"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"Northstar" can't get out of woods w/ "satire"

First, a little background:
A couple young boys were in a booth close to me at McDonald's this morning, and their behavior demonstrated why some restaurants offer a "well-behaved children" discount. These urchins were in a tussle. The big one seemed to be picking on the little one.
How serious was the conflict? It got so persistent I finally spoke up and said "calm down." Was I supposed to assume it was innocent horseplay?
Bullying is notorious for how it can be misunderstood. We have this serious episode in the NFL now where behavior that might have been written off as fairly innocuous, like "hazing," is quite more serious. It's rising to scandal.
The two hyper boys in the McDonald's booth were joined by an adult fairly soon. I guess they were brothers and they were joined by their mom. Mom had a mollifying effect on the kids. No more issues. But this party definitely wouldn't have gotten the "well-behaved children" discount.
"Anti-bullying" has become a buzzword or buzz-term in education. Such terms are known to come and go. Remember "outcome-based education" or OBE? We had an administrator in Morris, initials R.H., who latched on to that one.
George W. Bush gave us "no child left behind." One can imagine a forlorn little kid running to try to catch up to a school bus. Bush's real agenda, as would be expected of someone with his belief set, was to put the onus on teachers to answer for all the shortcomings exhibited by kids. True conservatives should have shot down "no child left behind." It was classic big government intrusion.
George W. Bush did several highly costly things that would appear to contradict true conservatism, and would certainly run contrary to libertarianism.
I can see why teachers have some reluctance tackling bullying. It is often very hard to understand the underpinnings of kids' behavior. The best of friends can kid around and jostle each other. Put-down humor can be affectionate.
All of this is a prelude to what I really intend to write about here, which is that "Northstar" publication emanating from UMM. I wouldn't be writing about it were it not for the fact it penetrated the Morris community. Somehow it got put in with all the ad circulars in the newspaper that purports to be the Morris newspaper, even though it's owned out of Fargo ND and largely managed out of Detroit Lakes. I'm talking about the Morris Sun Tribune newspaper.
  
Trying to judge "Northstar's" intentions
The "Northstar" with its orange cover greeted those people, mostly older people, who still bother purchasing the Morris paper. The Northstar's content was at least puzzling. Obviously this is put out by strongly libertarian students. I have been told that UMM student fees make its publication possible. So, we might say that the University of Minnesota-Morris has its imprimatur on it.
I have been told it's a good learning experience for students who have journalistic inclinations but don't have much experience with the endeavor. If this is so, then please keep it on campus.
This recent Northstar included material which if interpreted seriously, was libelous.
I'm now told that an inquiry of the students responsible, has brought the explanation that it was "satirical." Some critics have refused to accept that explanation. In other words, claiming that it's satirical doesn't make it satirical.
But I would take the rebuttal a step further. Let's accept that it's satirical. A logical question would follow: What is it a satire on? The whole reason a satire is funny is that there is an underlying truth. Satire is a vehicle for bringing out extremes, to penetrate to the essence of something and remove any pretense or polite facade.
If there were no underlying truth, it would be simple nonsense. These creators of the Northstar are quite intelligent, I'm sure, and they wouldn't be parties to true nonsense. In fact, if it were nonsense, some responsible authority figure should have asserted himself/herself and prevented publication.
These young people were in fact trying to tell us something.
We laughed at Leslie Nielsen in "Airplane" because his character was a satire on the stiff leading man persona. My generation laughed uproariously at Mel Brooks movies like "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein" because they were satires on the old western and old monster movies, two genres that were ripe for satire. Brooks knew how to read his audience.
The minds behind the Northstar are claiming satire. That leaves us scratching our heads over just what the underlying points were. Had this publication just stayed on campus, I might not even know about it. But it ended up on coffee tables around Morris where children might have gotten a look at it.
So, are there racists lurking amidst academia at our "jewel in the crown" of UMM? This publication named names. There was even a photo of long-time administrator Sandra Olson-Loy, the unlikeliest subject for inappropriate labels you can imagine.
Were the names (of offenders) chosen at random? Was the article written as pure frivolity? Was it deliberately provocative? Was it a way for the creators to just sit back and laugh at all of us who expressed concern?
Was it done in the spirit of an April Fool's joke? But it wasn't April Fool's, it was in fact Halloween, and those are two separate things.
As I first looked it over, it sure didn't strike me as obvious satire.
If the racism charge is to be understood as having serious intent, how might it have serious intent? Since the Northstar creators won't express themselves directly - they hide behind the (dubious) veil of "satire" - they are forcing us to speculate. How might we speculate?
Well, maybe extreme libertarians would view certain programs within higher education as being condescending. Condescending toward certain historically aggrieved groups: non-whites, women, gays etc.
Certainly higher education has gone out of its way to acknowledge past oppression and discrimination. Libertarians would say we can all fight our way out of those thickets on our own. It is the conservatives who have argued we no longer need any special Federal protection of voting rights in the Deep South.
UMM has that multi-cultural building which is a signal that we have a true commitment to making students out of the cultural mainstream feel comfortable. I suspect true libertarians would say we can all just fend for ourselves just fine.
So maybe when certain individuals on the UMM campus are singled out by name, or by photo, it is because of the perception by those freedom-loving libertarians that these individuals have acquiesced too much with "special programs" on behalf of historically aggrieved groups. You see, I don't think these people were picked out at random. As if by a blindfolded person pointing at names in the phone book.
The Northstar creators can claim "satire" as a way of trying to extinguish controversy. We mustn't accommodate them on this.
It would have been a far better "learning experience" for these young zealous journalists to just be told: "This thing isn't coming off the presses."
Even more culpable might be the Morris Sun Tribune which had a big part in spreading the stuff. A pox on them. Or better yet, a lawsuit. Make those Forum Communications suits squirm a little. They're already being sued for something up in Duluth.
Maybe the biggest lesson from all of this is that we should all just move on from printed communications to online. Print communications gets its power from (mostly) monopoly distribution. Online is a sea of ideas and information - a rigid meritocracy where the garbage quickly sinks to the bottom.
Let's see the garbage sink.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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