Horror in Happy Valley, Not-So-Happy Valley, Happy Valley Upside Down - journalists everywhere are tilling the furrow between Penn State University's amber waves of grain and its shower stalls. "This guy grew up in a Norman Rockwell painting and wanted to live in one in State College," says the son of Joe Paterno, Good King Wenceslas of the Happy Valley. The happy people of Happy Valley granted Paterno absolute power because he knew what was best, and he knew how to keep the valley happy. He after all grew up in a perfect world - a Norman Rockwell painting - and knew how to make the Happy Valley a Rockwell painting too.
The key to happiness, Paterno knew, was not just the power to imagine and impose it; it was secrecy. Little was known among the Happy Valley people about his football program; he controlled virtually all of the information about it. In an essay comparing the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church to the scandal at Penn State, a Forbes columnist writes:
[C]onsider the culture surrounding sports: intense competition, deference to authority, hyper-masculinity, and loyalty to a higher cause – the team, the win, the sport. Add to that the secrecy surrounding coach Paterno’s program ...
An entirely masculine world surrounded by deference to its priests' charismatic authority - this turns out to be the Rockwell painting Paterno had in mind. So one person after another witnessed, and was in various ways silenced about, rape in the showers. Hurting boys doesn't happen in Happy Valley. Or put it this way: What happens in Happy Valley stays in Happy Valley.
You want the same toxic brew, look at ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities around the world, some of which have scandalously high rates of child abuse, and all have the same hyper-masculine, loyalist, secretive, higher cause mix.
Paterno's vile program is big-time university football squared. It's got everything the other programs have - millionaire monarch coaches, castrati presidents, mindless loyalist fans - only a lot more of it.
And of course it has violence. The game Americans can't get enough of is intensely, unceasingly, violent. Why does anyone think football violence can ever be confined to the field? Happy Valley, and all the other university football Edens, recruit, along with men of good character, very scary nasty players who can be counted on to smash not only opposing players but also people in bars with whom they get into fights. The ethos of competitive, intimidating, charismatic aggression on and off the field appeals to a lot of boys, and it's just this swagger that Jerry Sandusky seems to have embodied for his victims. They must have thought they were among the happy few to be admitted into this hyper-masculine dreamworld. One can only imagine their shock when the towel-fights and chest-pokes suddenly got down to business.
In Don DeLillo's novel Great Jones Street, a particularly twisted and violent terrorist cell calls itself the Happy Valley Farm Commune. DeLillo's satirical send-up of creepy smiley-faceism should alert us to the perils of falling for the alluringly engineered facades of authoritarian regimes. It's particularly hard to believe that authoritarianism could overtake a university - universities look so free, and they're all about free thought and all... But believe it; and if you see it beginning to happen on your campus, recite to yourself this simple prayer:
Lead me not into Penn Statetion.