There is an excellent editorial about humor, comedy, satire, and parody on college campuses at the Boston Pheonix by Harvery Silverglate. In it he discusses the beginnings of the downfall of parody at Harvard, and how the backlash against parody and satire reverberates today with the unlawful conduct of Colorado College against two men who made a parody of a feminist flyer and posted it up on campus.
NDSU, the school I attend is also no stranger to demonizing satire and parody. Our school’s newspaper started printing a parody April Fool’s issue several years ago in response to heavyhanded tactics against the paper by our Student Government. For the most part the Rectum as our parody issue is called has been well-received.
This last fall in response to Student Government reducing the Spectrum’s operating budget yet again, the editor of the paper decided to print a fall parody issue to continue the trend of fighting unethical politics with humor and satire. The issue ridiculed and poked fun at student government comparing fictitional members of the body to Larry Craig and had a fake news story about student government threatening the paper by killing and lynching a cabbage patch doll.
Tackling more widespread and national issues, the parody edition of the paper also made fun of Britney Spears and UND for its mascot problems. I even contributed an article on the stupidity of the terrorist threat level and Homeland Security by writing a faux security alert for Halloween since this was about the time of the printing of the issue.
The day after the parody issue came out, a huge backlash against it came pouring in. The issue was racist, sexist, and crude, and it offended readers. Nevermind that the front of the paper read that this was a satire issue designed to be cutting, edgy, and in your face. Due to the pressure of the complaints and the Board of Student Publications, the editor issued a formal apology. The board almost fired him, but let it be known that he was walking a fine line.
So what was wrong with the issue? Everything seemed to offend someone. The Spears article was sexist because it demeaned a woman. Thing is it was written by one of our female writers who was sick and tired of all the media attention Britney was getting for being and idiot.
The UND article was racist because like any good parody it pretended to be racist to get people to realize the the racism behind the UND mascot debate. So in pointing out racism and ridiculing it, we ourselves got labeled as evil racist bigots.
There were other stupid things, like just putting a noose in photo was racist even if the person being hung was white. All in all, it proved NDSU is not an open forum for ideas and debate anymore, especially after BOSP’s reaction to the publication.
Even though the editor Stephen Baird got to keep his job after the incident, BOSP let him know that they were watching him and that he better not do anything controversial. (Amazing isn’t it? An advisory board that should be very hands off is telling a newspaper editor that he can’t be controversial. I thought controversial was in the definition of newspaper.) When April came around, the time of the normal publication of the parody Rectum issue, Stephen was told not to publish one or he could ‘read between the lines.’ (Now they are threatening him with veiled threats!)
He published anyways, and I got to sit in on a lovely three hour hearing the day the papers were to be put out where the entire board interrogated him on why he had the balls to do his job and publish his paper. Stephen had gone to his staff and had them vote on whether or not to publish the joke issue and the vote was a tie. He using the power he has as editor decided to go with it and publish. In the meeting he had to defend himself and how he was going to answer to the half of his staff he went against. I guess the half that he agreed with don’t matter!
Finally after everyone who wasn’t on the paper voiced in on how the paper should be run and the board couldn’t find anything that Stephen had done morally wrong, the chair of the board gave up her position to bring Stephen up on the charge of ‘abusing his power.’ I guess the editor of the paper deciding the content of the joke issue which he has the power to print is just such and egregious breach of his power. Luckily, the charge lost miserably in the vote, and Stephen got to leave.
So this is the sorry state of parody and satire at NDSU. The paper has lost its voice and it is a given that anyone who tried to find that voice again or publish their own satire will be punished for it even though that punishment is illegal. NDSU is growing by leaps and bounds in terms of investments and size of the student body. Unfortunately, NDSU diversity of thought, ideas, and oppennes to debate seems to shrivel up the bigger the school gets.