To anyone disillusioned with democracy — which is to say, anyone who has been keeping up with even a fraction of the hellstorm coming out of Washington — the Oberlin College administration’s decision to let the people pick a name for the new student website may have seemed fraught. PRESTO, Oberlin’s beloved, clunky mess of a registration website, was certainly due for an upgrade. Its preferred browser was Internet Explorer, and without the student-made class directory called OPrestissmo, it was nearly impossible to navigate. In keeping with Oberlin aesthetics, PRESTO’s longevity may have stemmed from its cool factor of being so useless and obsolete — vintage, if you will — but regardless, it was time for a change.
Change came first in the form of a Google Form. At the end of last semester, an email was sent by the administration to the student body linking them to an online poll where students could suggest names for this shining beacon of hope, this new website. The students rose to the occasion magnificently; following the outset of the poll, places like the Oberlin Facebook meme page — Oberlin Consortium of Memes for Discourse-Ready Teens — overflowed with the creativity of Oberlin’s most brilliant young minds. Names like “The Communist Manipresto,” “Presto II: Electric Boogaloo,” and “Stop raising the tuition” abounded, and for one glimmering moment, it seemed possible that the will of the people might triumph.
But then, after a few months, the final poll was sent out. After narrowing down over 800 submissions, the administration presented the student body with a neat selection of five names — none of which seemed familiar to those who had been swapping ideas in places like the meme page. Censorship was afoot. But was this really surprising to anyone?
Possibly the best harbinger of this tyranny was website suggestion “Presty McPrestoface,” a name alluding to another failure of democracy, Boaty McBoatface. In March of 2016, the UK Natural Environment Research Council announced that the public would be allowed to choose via online poll the name of a new research vessel. The public spoke, and more than 124,000 people voted for the name “Boaty McBoatface” to be emblazoned on the side of this state-of-the-art ship. But their democratic spirit was ultimately doomed — after a period of stalling, the NERC disregarded the people’s will and went for a namesake with much less grandeur: naturalist Sir David Attenborough.
At this point, we have all become accustomed to this take-back effect. Whether it’s the NERC or the CIT department or the Electoral College, the message has been astounding clear: the people cannot be trusted to make their own decisions. Time and time again, the public is given what looks like a choice only to be reminded that their autonomy is nothing compared to the vast mechanisms of power, always insidiously grinding along in the background.
At least, this is what I thought when I heard that the name “ObieHub” had won for the new school website. Just another take-back in a long line of take-backs — the tyrants win again!
But the will of the people is more resilient than we might think. For just as I was beginning to despair, I and many others realized that in both structure and logo, this new choice resembles another website favored by Oberlin students: PornHub.
PornHub was probably not an association the administration was expecting to make with the new name choice. And yet this association is now our legacy: With democracy on our minds and clickbait in our hearts, we the students have managed to exert our will in the face of limited options and a regime of censorship. Perhaps democracy isn’t dead — perhaps the hope that America desperately needs lies with younger generations, waiting for the chance to burst forth like a phoenix from the ashes.
Let’s hope they keep the logo.