Bad Blood–A Southern Tradition

eagle, familiar denizon of these parts and well-known to regulars, sends me stuff all the time that he runs across in the course of his surfing-travel, and he just sent this one. He sees it as a reflection in microcosm of the macro-world of politics and Big Business–

With the wide spread lying that is going on in government and Wall Street, what can we expect form young ppeople in college? TV and movies saying “anything goes as long as it makes money or gets one prestige” so GO!GO!GO Baby.

–and I don’t know but what he’s right. It’s sure indicative of something. From CNN, a report that a sorority in Columbia, Missouri told the sisters to lie if they had to in order to make sure they were allowed to give blood. Why? Because there was a competition on campus to see which organization would give the most.

The American Red Cross tells those who are sick or have recently received tattoos or piercings not to donate blood, both to protect the health of donors and to lessen the risk of transmitting diseases to recipients.But sorority members at the University of Missouri-Columbia — a school that once set a world record for blood collection — were urged by a fellow member to lie about their health.

In an e-mail sent last Tuesday to about 170 members of Gamma Phi Beta, sophomore Christie Key, the chapter’s blood donation coordinator, wrote: “I dont (sic) care if you got a tattoo last week LIE. I dont (sic) care if you have a cold. Suck it up. We all do. LIE. Recent peircings (sic)? LIE.”

She added: “Even if youre (sic) going to use the Do Not Use My Blood sticker, GIVE ANYWAY.” Donors who have second thoughts at the donation site can discreetly attach a sticker to a health questionnaire indicating their blood shouldn’t be used.

In her e-mail, Key wrote: “We’re not messing around. Punishment for not giving blood is going to be quite severe.”

Blood-letting, perhaps? Leeches and whips?

What was at stake, here, anyway? There was no prize, nobody was going to win a Bronco or a 2-week vacation to Fiji, bless their materialistic little hearts. No, they were apparently doing it for no more than the Honor of being #1 in the Campus Blood Drive, a Drive which has, as you might imagine what with it being in the South and all, a Tradition to Uphold:

On a single day in 1999, the campus drive took in 3,156 units of blood — enough to earn recognition from the Guinness Book of Records as the largest single-site, single-day blood collection.

In the 20’s, it was stuffing phonebooths; in the 30’s it was swallowing goldfish; in the 60’s, it was panty-raids; in the 80’s, hazing. Now, it’s collecting blood. Fads and flash-crazes have been endemic on college campuses since before the turn of the last century. There’s a reason the word “sophomoric” was coined on behalf of a college crowd, and cut-throat competition has ever been a part of it, everybody trying to out-do everybody else. It’s as American as industrial theft and the Wars of the Corporate Roses, as common as apple pie and clawing your way to The Top using the mashed skulls of your friends as stepping-stones.

Of such energy, pluck, and the determination to cheat were we formed from the end of the Civil War. The will to lie, steal, embezzle and swindle is what made this country great–the Gold Rush, the railroads, steel mills, coal companies and steamship lines, the Barbary Coast, the Chicago Loop, Wall Street, cattle ranches, communications, everything you can think of that built the US into a giant involved the lowest sort of skullduggery, betrayal, unethical manipulations and the illegal papering-over of bloody trails. Even the Homestead Act was little more than a political land-grab, and Edison had the electric light and moving pictures stolen right out from underneath him. (I’m not inventing any of this; it’s History, man. Look it up.)

So in a very important way, what this Sorority Queen did fits snugly into the warp-and-woof of our nation’s deepest instincts, practices, and philosophies: If you’re not #1, you’re NOBODY. Be #1, and no one’s going to ask questions about how you got there. Corrollary: If you’re #2, nobody knows your name and NOBODY CARES.

But– But. On the other hand, look at the differences. All those cherished illicit skills, passed from parent-to-child over the course of generations with loving care, put to the service of *gasp* a Good Cause. Not for prizes or money but for the sake of providing the most blood for the sick and injured. The young Andrew Carnegie wouldn’t have known what to make of it. He would have thought they had all lost their marbles or dismissed them: “Well, wha’ d’ye expec’ fr-r-rum wimmen?” The older Andrew would have understood, though, and maybe donated some of his own, frail, precious bodily fluid to the effort.

You know, social science teaches us that it takes many generations to undo the bad habits passed along to us by our ancestors. It isn’t a thing to be done quickly (until the point of Critical Mass is reached, as it was in the 60’s). It’s done slowly, one poor inch at a time (“Slowly I turned….”), each generation slipping one more knot, breaking one more link in the chain until the bonds finally loosen and fall to the floor.

For all the stupidity of and danger in it (the people who got the bad blood could have become ill with a deadly infection), give credit where credit is due: they weren’t ripping off the church poorbox or rolling some drunk in an alley for fun, and they weren’t spending all their spare time studying how Bill Gates made an art out of legal thievery or Michael Milken made legal thievery out of what used to be stock-swindling. At root, they were trying to do some Good. And remember this: Somebody, probably one of their own, was upset enough to play whistleblower and knock the whole thing into a cocked hat.

We’ve come a long way, baby, and maybe we’re not doing quite as badly as we thought.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s