One of the more curious dynamics of Antarctic habitation is that a polar base is typically funded and run by large organizations, who depend upon a population of workers who cannot “leave” their place of employment.
Your average Wal-Mart employee understands that their employer has policies and regulations governing their behavior, dress, and mores at work, and will typically understand, even if they don’t agree, why the hammer will fall on them for stepping out of line in their place of employment.
Your average Antarctic employees typically understand the same, except that, at the end of the workday, they cannot leave.
This brings up a messy dynamic. On the one hand, you have a group of massive government agencies and their contractors trying to present a stainless-steel image of ultimate professionalism without flaw, and who controls every space, public or private on station. On the other hand, you inevitably have a bunch of Americans averse to having their off-work hours, hours that they’re not paid for, subject to inflexible constraints on their desire to amuse themselves where they live.
Both sides, in American culture at any rate, have their traditions. On the one hand, when the government pays for and owns anything, we fully expect any idea of normal human culture to fly out the window. That is, I very well may wish to talk about Jesus or have oral sex all day and night, but should I decide to engage in these activities in a government-owned parts warehouse, I am liable for punishment. On the other hand, Americans expect more from their native institutions than Soviet-style uniformity. We know that the minute we’re not getting paid for our time, then the time is ours, and, as long as we’re not hurting anyone or causing physical damage, then no one has a right to mess with us.
Should a nation of conformist sheep proudly obey their marching orders to fine-tune the glorious public image being honed by their masters?
Being a consummate capitalist society, should the government triple the wages, say that everyone is working 24-7, and thus legitimately purchase the cultural obedience that continues to elude them?
Jello wrestling is not accepted aboard McMurdo Station. It doesn’t make any difference why it isn’t, it just is. -McMurdo Station Area Director
It is doubtful that any clear compromise will ever be reached, and so this continuous struggle presents itself in small daily events, like when recently someone in McMurdo was fired for staging a jello wrestling event.
The firing was publicized on this and other blogs, seeped into the world press, and thus embarrassed the managers whose job it was to keep this kind of publicity from happening in the first place. Without the termination, the event would be nothing more than amusing, and hardly newsworthy.
After the event ran through the community grapevine and the world press, McMurdo management called an All-Hands Meeting to do damage control.
Here’s a transcription of the entire meeting.
Here are some excerpts:
McMurdo All-Hands Meeting 1/30/09
[All comments not in bold are from the McMurdo Station Area Director. Text is printed as-is from the original transcription.)
Allright folks I know you’ve all heard about the Jello incident. If you haven’t, you haven’t read your email....The way things are today, as it relates to…what’s done at McMurdo, stays at McMurdo, is no longer capable with the Internet of today. Anything can happen and within a moment’s notice you will be amazed at where that information will go, and how it will be reported throughout the world. And I do mean the world.
What I offer you, you ought to ask yourself a question: it’s a question I ask myself anytime that I’m prepared or I’m faced with a decision to engage in a particular activity. And the question I ask myself is: would I be willing to stand up before CNN and say why I did what I did, and why I participated in it. And if I did that, would my wife, children, parents, family be proud of me? If there’s no question in your mind, then you’re free to go ahead and engage. That’s what I do.
(Female Questioner) I don’t know about the Jello wrestling, what was wrong with the Jello wrestling? I mean, maybe I spent too many years at Christian school but I mean, was it nude Jello wrestling or was it just grappling around? I mean, I just didn’t know how it’s different from people grappling around on the Rugby field, wrestling. So what is Jello wrestling?
- Allowed in Antarctica
Someone who understands… I have never been to a Jello wrestling event. Those of you, anybody who fully understands what Jello wrestling is all about…
(Comment from crowd) It’s wrestling in Jello!
Slinging Jello. Sometimes it can be, sometimes it cannot be. Nudity, no it was not. But it does have the potential to get to that.
(Female Questioner) But I mean, if it’s just wrestling around in Jello, I mean that sounds like it could be a true Rec event, it’s just like Rugby, they’re out there on the field wrestling around …
How many Jello wrestling events that you see that’s accepted by the government?
(Female Questioner) I don’t know, I’ve never even…
That’s my point exactly! That’s my point exactly!
(Comment from crowd ) We all voted for change!
If you submitted the paperwork,
(Crowd noise, comments)
- Not Allowed in Antarctica
Let me just make… okay, let me just make it clear for you. Hold on. Let me just make it clear for you. I’ll make it real clear. Jello wrestling is not accepted aboard McMurdo Station. It doesn’t make any difference why it isn’t, it just is. I didn’t make that rule, and if you want to change that rule, change that rule with somebody who’s up against me. So! I’m not going to argue with you, the contents of whether Jello wrestling is good or bad, or whether it’s acceptable or not. It is not acceptable here. Yes?
(Questioner) If they omitted the Jello, would it have been…
I don’t know, but if you submit the request and lay out the specifics of how you want to lay out this new wrestling program, we’ll look at it, and make a determination whether it’s acceptable. Another question….yes?
(Questioner) At what point is it an activity versus a private…something? Is it…where’s that line?
Good question. Question is at what point is it an activity and whether it’s private. On an installation, on a government installation, there is nothing private in regards to an activity. Meaning, that you’re on duty 24 hours a day. As I understand it, while you’re here. You are always in a duty status. There are certain acceptances that tolerate, that allowances that are made for rest and relaxation and certain types of activities, but in the broad spectrum, if it’s an activity that on board the installation then it needs to be sanctioned.
(Questioner) So… I could Jello wrestle in my room and I could still get approval for that?
I don’t know, you’d have to, if you Jello wrestle in your room we’d have to look at that. I’m telling you, I’m not going to get with you in the specifics of it. No matter how you try to slice it and dice it, you know what is acceptable and what is not. And I’m just telling you right now, Jello wrestling isn’t. And if you want to know whether something is acceptable or not, send it up, we’ll look at it, and we’ll tell you whether it is or not. Yes sir?
(Questioner) Why is it unacceptable then?
I don’t know nor do I really care. I’m telling you, I just told you that.
(Questioner) But if…
I told you: I don’t know nor do I really care. Submit it.
(Questioner) How can you call it inappropriate if you don’t know what the parameters of the appropriateness are?
I am not going to… I told you already, you can ask as much as you want, I told you I am not here to discuss the specifics of Jello wrestling. OK?
I told you I am not going to discuss it! Why’re you asking me?
(New Questioner): Can you tell us what happened at the Pole so we know what not to do this weekend to get fired?
(Laughter and applause)
(Comments from crowd: Let’s hear all the rumors! Go for it!)
Okay. What I have been told is that there was some individuals who, when they arrived at the South Pole, decided to take their pictures naked, okay? And many of you knew that, you may think that’s not a…that’s not a…. I am just telling you…
(Questioner): I guess I’m still a little unclear. A few minutes ago, you said you didn’t make the rules, and then you said, “you’ll know when something’s right or wrong.” But in the crowd today, I guess about 90% don’t see anything inappropriate about Jello wrestling. (Applause) If the community doesn’t think it’s inappropriate, how are we supposed to know whether something is allowed or not?
You’ve just got to submit the form. And you’ll find out whether it is or not.
I’m just telling you, folks. I’m just telling you, I have been in larger crowds than you and that try to convince me about something that you know and you try to find all these little nuances, none of these things are clear, none of these things say anything about Jello Wrestling or any of this stuff. It’s just not going to say that. If you’re looking for it, it’s not going to say that. You have been laid out the framework, you have been laid out the guidance. You have to figure out how to live within it. You’ve lived within it in your lives and doing these sort of things, not knowing what some of the expectations are. The guidance has been laid out, if you have any questions, ask. If you don’t want to ask and you engage in a particular activity, then whatever the consequences of that is what happens. But the framework is there for you to ask. That’s all I’m saying.
(Questioner): If 90% of the people except the two people that you’re with think something is appropriate, why would we think to ask?
I am not concerned about that. I live under rules and regulations, sir.
(Questioner): It’s not a rule!
It is a regulation, it is a policy that is laid out, and the policy is, if you are concerned, if you want to know if a particular activity is appropriate or not, you submit the form. So please. Do youselves a favor -submit the form. If you don’t, and you find out otherwise, it’s your choice because you knew you were supposed to submit the other paperwork to find out whether it is. OK?
(Questioner): Is there any place we can look to find an outline to the guidelines for what is and is not appropriate?
If I had, I would have given it to you. Allright? I don’t have it. You have what I have, and it’s the same guidelines that I live under. I didn’t set them. I came here with that in place.
(New questioner): So I’m a little confused about the form, so maybe I don’t host events a lot, but when is this form required? Like if I get a couple people together and we watch the Superbowl, does that require the form?
(Crowd) Yes! Absolutely! Better get that form out, get it approved!
(Questioner): I mean, can you elaborate on when we don’t….
Don, will you be able to give any guidance on when they specifically need the form?
Don: There are people who gather in their rooms who have a couple of friends over, we obviously don’t require a party pack for that. Now there is an organization that on Monday gets together over at the Coffee House to use that to do the Superbowl and they have to fill one out. Is there a certain number? We don’t have a number, if you’re over three, over five, we don’t have that, we don’t have that rule in place. If it’s a public venue or a benefit, then yes, if it’s in your room and a small group of people, we don’t.
(Questioner): If it’s in a lounge and you want to watch TV and you invite friends?
He said, if you’re in the lounge and invite friends, do you have to do one?
Don: There is no regulation at the present time. A lot of people say, do I need a form for this, and I say no, you’re just watching movies, no.