Around 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 9, the usual silence in Olin Library was disrupted when Alex Pfeifer-Rosenblum ’10 stripped down to his boxers, mounted a table, and played Tenacious D’s “Fuck Her Gently” on his guitar.
“It took a while to realize [what was going on],” said eyewitness Emma Drew ’10. “It was funny because all of a sudden he was in underwear. It was funny to have your normal study session broken up.”
The performance was part of Pfeifer-Rosenblum’s norm-violation assignment, a project that Professor of Psychology Scott Plous has given to his Social Psychology students since 2003.
“The main purpose of the assignment is to explore the often-unseen power that social rules have over our daily behavior,” Plous told the Argus via e-mail. “If ever there was a social psychology assignment that fits Wesleyan’s ethos of personal experimentation, this is probably it!”
With advice from friend Sarah Brown ’10, Pfeifer-Rosenblum decided to try something he described as a little more unusual.
By the end of the song, students in the library were applauding his efforts.
“I definitely felt sort of nervous at first,” Pfeifer-Rosenblum said. “But then it was really fun because people were really supportive. It made me glad I go to Wes. I don’t think I would get that kind of reaction in the Yale library.…The hardest part was afterwards when I had to put on my clothes and start studying again.”
Brittany Morse ’08, a teaching assistant for the course, had her own take on the assignment when she took the class her sophomore year. Morse approached students who had just put food on their plates in MoCon and asked them if she could taste it.
“It’s not everyday that students have an excuse to break the social script we follow everyday,” she said.
The assignment stipulates that students may violate any norm they wish, as long as their behavior does not put other people at risk, disrupt classes, involve prejudices, or break any laws. They may also opt out of the assignment if they wish.
Plous reports that of his 150 students about 95% choose to participate, but only around 75% of students report that they were able to fully violate a norm.
“Wesleyan students are endlessly creative when it comes to violating norms, so every year is fascinating,” Plous said.
One of Plous’s favorite norm violations was reported last fall.
“A social psychology student attempted to buy nothing more than a single grape at the supermarket,” he recalled. “The cashier was dumbstruck ,and told the student to simply take the grape for free and leave.”
Pfeifer-Rosenblum’s violation was filmed by a friend just for fun and later posted on YouTube. As of Wednesday, the video had over 1,380 views.
Drew says that students from all over the library came to see what was happening when they heard the music.
“Everyone just seemed to really enjoy it. The best part was to see people singing along with it,” she said.
Ultimately, Pfeifer-Rosenblum isn’t quite ready to let go of his role as Olin’s resident muse.
“I want to make a tradition out of it, maybe a different song,” he said. “Next semester, I might upgrade to the Smith Reading Room.”