non-Penn State alumni, but the show takes the proper steps to try and illustrate, interviewing people whose memories are predicated on the Penn State games of their past, and showing the utter confusion and darkness floating over the locale.  Charges have been filed, and Sandusky (the defendant) has recently been interviewed on television in attempt to defend himself.  Regardless of the trial’s outcome, the situation is completely devoid of a bright side.

When broken down this is a story of powerful well-liked men who obscured a terrible deed, and allowed a child to be victimized in order to keep that power.  Nonetheless, we learn this week on TAL that locals still perceive Paterno as a good man who made a mistake. Like the Catholic Church (who’ve been evoked since the story broke), people forgive Paterno and Penn State sports, because many find meaning in both things.  It sounds to me like Penn State needs a strong philosophy department now more than ever.