At summer camp, the color war event that carries the most point value is Song Meet. It is one of the highlights of summer and the focus all of the efforts of the color war captains. With the stakes so high, it’s not uncommon for girls to throw up beforehand thanks to juiced-up nerves.
To an outsider, it must seem like some sort of Orwellian ritual: 150 girls split into two sides facing each other, sitting perfectly still in rows, all dressed exactly alike with their hair slicked away from their faces, and smiling these unnatural smiles while staring straight ahead. On the command of their Song Leader, the girls sing songs in perfect unison so that they can be judged and a winner declared. When they are not singing, the room is in perfect, ritualistic silence. The air is thick with the importance of the event.
As I watched C-SPAN minutes before it went live for the debates, I suddenly realized that a debate is not unlike Song Meet. The spectators must remain quiet as well, and the moderator raises a hand to signal the crowd to be silent as he listens to the countdown coming from his producer. Suddenly, the networks tune in and there is this sense of ceremony as the candidates walk in. What takes place at the debate might not even matter, but to the candidates and those in the moment, it is everything. It’s spooky how a crowded hall on a college campus can be so similar to a packed camp lodge in rural Maine.