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I just finished reading Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed which has been getting a ton of press ever since it came out in March. All throughout the book I couldn’t help but see the correlation between the modern social media outrage machine and what colleges seem to be teaching their students.
I posted a review of Ronson’s book over at The Huffington Post, but I wanted to share a snippet of it with my fellow Ricochet readers to see what you think:
I see plenty of examples where universities and even, sometimes, professors willfully misunderstand the intention of a joke or comment and decide to react with outrage. Take the University of Iowa, for example. This past fall, a visiting associate professor from Turkey displayed a provocative anti-racist piece of art in the center of campus with the intention of creating a discussion about racial issues in the United States. Anyone taking a minute to honestly look at the art or, certainly, to talk to the artist, would have understood that the art was intended to criticize racism. But in the face of student outrage, the university ignored and dismissed the artist’s intention. This willful misunderstanding was again on on display at Purdue University following the creation of a music video by engineering students that parodied white rapper Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop.” The students, who use the video to geek out about engineering, were accused of racism, despite the fact the video is so tame it borders on adorable. Even the ironic Internet meme #thanksobama was not safe for one cartoonist at the University of Alabama after he drew a cartoon jokingly blaming Obama for Alabama’s loss in their rival football game against Auburn University.
But rarely has the instruction to willfully misunderstand been made more clear than it was by one administrator at Bucknell University, who proclaimed “that the context really doesn’t matter” in an ongoing case where students were expelled for allegedly using racial slurs on a radio show. Bucknell, a private university in Pennsylvania, has refused to reveal any additional information about the students and what they said, but if they were, for example, using racial slurs in order to mock racism and racists, like the late and great comedian Lenny Bruce used to do, then context is absolutely pivotal. The idea that “context doesn’t matter” is not something a scholarly institution should be teaching anyone. Context always matters.
Check out the full article over at The Huffington Post then be sure to come back to let me know what you think.