The new "Not Gay"
SATURDAY, the University hosted the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and a crowd of more than 60,000 for a football game that came complete with pre-game pyrotechnics, two marching band performances and, yet again, late game heroics by the Cavaliers. The only thing missing was the "not gay" chant, an insidious "tradition" that is undergoing a surprising transformation in the face of sustained opposition by groups as varied as Student Council, The Cavalier Daily and the Purple Shadows.
It would be difficult to explain the saga of the "not gay" chant to an outsider, for it could only take place within our peculiar football culture. The University, of course, has no fight song, but rather a "Good Ol' Song" dating to 1893 and sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne whenever the team scores. Like other works of its vintage, the Good Ol' Song uses "gay" to mean "happy," prompting contemporary singers to note that this does not mean "homosexual" by chanting "not gay" at end of the offending line. The chant ebbs and flows, and those new to the University have never seen it in full flower. When I arrived in 2000, participation was universal and it was loud enough to be heard on television broadcasts.
Saturday it was sung only by a handful of drunks who seemed less interested in clarifying their sexual preferences than in asserting the God-given right of students to behave badly at football games. One might say they were fighting a desperate rearguard action against the army of do-gooders opposing the chant, but they seemed to take joy in their small numbers, as if there were some distinction in being the last devotees of a mindless practice whose time is up. They may have been anti-gay, but their true targets, more likely, were those conscientious students who would spoil the fun by pointing out that the "not gay" chant is offensive and, frankly, embarrassing to the University.
A movement to end the chant, begun several years ago, has convinced the majority of students to stop chanting. But its most gratifying effect has been to define what remains of the chant as the harmless habit of people who defy appeals to principle as a matter of principle. As law student and committed chanter Todd Hatcher told me, the current "not gay" chant may be less a statement against homosexuality than political correctness and, perhaps, against a football culture in which the team and the game take a back seat to the veneration of the University and its quirky traditions.
"I probably wouldn't do the cheer myself if it wasn't for the people out there somewhere telling me I shouldn't be doing the cheer," said Hatcher, who was among the chanters Saturday despite his belief that the chant is generally indefensible. "Besides, aside from the whole homosexual aspect, calling something bright and gay is just lame. The song sounds kind of dumb today because people don't use those words in that way anymore, so maybe people are just making fun of the song itself."
Hatcher is probably more introspective than others in the "not gay" chorus, so we can't be sure if his reasons for chanting are widely shared. But if his assessment is correct, the opponents of the chant can claim a victory, for what little remains of it now stands not for intolerance or homophobia, but for the sort of calculated contrarianism that a good public awareness campaign will always encourage. The chant was once a mandatory part of every touchdown celebration, but in the face of a concerted effort to eradicate it, "not gay" has gone from mainstream to retro-chic and morphed from a statement into a joke.
Of course, the chant is still not very funny and its new identity as a comic foil to the forces of tolerance may last only as long as those forces bother to oppose it. The chant is surprisingly resilient and it may yet return to its older, louder form if jokers like Hatcher can sustain it until the rest of us forget how abrasive it was at high volume. In the hope that it doesn't, I hereby denounce the chant and proclaim my sincere hope that it someday goes to the grave. "Not gay" may not mean what it once did, but it's still pretty stupid.
Alec Solotorovsky's column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.