Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 5, 2020

The real ­life Little Tramp at Hopkins

By LILLIAN KAIRIS | October 2, 2014

The first time I saw Charlie Chaplin sing nonsensical Italian-French-Spanish opera, I fell in love. True, this moment came only a few weeks ago, in the dark, over air-conditioned space of Hodson 213, but in my heart, Charlie and I have been on intimate terms since the beginning of time itself. Yes, I’m that person, and I have a thing for The Little Tramp.

But, before you write this off as an unnecessary ode to my cinematic crush, or an attempt to sway you from your pre-existing allegiance to fellow genius comedian Buster Keaton, hear me out: I believe, no matter your fondness for Chaplin, that there’s something to be learned from this tiny, quirky outcast. I believe (pardon the cliché) that there’s a Little Tramp in all of us.

Consider this: audition season. Coming out of the frantic freshman hustle of early fall, we can now all, to some extent, look back on the weeks of tryouts and laugh. Or at least I can. And do. Psht, I tell myself, in my best imitation of nonchalance, I didn’t really want to be in The Vocal Chords. That would’ve been a waste of my precious time. Clearly my musical stylings are much too unique for their taste. Clearly they’re too mainstream for me. So yeah, I was denied entrance to one of Hopkins’ premiere a cappella clubs, but if the masses of nervous auditionees I encountered are any indication, I wasn’t alone in this experience.

I probably also wasn’t alone in my mourning process — drinking lots of FFC hot chocolate, downing the cough drops that I’d been addicted to since my bout with the freshman plague and finally, throwing myself unashamedly into another round of auditions. My hopes at one Hopkins club were replaced with entry into another: days after that fateful blow to my ego, I was skipping through the AMRII halls, armed with my humble role in a Freshman One Act.

Isn’t there something of The Little Tramp in that? Maybe I’m over-dramatizing, letting my Film Major bias paint my view of the world, but I think that life at Hopkins, in the strangest of ways, is an actual, modern day Modern Times. Sometimes at Hopkins you’re kicked in the shin (metaphorically, of course). You lose your first election, and you fail your first midterm, and you discover, in inevitable freshman fashion, that you’re not the hot shot you were in high school. You’re more of a Little Tramp than you ever were.

For those who don’t dig the 1920’s silent films as much as I do, I should explain: Chaplin’s character of The Little Tramp was the quintessential underdog hero of his era. He was awkward and ill-fitting in the world around him, literally and figuratively (he wore an undersized suit and oversized shoes; he couldn’t hold a steady job and often found himself shunned by government and establishment).

He faced his fair share of boulder-sized bumps in the road, but through all of this, he kept a face of humor and lightheartedness. Chaplin became such a well loved figure because he appealed to humanity, and he flirted with the camera as he did it.

Long short short: The Little Tramp is the Hopkins student. So maybe you haven’t faced a cappella auditions or theater callbacks, but I’m betting that yes, I’m putting a significant amount of figurative money on that fact that you’ve had a real Hopkins-esque misfortune.

Perhaps you arrived at Brody only to find every study room full; perhaps you tripped in a particularly atrocious puddle; perhaps a photograph of you asleep in class found its way onto JHU Snaps. Truthfully, we’ve all been there before. But in true eternal-optimist style, I propose that we all pull a Chaplin and take our misfortunes in stride.

There will always be days when we must stay up until 2 a.m. to cram for the class we’ve been neglecting, and there will always be nights of impossible stomachaches and awkward romantic rejections. I’m pulling out my mildly patronizing Captain Obvious hat, now and saying there will always be disappointments.

But because there’s a blessing to follow every disappointment (and then some), I propose that we all follow the lead of The Little Tramp — we fall only to pick ourselves up again, flirt with the camera, and smile.

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