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Confessions pages – they have been circulating the Internet for quite a long time now. 2013 was the year when they became popular on Facebook among university students and high schoolers, especially in the US. However, it was only a few months ago that Lancaster got its own confessions page. Lancfessions appears benign at first but what may seem like an innocent way to share your quirky habits or slightly embarrassing anecdotes can have serious consequences…
While in the past the police have had to step in because of posts submitted to confession pages on Facebook, often because of online bullying-related issues, I do not believe such things could take place on Lancfessions. After all, we’re not resentful and reckless teenagers who would take our confession page this far… right? Perhaps to find where the shoe pinches we need to think about the unobvious implications of the existence of such a page.
Let’s start, however, with what is positive about Lancfessions. First, it creates a sense of community – we might know what pub/person/situation a particular confession is referring to. There is joy to be found in recognising that someone noticed the same thing we have noticed or has an opinion in line with our own. Second, another argument brought up often in discussions about confession pages is that it can be cathartic to be able to anonymously share some aspects of one’s private life with a fairly big group of people. Third, it can serve as a form of support group – there are posts to be found on Lancfessions page in which someone expressed their loneliness or sought advice on how to handle a certain dilemma or difficult situation, and people did offer support and genuine suggestions. Nevertheless, the reality is that such confessions and such comments are a rarity on the Lancfessions page.
Frankly, the lion’s share of the content on the Lancfessions page is sexually explicit and crude: starting with all sorts of petty pranks, through to stories of sexual conquests (sex in public places, infidelity, etc.), and ending with stories involving excrement of all kinds (with a photos attached in one particular case). It is difficult not to ask yourself, where is the line to be drawn? And should there be one to draw? According to the page itself there are certain rules to be kept in mind if you want your confession to be posted. One of them is that your confession has to be ‘relatable/funny’. In fact, many students I have spoken to think of Lancfessions as ‘simply funny’. What is funny about being so drunk that you cannot make it in time to go to the toilet? Does boasting about one’s adventurous sexual life apply to the ‘funny’ or the ‘relatable’ requirement for the confession to be suitable for the page? While I do not necessarily take an issue with all these wild stories, what is worrying to me is that they are consistently being perceived as amusing and, in a way, celebrated.
Indecency becomes normalised to the point when I have been told that Lancfessions reflects ‘British uni culture’. If we take a closer look at the word ‘culture’ itself, we can find that it has its roots in Latin cultūra – used both to mean ‘culture’ and ‘cultivation’, and even now the latter implies improvement and refinement. And it is precisely improvement and refinement that should be associated with the ‘uni culture’. To equate scurrility with ‘university culture’ raises questions regarding the nature of higher education institutions today. If Lancfessions page is just echoing students’ thoughts and stories and is perceived to be representative of the essence of the so called ‘uni life’, maybe we should start re-evaluate the purpose of going to university?
I am aware of the slightly (over)dramatic character of such claims, but I stand by the golden rule that the devil is in the details. Every cultural phenomena has its causes and consequences, and they are not always evident or predictable. The debate over some student Facebook page may seem banal, but it certainly is not one to be dismissed.