Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

REDIRECT ALERT! (Scroll down past this mess if you're trying to read an archived post. Thanks. No, really, thanks.)

Due to my inability to control my temper and complacently accept continued silliness with not-quite-as-reliable-as-it-ought-to-be Blogger/Blogspot, your beloved Possumblog will now waddle across the Information Dirt Road and park its prehensile tail at http://possumblog.mu.nu.

This site will remain in place as a backup in case Munuvia gets hit by a bus or something, but I don't think they have as much trouble with this as some places do. ::cough::blogspot::cough:: So click here and adjust your links. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it's one of those things.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Before we continue with our recitation of the weekend...

I received an e-mail from a fellow named Josh Schroeder that some of the rest of you may have gotten, dealing with a story from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. I don't recall having spoken with Josh before (forgive me if I have) and I don't usually link to stuff that folks send me out of the blue, but this one is a pretty good story. One of the professors there at the campus writes a humor column in the school paper, and from the sound of it, there seems to be a goodly dollop of mean-spirited offensiveness to it. Occasional outré stuff, that as the professors says, is "...'about 80 percent stupid humor,' is an outlet for an almost fictionalized, crazed version of himself as the perpetual student...."

Some of the folks on campus were incensed by his latest frippery, however:

[...] But a group of students from the UWSP College Republicans organization wasn't laughing Nov. 4 when a post-election Rothfuss column included phrases like "punching smug-looking Republicans in the mouth" and "key every car you see with a Bush bumper sticker." The column's premise was that Rothfuss was drunk while writing to himself, and it suggested, "why don't you go on a killing spree? I pet you can take out fixteen for sisteen republicans beofre they gun you down. Duke, youd' be like a heroe." (sic)

The column, which some organization members are saying crossed the line, has intensified the debate over academic freedom and political outspokenness on the UWSP campus. [...]

As well it should. To their credit, the student group isn't asking that he be fired or step down from his position, but they do say that the incident points out some of the liberal bias at the university. (WHAT!?) They make a very good point:

[...] said College Republican Josh Schroeder. "I understood that he wasn't being serious," Schroeder said. "But I also feel that if someone with a conservative point of view would have said anything half as incredulous in a satire article, ... we would have had the book thrown at us." [...] [ellipsis in original]

Don't believe it? Try a little experiment--in the professor's little whimsy, instead of "Republican," substitute "black people." For "Bush bumper sticker," substitute "NAACP." Let's try it: "punching smug-looking black people in the mouth," "key every car you see with an NAACP bumper sticker," "why don't you go on a killing spree? I pet you can take out fixteen for sisteen black people beofre they gun you down. Duke, youd' be like a heroe." Yes, and if this little screed had been written and published in a campus newspaper, the author would be out on his can in five seconds. No one would think for a second about giving him any quarter for his reasoning that "maintains that his teaching persona and column-writing persona should be kept separate." He would be gone, and everyone would be applauding the sensitivity and inclusiveness of the administration.

Of course, it's not like the good professor isn't an equal-opportunity loon:

[...] As a response to Michels' letter to the editor, which called the content of Rothfuss' column "totally inappropriate" for a faculty member, Rothfuss in his Nov. 11 column decided to satirically apologize for much of the bad advice that he'd provided via his column. His retractions of bad "advice" included telling readers not to chase hippies with a lawnmower and not to mix ammonia with bleach and drink it. [...]

Academic freedom and the right of free speech are great, but the professor seems to have a problem, and it's not intolerance or even being outrageous. It's in not really being funny.

Humor is hard to do. Offensive humor even more so. The professor's problem stems not from the fact that he sometimes writes over-the-edge material. It doesn't help his case to say that he spreads it around equally to all.

The problem is that he fails to target himself as well.

The difference between being clever and being a humorless shank is the ability not only to see the foibles and failings of others, but also to see your own, and to be comfortable enough being part of the human race that you are just as willing to skewer yourself as you are others. A tin ear, a weak pen, and overwhelmingly defensive self-righteousness rarely make a good combination of prose.

You need to get out more, Professor Rothfuss. Oh, and lose the hat when you are indoors.

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