The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

No harm no... fowl?

As the great pranksters of history have taught us, the deftly performed prank requires wit, ingenuity and a keen ability to distinguish the difference between a funny joke and a not-so-funny felony. Great pranks needn't be obscene or destructive. A great prank probably should not involve a crime. Whoever hacked the precious Hokie Bird statue off at the ankles and carted it back to Charlottesville, essentially destroying it in the process, obviously lacks a well-honed sense of subtlety. In fact, the decision to steal and destroy an item valued at almost $7,500 illustrates the lack of judgment for which some fraternity men are known.

Before delving into the broader implications of the recent ornikleptomania, the theft illuminates several chronic problems, none of which bode well for the culprits should they ever be unmasked. With the exception of blatant violations of University regulations (The Hall's infamous "pill/line" e-mail), most instances of group petty crimes go unnoticed or ignored. But when a joke involves forgoing a clean criminal record, it's difficult to describe the recent incident at Virginia Tech as anything but glaringly stupid. Had they stolen something small and nondescript -- anything other than the public art project they selected -- they probably would have gotten away unscathed. But of course the culprits had to pick the Hokie Bird, straining the patience of anyone inclined to give the fraternity the benefit of the doubt. It's tough to overlook grand larceny.

University officials declined to release the names of those responsible, but even without a specific fraternity to condemn, the behavior echoes that of traditional fraternity hazing. Realistically, universities hold fraternities to two different standards of conduct -- the public talking-point version and the off-the-record version. Publicly, administrators and the Inter-fraternity Council demand fraternities completely abstain from hazing. Privately, however, most seem to understand and accept hazing as long as it doesn't cross a certain line. Still, there is a big difference between preventing someone from showering for a week and forcing someone to risk incarceration.

Perhaps the most irritating part of this story is the extent to which the idiocy of a small group of people endangers the fun for the rest of us. The same thing happened in elementary school: A few bloodthirsty kids decided to play dodge-basketball with fairly predictable consequences, causing the Virginia Department of Education to permanently ban the one truly perfect sport. Thanks to one ill-conceived heist, comparatively tame pranks will face tougher scrutiny as officials attempt to prove they mean business.

The entire University community has to bear the weight of stupid mistakes like this one. Now that the culprits have been caught, their stupidity (and inability to successfully steal a giant bird) will serve as a glaring example for those who seek to impugn the Greek system as a bastion of danger and immorality. These thieves have done a great disservice to most fraternities and sororities, who resist the temptation to abduct giant statues of castrated turkeys.


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