Are College Campuses to Blame for the Explosion of Social Media Outrage?


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.

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  1. Sisyphus Member

    When the Fairfax County School Board was face with the predictable conundrums of what to do about icy roads under borderline melt/not melt temperatures, #CloseFairfaxCountySchools (or something like that) became a top trending hash tag on Twitter (frequently hanging at #2 for several hours). The precious only children of our thousands of two government lawyer couples struck with all of the focus of a self-consciously privileged class pursuing an advantage with all the CPU of an effete First Worlder.

    The colleges in this case were a non-factor.

    Growing up in DC, I quickly learned the art of not just identifying the victim in any given context, but finding the victimhood angle for everyone in the room. The bomber was a misunderstood freedom fighter attempting to be heard in an insanely gun phobic world. his lawyer was forced to represent such scum by a cruel system that requires people to labor to earn their keep and a preference for real qualifications with regard to the hiring of socially acceptable work like garbage man, professional tennis player, or mortician. The folks bombed regrettably died in a public building before fulfilling their august visions of a home bound existence reading Jacquelyn Suzanne novels and eating bon bons while occasional emitting deliriously well received witticisms on social media.

    Colleges, with a very few welcome exceptions, seem to be propagating this very DC viewpoint to a waiting nation.

    So how much are we willing to spend to send ourselves or our children to such institutions?

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  2. Ricochet Member

    GL, I think you have it right, with one minor quibble or clarification — it is the ideology being taught on college campuses that is to blame.  That ideology is the same vapid, morally bankrupt Leftism that Allan Bloom identified in The Closing of the American Mind almost 30 years ago.

    I have not been on a campus in many years, but my impression is that things have gone from bad to worse.

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  3. Mama Toad Member
    Mama Toad

    Greg, I don’t really have much to add, but I love the work FIRE is doing and I love reading your updates here at Ricochet. We are lucky to have you.

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  4. Misthiocracy Member

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