Laugh it off

Thursday was filled with promises of free milkshakes but was thwarted by an alcohol safety and sexual assault seminar. Both things are important, obviously — I’m not a completely terrible person (please feel free to tell me otherwise in the comments!). But given that I wanted to spend my off-day imbibing in milk mixed with iced cream (ice cream, if you will) with a shit ton of sugar, not hear about safety on a college campus, which, as hard as it is to believe, barely relates to me at this point in my life, the experience was not high on my list. Nonetheless, to show support for a friend, I tagged along, risking a complimentary five $5 shake in the process. I really deal with some high-stakes shit.

It wasn’t any different from any other freshman-type seminar save the subject being a distinct demographic: sorority girls with a couple of hanger-on guys. The kind USC Department of Safety (DPS) officer covered all the usual safety measure for attending school in South Los Angeles, also reinforcing, “We know underage drinking happens … just be responsible.” Blah blah blah. What are you, DPS officer: my mom? Don’t tell me how to live my life! Get out of my room so I can listen to my FEELINGS by way of My Chemical Romance! I AM NOT OK!

The most shocking thing occurred was when whenever the officer spoke of something serious in a somewhat flippant, sheepish manner: People laughed. It threw me off, the amount of laughter heard in this tiny classroom. The information presented was, more or less, repeat information, so perhaps focus wasn’t at an all-time high. But the amount of chuckling was somewhat disconcerting.

This could be a complete overreaction to the situation. But it could be deeper than this, tied to how society handles borderline taboo topics. We laugh. It disarms the severity of the conversation and having to deal with real issues. It’s used every day by people to mask whatever’s racing around their head, without any inclination to share. As someone who lived off shaking off any question derived from, “Are you OK?” It was a defense mechanism employed by a shy 13-year-old — until my junior high counselor saw right through that façade, calling me on it. She pierced the usual smile, which turned into a frown and prompted tears in a matter of seconds.

It’s neither fun nor easy to consider serious topics, such as alcohol poisoning or sexual assault. I almost lost one of my best friends to the former with no idea until a solid three weeks after the fact it kept me up. I couldn’t sleep. My mind lingered on the real possibility that I would have just graduated without a stupid 18-year-old kid who had been a rock through my parents’ divorce and a generally introverted high school kid.

The whole laughing thing could stem from general discomfort with the police. No one enjoys dealing with the cops, because it usually means punishment, regardless of its legitimacy. For every lionization shown in fiction, from Law & Order to NCIS: Louisville, there’s a Michael Brown case on the news, one that makes waves and spurs further discussion on holding police to a standard. But no one wants to talk about it. If possible, the general populace would let every controversial subject slide by as it could briefly trouble one’s Facebook-reading experience or a singular moment awkward.

In fact, this whole post is frontloaded with an anecdote and humor to coolly break the ice in talking about this. Afterward, I asked friends who also attended with me if they noticed the laughter — not particularly. There’s nothing inherently wrong in doing that — few desire using every waking moment mulling such serious subjects. Yet, we must be wary and ensure whatever the topic is — alcohol abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse — that it must be fully treated with the severity they deserve. It provides no service to anyone but people’s short-term consciousness.

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