The most outrageous night of the year at Grinnell is unquestionably Titular Head, an unorthodox film festival affectionately referred to as TitHead. Comprised entirely of student submissions, TitHead has earned a reputation for playing host to an assortment of sexually explicit and otherwise disturbing “movies,” which are interspersed amongst skits, music videos, and spoofs. The hysteria of the evening is compounded by the fact that another beloved Grinnell event, known as Beer Relays, begins at 10 a.m. that morning. By the time TitHead rolls around, the entire Grinnell population stumbles in, dressed ridiculously and completely inebriated. Not ones to miss out on the day’s celebrations, the various hosts are perhaps among the most entertainingly incoherent students, adding to the raucous spirit as they sporadically deliver monologues and perform skits in between videos.
You can imagine my surprise when I arrived at this mythic event my freshman year– completely sober, wearing civilian clothing and expecting a relaxing evening of film-viewing. Instead, I was met with a mob of wasted Grinnellians dancing in the bleachers, shrieking along to Taylor Swift’s “22” at the top of their lungs, and making out with everyone in sight. By the end of the evening I had so many unanswered questions (very few of which had to do with the actual videos) that I decided to make it a tradition to attend TitHead sober, in an effort to investigate what the hell was going on.
So this past Saturday evening at 8 p.m. I made my way to the Harris Student Center, accompanied by a freshman pal who was also interested in soberly experiencing the TitHead folklore firsthand. Upon our arrival at the auditorium, we were informed by by one of the hosts that the production team was experiencing technical difficulties. Standing on stage in front of the projector, microphone in hand, he pled with the unruly audiance to remain patient with the wait. This quickly and inexplicably morphed into a rousing rendition of Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” that had the entire audience slurring along.
My friend was too confused to speak, and I began furiously scribbling notes, embarking on the impossible task of trying to put the indescribable atmosphere into words.
The first video following the delay had awful sound quality and no apparent plotline, so besides the few audience members hurling insults, beer cans, and the occasional chair at the projector, literally nobody was paying attention. Nevertheless, every so often you could make out that one of the characters in the video was weirdly howling, “PLEASE, CAN I GET AN AMEN,” which every audience member somehow recognized as a cue to feverishly bellow “AMEN!” in perfect unison.
The audience was also entirely oblivious to the absurdity of their decision to frantically chant “full-screen” for the entirety of the next two videos, and then to boo mercilessly when a host paused the video to try and figure out how to do it.
No more than 15 minutes, 4 videos, and two monologues passed before we had been both flashed and flipped off by unruly hosts, and forced to sit through a particularly nauseating film that can be most politiely summarzed by saying that it involved comsumption of bodily fluids that should never be consumed.
By the time the third on-screen phallus made its debut, my sober friend was pounding shots of Fireball whiskey from a water bottle that a rando behind us was too drunk to realize had gone missing. Not to be outdone by these very public displays of debauchery, a host who is well-known for his traditional values proceeded to shave off a chunk of his fellow host’s hair, sniff it, and shove it down his pants. At this point, I began to be concerned that I was hallucinating.
So what did I take away from this event, besides a stomachache brought on by equal parts laughter and nausea? Reflecting on the evening, I have come to the conclusion that in many ways, TitHead exemplifies the Grinnell spirit: uninhibited sexual freedom, boisterous unconventionality, a complete disregard for the rules, and thoughtful, well-executed social commentary in the form of short films. Unfortunately, this year it was entirely too lacking in the last category.
This is not to say that no pieces ventured above waist level in their efforts to capture and hold our admittedly scattered attention. Although the final awards declared otherwise, the best video of the evening was “Alconol,” a spoof that critiqued Grinnellians’ propensity for liquor by parodying an anxiety medication commercial. It featured distraught students moping around campus in different environments, while a narrator inquired: “Are you feeling lost in Noyce? Suffering from irritable bowels after all that D-Hall coffee? Stressed out from all of your Outlook E-mail problems? Just plain bored, with absolutely nothing to do?” The narrator then asserts, “Alconol can help. It’s proven to cure confusion, boredom, social anxiety, and irritable bowel syndrome.” The video ends with a clever addition of possible side-effects, including ruined relationships, failed classes, and disconnect from reality.
This was, unfortunately, the extent of any meaningful campus commentary.
Last year was slightly better, but not by much. One of the more poignant videos, titled Grindipendence Day, depicts the Grinnell Campus in the weeks following a devastating alien attack that has left Grinnell completely barren and with few survivors. After weeks of experiencing a barrage of meteor showers, explosions, and terrifying acts of alien aggression, one of the lone survivors checks his e-mail, only to find an incoming message from Campus Safety and Security that reads: “Aliens Potentially on Campus.”
My personal favorite, a video titled, “Hello?” features two Tutorial project partners crossing paths at various stages throughout the day, who employ increasingly ridiculous avoidance techniques to escape acknowledging each other. When they spot each other on Mac field, one executes a somewhat graceful spin move while the other sprints in the opposite direction. In a Norris hallway, one covers her face with a pamphlet while the other slides face first across the wall. The video ends with a message that was met with a raucous standing ovation: “JUST F**KING SAY HELLO.”
So where are these smartly conceived videos making clever and relevant criticisms of campus culture? I take absolutely no issue with every third feature being something as disturbing as a freshman dousing himself in vinegar and proceeding to set his bodily hair on fire, as long as the videos in between represent the wisdom and innovativeness of which we are clearly capable. The only reason it is acceptable for us to act like idiots in our spare time is because we are actually brilliant writers, thinkers, directors, actors, and comics. So why do we refuse to utilize this platform to employ our talents in an effort to say something about anything? Yes, TitHead is a circus, but that should in no way give us the right to shirk our commitment to exhibiting thoughtfulness (and dare I say it, judgment). After all, if any group of people has mastered the art of effectively weaving meaningful insights into unconventional lunacy, it is Grinnellians, and the previously mentioned videos have proven that intertwining the two is an entirely possible feat.
If you remain unconvinced, I will leave you with one parting thought: there are only 1600 people in the entire world that know what the hell goes on at Grinnell, and as such, there are only 1600 people with the power to appropriately critique it. Let us fulfill our Grinnellian duty to be unfailingly analytical, and then gleefully hurl beer cans at the stage in celebration of having achieved such an accomplishment.