Under the Tent: An Investigative Report
First, I have to preface all of this by saying that I’ve never done, nor do I ever plan on really doing Dance Marathon. If I raise $400, you can bet your sweet ass I’ll be spending that money on fried chicken and hallucinogens. Plus, I hate charity. But as my timeline was once again bombarded with desperate pleas and half-baked witticisms from my classmates begging for cash that we all know their parents will end up donating anyway, I was struck by a growing feeling of suspicion. Why would my fellow Wildcats grovel at the feet of their uncaring classmates for the chance to spend thirty hours literally trapped in a prison with an atmosphere more sweat that oxygen? Could it be that Dance Marathon is not what it seems- a photo opportunity with charitable side effects? As the big event moved closer and closer, I knew what I had to do: Utilize my sharply trained journalistic mind and investigate to reveal what’s really going on in that big, white tent.
What I found, unsurprisingly, is going to be controversial, but I’m prepared to take the heat. I’ve already received a few death threats set to the tune of “Uptown Funk,” and when I tried to go to that philanthropy with all the chicken nuggets a snarling girl wearing a “Thirty Hour Club” t-shirt told me that “We don’t serve your kind here.” But, like the reporters who broke the Watergate Scandal, I must soldier on and let the people know what’s really happening… Before it’s too late.
BLOCK 1 I managed to sneak past DM security by hiding in an eager freshman’s oversized fanny pack. Once inside the tent, I tried to blend into the crowd by high-fiving everyone who made eye contact with me. It didn’t go well. Suddenly, a hush fell over the dancers as we turned in unison towards the main stage. There, behind the DM committee, stood Morty, wearing a long, red cloak and a golden chain with a diamond-encrusted N hanging from it, glittering on his chest like a fat beetle in the desert sun. He clutched a jeweled dagger in one hand and in the other a leash, at the end of which a bleating goat struggled. In one fluid motion he brought down the dagger and slit the animal’s throat, spraying a mist of warm blood on those closest to the stage. The tent became filled with unholy wailing and gibbering as the dancers were seemingly seized by some invisible force. I felt it too, I was filled near to bursting with it as my ears began to ring with high, keening shrieks that I could hardly recognize as my own. Then, in a voice that seemed to contain multitudes, President Morton Shapiro intoned: “So it begins.” And so it did.
BLOCK 2 The music was pulsing, the crowd was upbeat, and everywhere I looked I saw the smiling faces of students who still believed that God was real and that time is really only as concrete as you make it. I began to doubt my cynicism. Watching my classmates take unfettered joy in being with each other, here and now, and all for a good cause affected me deeply, and I actually thought about letting my guard down and joining in. That is, until I noticed the shadows, swirling around each corner of the tent, lingering around dancing bodies as if…feeding. I inhaled the air deeply, and smelled more than just sweat- I smelled something ancient and rotten, as though I’d opened up a pyramid to find that the dead king had risen again. I listened closely and I heard, beyond the lushly pumping bass of the DJ booth, chanting in a language that my ears seemed to recognize but my mind refused to comprehend. Thank god. I love it when I’m right.
BLOCK 3 Someone finally noticed that not only was I not a registered dancer, but I was making no attempt to dance, opting instead to mutter notes into my personal recorder and side-eye anyone who danced remotely close to me. I was escorted out in a not-too-friendly fashion (if Ian from DM security tells you I bit him then he is a FUCKING LIAR because it doesn’t count as biting if you don’t break the skin) and dumped into the Norris food court unceremoniously. I spent the remainder of this block skulking around the outside of the tent, drinking a Dunkin Donuts Coolatta® and plotting. From inside the tent, a red light pulsed softly, like some great and terrible heartbeat.
BLOCK 4 I’m not proud of everything I’ve done in the name of journalism, especially not the kind of journalism that a rag like Sherman Ave is looking to publish. But I am proud of this, which was a well-executed plan and worked out exactly like TV and movies told me it would. Basically, I waited in a bathroom stall until I heard someone come in. I knew right away she was a dancer- her breathing was ragged, her steps unsteady, and she smelled like a middle school locker room. When she opened the door to my stall I pounced, slamming her to the ground. “Don’t kill-” but I put my sweaty palm over her sweaty mouth before she could say more. “Listen very carefully,” I said. “You’re going to give me your registration number. Then we’re going to switch clothes, and we’re both going to walk out of here like none of this ever happened. Understand?” I took my hand from her mouth as her eyes lit up. “You mean… I’m free?” She practically skipped out of Norris, and I got back into the tent just in time to hear hundreds of dancers scream the words to Mr. Brightside in perfect, off-key unison.
BLOCK 5 This block was entirely dubstep remixes of pop songs from the late 90s and early 2000s and honestly, people ate that shit up. Also, during the middle of this block, there was a contest were people went up on stage and tried to fit as much of their fist into their mouths as possible. Northwestern is a weird school. This was also the first time I witnessed someone try to escape from the tent. He was fast, but DM security was faster, which might have had something to do with the fact that, as they gave chase, they sprouted magnificent black wings that nearly blotted out the tent’s strobe lights. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes as they dragged him back into the tent and threw him into the undulating mass of bodies until he was no longer visible. He looked utterly defeated.
BLOCK 6 During this block, we were assured, we’d be in for a treat- a special pre-recorded message from some celebrities to US, the brave and resilient DM-ers. As we turned our attention to the big screen, up popped a frightened Whoopi Goldberg and a clearly intoxicated George Clooney. “Keep up the good work,” slurred Clooney, who had no trouble maintaining a dazzling smile despite his bloodshot and unfocused gaze. “You can do it! I know you can!” said Goldberg, but her voice quivered, and her gaze seemed to be caught again and again by something slightly off camera. “It’s boys and girls like you who change the world,” she said, and smiled nervously. “Northwestern,” said Clooney. “I love you.” Then he placed a hand over his mouth and burped. Dancers cheered, and pulled out their phones in order to update their Snapchat stories. “It doesn’t get better than this,” squealed one giddy freshman beside me. She was right. It didn’t.
BLOCK 7 Literally a three-hour loop of Lou Bega’s Mambo No. 5.
BLOCK 8 This block was a little bit blurry for me for a variety of reasons. A thick, grey mist began to fill the tent, obscuring most others from my line of vision until all that I could make out around me were frantic, thrashing shapes. I kept seeing clawed hands grabbing at my clothes from the periphery of my vision, but when I actually turned to free myself they were nowhere to be seen. I got a nosebleed. Anyways, I’m pretty sure Stevie Wonder was there.
BLOCK 9 The tent was illuminated with camera flash after camera flash, appeasing Helios, god of the sun, and the excitement about new profile picture options was palpable. “Only six more hours!” a peppy girl in a “California Dreamin’” tank top chimed at me, grinning. Ten minutes later I watched her vomit on her Nike Frees.
BLOCK 10 This is where things got a little unusual. As the marathon drew to a close, I noticed the people around me begin to disrobe. This wasn’t what I signed up for. Morty came onstage once again, but instead of his cloak he was wearing a Speedo whose pattern looked vaguely familiar. Another scent filled the air, less menacing than before and more easily recognizable. Then it dawned on me. Money. It began to fall from the sky, released from giant plastic bags, where it stuck to the sweaty bodies of the dancers, who began to fall upon each other lustily until the whole scene quickly devolved into a doughy, exhausted orgy. I was awestruck. Where had all this money come from? I had to know.
I pushed my way through the sea of writhing bodies and climbed onto the stage, where a gleeful Morty watched it all unfold. I grabbed him by the shoulder and shook him. “Morty, where is all this money from? What’s going on? Where’s Justin Barbin?” “Oh, we don’t hire Justin Barbin for this block,” cackled Morty. “This is why we do Dance Marathon. It’s not about the kids, it’s about appeasing Plutus, the ancient Greek god of money and greed.” Suddenly, it all started to come together: the begging for donations, the religious fervor with which DM alums spoke about their experience, the weird nude manservants who followed Morty everywhere. It finally fell into place. “Do you really think Northwestern needs donations from its students in order to support a charitable organization? I built a multimillion dollar parking lot last year because I fucking felt like it!” And with that, Morty dove off of the stage and crowd-surfed away, leaving me bereft, broken, and oddly aroused. I listlessly accepted my “Thirty Hour Club” t-shirt as I walked down the tent’s corridor back into Norris, into the real world, and into my bed where I totally slept for, like, aaaaall of Sunday.