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Shadow-Amhersts?

Boy-Meets-Girl-by-Banksy
(Charlie Gill)– By nature of its small student body and central dining hall, among other things, one might find it hard to hide at Amherst College. At some point or another, I think we’ve all thought something like, I really wish I went to a bigger school so I wouldn’t have to see that girl whom I obnoxiously hit on last night, today, in this cluster-f of a line for Egg McCharlies. Usually I end up seeing that girl – or the guy I denied loaning a pen to in Econ last year. That guy appears around every corner. At Amherst, we constantly find ourselves running into the same people, whether we like it or not. Yet, what about the people we don’t ever see?

There has got to be at least one student at Amherst whom I haven’t crossed paths with in my time here and never will. Whether it’s a Math major in Plimpton who plays League of Legends all day, or a girl on the rugby team who works out while I’m still sleeping and takes classes in Grosvenor House when I’m awake, there is surely a student out there whose path never crosses mine. There are likely lots of students at the college who will fly completely under my radar for four years. I’ve heard this under-the-radar kind of person called a “shadow-Amherst,” and when I first heard the term, the supplementary connotations that came with it implied that these “shadow-Amhersts” equate basically to a bunch of weirdos holed up in dark, mildewy shadow-dorm rooms. These are the people who, while very much among us, seemingly aren’t. There are shadow-people outside of the college as well. For example, Brian Joseph Burton is a shadow-person of the music world, if you will. He goes by Danger Mouse.

I’m guessing some of you know who Danger Mouse is–but probably most of you don’t, thus my labeling him a shadow-person. Danger Mouse is a musician and producer, multi-nominated and a five-time Grammy winner. The music behind the Gorillaz’ Demon Days (“Dare,” “Feel Good Inc.” etc.) – that’s Danger Mouse. Cee Lo Green’s vocals take the spotlight on the iconic “Crazy,” but the music behind those vocals, i.e. the other half of Gnarls Barkley – that’s Danger Mouse. Half of the group Broken Bells – Danger Mouse again. He has produced albums for artists ranging from Norah Jones to Beck to the Black Keys, among others. The new U2 song that premiered during the Super Bowl to raise AIDS awareness – that’s Danger Mouse’s production too. Paste Magazine labeled him the best producer of the 2000s, yet still I’m hard pressed to find a friend who’s heard of him.

In 2006, Danger Mouse collaborated with another artist: Banksy, the ultimate shadow-person. Banksy may be a more common name than Danger Mouse, but he’s certainly not a more common face. In fact, the graffiti artist prides himself on his very facelessness. Banksy has stenciled streets and walls and bridges and pretty much every other paintable surface of the world; he’s made films, held interviews, and participated in political rallies – all the while hiding completely behind his mysterious pseudonym.

When Paris Hilton released her one and only musical album, Paris, on August 22, 2006, it was received with mixed reviews. The album made it to 6th on the US Billboard 200, so apparently we didn’t think it was so bad. However, Paris only made it to 29th on the UK Albums Chart. Perhaps Banksy had something to do with that. First, he asked Danger Mouse to remix Paris’ album by changing the instrumentals and layering over them sound bytes of Hilton saying moronic things to the media. Next, Banksy replicated the album’s cover flap, and reprinted it with Photoshopped images and snarky sayings. Having created 500 copies of their own version of Paris, Banksy and Danger Mouse then, inconspicuously of course, inserted them into record stores across Britain, replacing real copies of the album with their own, satirical versions. And to what end? To make a statement, presumably, about popular culture, and the fact that our society idolizes socialites, like Paris Hilton, who are famous simply for being famous, rather than those with real talent and fewer resources.

But still, eight years later, those 500 remixed copies of Paris have probably made their way down into the basements or up into the attics of those certain British suckers who pulled the wrong CD off the rack one day, never to be seen or heard again. Banksy and Danger Mouse, in their small act of defiance, affected very few. They did a funny thing that few knew about back then, fewer know about now, and no one will really care about ever – except for maybe me, and maybe you, and hopefully anyone who wishes people like Paris Hilton (for whom, in Banksy’s words, “every CD you buy puts [her] even further out of your league”) would sit on thumbtack.

Banksy and Danger Mouse are shadow-people, yes. However, just because they are shadow-people doesn’t make them nothing-people. Nobody, whether strange or dislikeable or invisible or whatever they may be – nobody is a nothing. In fact, lots of shadow-people, like Banksy or Danger Mouse, are doing really cool things, and things that matter, and things that are artful and funny and interesting – only they do it under the radar, not out in the open. So I remind myself that my shadow-Amherst, whoever you are, lives an equally complex, multi-faceted, up-and-down, good-and-bad, every-day kind of life as me, and it would be incredibly self-centered to think otherwise.

It would be easy for one to conjure up the image of shadow-Amhersts as little nobodies scurrying around in the darker corners of campus, alone and out of sight. It would be even easier to think that your shadow-Amhersts are all a bunch of weirdos, which I think many of us (like me) have probably done. And I’m not saying they aren’t weirdos, because they very well might be. All I’m saying is that you can’t be sure.

There’s a reason our administration constantly throws events at us that try to engage the entire student body, as a whole, together. Those shadow-people you’ve never seen might actually be really cool. Those shadow-people can probably teach you something. You yourself are a shadow-Amherst to somebody, aren’t you? Everybody is a shadow-Amherst to somebody, aren’t we? Here I am talking about shadow-people, but aren’t I the one holed up in my room watching YouTube videos and reading about obscure pranks on Paris Hilton? Perhaps there’s a Danger Mouse among us, or a Banksy, and perhaps you are their shadow-Amherst. Or perhaps, maybe, they know very well who you are, these shadow-people of the college. Perhaps you’re the butt of their next joke.

p.s.) Banksy and The Simpsons have something to say about shadow-people as well.

Sources: Spin.com (http://www.spin.com/articles/danger-mouse-banksy-burn-paris/) and good ol’ Wikipedia
(Photo courtesy of http://www.stencilrevolution.com/photopost/2012/09/Boy-Meets-Girl-by-Banksy.jpg)

14 comments on “Shadow-Amhersts?

  1. Siraj Ahmed Sindhu
    February 12, 2014

    “And I’m not saying they aren’t weirdos, because they very well might be. All I’m saying is that you can’t be sure.”

    Yes! This is the attitude I want to see more people take, since we at Amherst often write others off and pass negative judgment too quickly. But you really can’t be sure about anyone you don’t know on a personal level. All the students at this school are phenomenal individuals, or else they wouldn’t be here, and I feel like we need to keep that in mind.

  2. jkaulbach
    February 12, 2014

    I love shadowamherst

  3. jkaulbach
    February 12, 2014

    i.e. if I call someone shadowamherst i mean it as an extreme positive. I’m pretty sure a lot of people feel this way

  4. Anonymous
    February 12, 2014

    As a somebody who is always without pens:

    What kind of a person denies pens to people?!#?

  5. Batman
    February 14, 2014

    What a silly article!

  6. Liya Rechtman
    February 15, 2014

    Charlie, “a Math major in Plimpton who plays League of Legends all day,” and “a girl on the rugby team who works out while I’m still sleeping and takes classes in Grosvenor House when I’m awake” are both basically caricatures of ACVoice staff writers… These aren’t people you don’t cross paths with, these are people you interact with everyday and who’s posts you read regularly. Maybe you’re just not paying enough attention to realize how integrated these worlds are and can be.

  7. Zalo
    February 28, 2014

    I think he was just trying to create an example of a person that might be a “Shadow Amherst” to him, and those two examples are the first thing that came to his mind.

    Anyone can be a Shadow Amherst, whether the League of Legends enthusiast, hardy athlete, proactive musician, or whatever (I should note here that people aren’t one-faceted, and characterizing them like this is only out of convenience!).

    Anyway, from what I understood of the article, all that’s required to be a Shadow Amherst is to not be seen or interact with any one person; then you’re their Shadow Amherst.

  8. Doerty
    February 28, 2014

    Why did you bring up the Paris Hilton example? Everything before that point indicated that Banksy or Danger Mouse might not be well known themselves, but their work was highly recognizable. Then you bring up the Paris thing, as if to say, “look at the silly and ultimately pointless thing they did. But I still love them!”

    I think that this example, along with your constant use of the word “weirdo” or invisioning of a little person hiding in a corner, is more than a little patronizing. Just because YOU haven’t met a certain segment of the campus population doesn’t make them weird or you better. I think this mentality comes from the misguided notion of what an Amherst student is, the “we” and “us,” which you say a lot in this article.

    As was mentioning before, the examples you use are people I’ve met before. I may not know them very well, but I know they exist. Though, I would not be so arrogant as to call them a “shadow” population, as that would imply that I stand in the light. And, yes, I noticed the “we are all shadow people” part at the end there, but I was very aware that it was at the end. A very “we are all Africa – let’s pray for the small suffering souls” move there.

    If you want to write an article about people that YOU don’t know very well, but you’ve learned do a lot of great things, why don’t you interview somebody? Please, refrain from writing this type of mock community, pseudo empathetic nonsense.

  9. me
    February 28, 2014

    one of the most Completely useless pieces ive read so far. Whats the point behind this?

  10. Anonymous
    February 28, 2014

    Who knew commentators could be so harsh…geez, some of these comments here are almost as offensive & vague as the stuff on Yahoo articles!

    Let the author speak his mind; I found the article useful and interesting.

  11. Christian
    March 2, 2014

    Great post, Charlie!

  12. Anon
    March 3, 2014

    I love this article. You definitely expressed what a lot of us were feeling but have not voiced.

  13. Doerty
    March 4, 2014

    I keep seeing replies to my comment that basically amount to “the author is just trying to point out that people you don’t know are unknown to you.” If this is in fact the case, I’d like to submit an article laying out how my friends are familiar to me, hot objects tend to warm things up around them, and snow – when melted – tends to mysteriously make the ground soggy. Did I just blow your mind?!

  14. Anonymous
    March 9, 2014

    I’ve never thought that shadow-Amhersts would have the connotation of being weirdos and nobodies, because the fact that their world doesn’t intersect with mine has no correlation to how complex or interesting their lives might be. I’ve never heard the term before nor the negative implications being associated with it, but if those assumptions are actually being made, it’s absurd and it just goes on to show the elitist and arrogant mindset that I personally observe in a lot of Amherst students today. I think that it’s important for everyone to keep in mind that most people at this school have excelled in various things, and that it’s important to stay humble and realize that the world is a large place filled with many extraordinary individuals.

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This entry was posted on February 10, 2014 by in Media, Relationships, Uncategorized and tagged , , , .
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