Sunday, November 09, 2003

Sarcasm is wasted on children
The Stanford Daily is having one of those wonderful principled fights over an ad they published that only a college paper can have.

“You shouldn’t have published that because it’s racist.”

“Wait a minute, you saying they shouldn’t have published our ad takes away our free speech.”

“Does not, you hate-speaker.”

“Does too, you censorer. Besides, you’re a reverse racist ‘cause you hate us.”

“Am not, you oppressor.”

Et cetera.

If any ten commercial newspapers had as much concern for abstract principles as one college paper, the republic would be safe and uncorruptable.


Anyway, the Stanford Daily published an ad from some group calling itself the One Truth Foundation. I am assuming they are some variety of Zionists (Christian or Jewish), but I haven’t checked because it doesn’t really matter. The ad is part of series, parts of which have appeared in many college papers across the country and usually stirred up some controversy. The ad that has Stanford in a tizzy depicts Israelis lighting candles in remembrance of the 9/11 victims, with the caption, “On September 11, 2001, Israelis mourned in Tel-Aviv.” Next to this is a photo that was well circulated by neo-cons after 9/11 showing Palestinian men and children cheering, with the caption, “On September 11, 2001, Palestinians celebrated in Lebanon.” The punch line to the ad is the tag line for the entire ad campaign, “There are two sides to every story, but only one truth.”

A group called the Coalition for Justice has called the ad racist and is petitioning for the removal of the Daily’s editor. They have met with the editor in question, Ramin Setoodeh, who points out that he himself is of Middle Eastern origins, and the issue is chugging along.

So far, so good. Dozens of nearly identical controversies erupt every year. As far as this one is concerned, let’s just drop both of the terms “racism” and “hate” and say the ads are dishonest, misleading, and stupid. Now, although people have a free-speech right to be dishonest, misleading, and stupid out loud, newspapers are under no obligation to present them with a forum to be dishonest, misleading, and stupid in their pages.

Meanwhile, over at Volokh Conspiracy, David Bernstein feels the need to comment from a right-wing perspective:
It seems like anyone these days can throw around the term "racism" to try to suppress any campus speech that they don't like. How, exactly, can pointing out in an ad that Palestinians in Lebanon celebrated the 9/11 attacks possibly be construed as racism? Bravo to the editor-in-chief of the Stanford Daily, who refused to kowtow to such nonsense.

Setoodeh is to be commended for “refus[ing] to kowtow to such nonsense.” Except that’s not what he has done. He has engaged the protestors in a dialog that is, as yet, still continuing.

At this point, Atrios, seeing Bernstein’s comments, adds his own two cents worth. He posts two pictures. The first shows a French tribute to the victims of 9/11 with the caption, “On September 11, 2001, French people mourned in Paris.” The second shows Fred Phelps’ followers in a typical moment of celebrating human pain with their “Thank God for Sept. 11” and “God Hates Fags” signs above the caption, “On September 11, 2001, Kansans celebrated in Topeka [Phelps’ home base]” (actually, the photo is from the opening of Harvey Milk High in NYC just a few weeks ago, but it was the best Atrios could do on short notice). He then linked to Bernstein, an article in the Stanford Daily about the controversy so far, and added his own punch line, “I hate those evil Kansans.” He follows this with a parenthetical caveat, “also, please read the two links for context, in order”.

Could the fact that this is sarcasm be clearer? Yes, it could. At this point, no fewer than three comments are protesting the unfair stereotyping of Kansans.
“Hey now, I grew up in Topeka, KS, where those abhorrent protesters have their base. Don't stereotype us all, please.”

“I also must take offense with the generalization of Kansans. I happen to live in that state…”

“It really sucks when y'all talk about disenfranchising ((STATE X)) 'cause they're not sufficiently urban/Northern...” This one seemed to be aware that Atrios was being sarcastic, but couldn’t resist complaining anyway. Go figure.

When I was growing up, one of my mother’s favorite sighs was, “sarcasm is wasted on children.” My wife has adapted that phrase to, “irony is wasted on Americans.”

Just to make sure no one gets me wrong, let me present Shorter John McKay, even though that sounds like a comment about my height.
College students caring enough about abstract principles to get hot under the collar and argue them in public is a good thing. Atrios is funny. Irony is wasted on Americans.

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