Saturday, April 02, 2005

What in the Sam Hell is happening in Ann Arbor?

Cole Slaw Blog is a New York-based entity, but its interests include Cleveland, Ohio and Ann Arbor, Mich. That's why we're pretty disgusted with some recent events at our beloved alma mater, the University of Michigan. Three particular incidents raise our hackles, and have led to at least one plastic cup of takeout coleslaw being thrown against the wall. Let's examine each of these incidents in turn.

1. The Joel Hoard column. Joel Hoard is an undergrad at the University of Michigan and a columnist at a once-great publication, The Michigan Daily. Cole Slaw Blog was unfamiliar with Mr. Hoard's work, until he wrote a brilliant and hilarious column satirizing the Christian right's rhetoric on America's biggest social threat, gay dudes. Among other things, Mr. Hoard depicted an incident in which he took his six-year-old son, "Jack," on a walk through Chelsea on their way to a performance of Sesame Street on Ice. Here's a key passage:
I told him what homosexuality is, and that it is an abomination in the eyes of God. I told him about how homosexuality started in the summer of 1967, when the hippies decided to challenge the natural order that God established at the beginning of time. I told him that the two men he saw holding hands were sinners. I even told him about how the liberals were trying to force the homosexual agenda on America and redefine marriage, one of the most sacred institutions God ever devised.
The column appropriated right-wing rhetoric without cracking a smirk. I thought that the joke was pretty obvious, but the column was followed by a deluge of pretty deranged letters to the editor and online comments condemning this kid as an anti-gay bigot. From Cole Slaw Blog's perspective, this elevated the column's smarts to a higher level. See, what happened was, the reaction turned into an illustration of how debased the country's dialogue has become. Written in the voice of a completely insane individual, offering conclusions that no sensible person could reach, the column was misinterpreted by people as a literal account of a day in the life of a madman. Could there be a slyer, subtler illustration of the absurdity of the way people talk about "values"?

Apparently, Mr. Hoard's editors didn't feel that way, because they ran a weird, stupid explanation, apparently in hopes that stupid people won't stay mad at them. Now, apparently beat down by the gross misinterpretation of his work, Mr. Hoard has thrown up his hands in frustration.

Cole Slaw Blog encourages Mr. Hoard's editors and critics to get a life and/or some balls, and encourages Mr. Hoard not to throw in the towel. Anyone who can inspire this kind of misdirected ire has something going for him.

2. Speaker choice irks grads. Cole Slaw Blog has warm memories of college graduation. It was a sunny day that began with champagne at Holmes's apartment. Our commencement speaker was Kofi Annan, and the student speaker was a close friend who slipped in some indirect references to our lives and work.

True, a high-profile graduation speaker doesn't guarantee a good speech. Those who endured David Halberstam's incredibly condescending commencement speech in 2000 can attest to that. (Among other things, Halberstam, who happens to be a great reporter, inaccurately called Michigan a land grant school [Michigan predates the land grant program by about 45 years] and unfavorably compared Michigan to MIT and Harvard.) But seriously, the University of Michigan can do no better than a Xerox research scientist? Are you kidding? Is Michigan buttering up Xerox for a major donation? No disrespect to Mr. Brown, we're pretty interested in stuff like nanotechnology, and it's hard to picture any member of the Bush Administration getting a warm welcome in Ann Arbor. But come on. Michigan isn't a community college or a technical school. If the regents can't draw Steven Spielberg or Bill Clinton, couldn't they at least honor a humanitarian or philanthropist? If I were a graduating senior, I'd feel Punk'd.

3. Fox News Academy. We were a little tough on the Daily before, but tough love is important. On Thursday, the newspaper broke a story on attempted censorship at the Every Three Weekly, a campus satire magazine that, on its best day, is mildly entertaining. The E3W ran a story about Michigan student and Olympian Michael Phelps, titled "Phelps to Major in Pussy." (We're not so sure this was satire, and will venture a guess that said article is pretty accurate.) Enamored with his own power, drunk on ignorance, and generally behaving like a junior high vice-principal in the Bible Belt, "Executive Associate Athletic Director Michael Stevenson said he felt obligated to approach the newspaper and the UAC executive board, which controls the newspaper’s funding."

It gets worse. A self-appointed guardian of taste and "community," Stevenson weighed in further.
“I think that that kind of satire is unbecoming to any student at the University,” Stevenson said. “It adds nothing to our campus community to have that kind of discussion.”

Instead of telling this massive tool to take a hike, the student group responsible for funding the humor publication planted its lips between the cheeks of a second-rate censor, stating:
“(The administration) being concerned means it’s not a good situation and we need to do something about it."

This blog loves the University of Michigan even more than coleslaw, which is why we hate, hate, hate this story. It reminds us of a recent study finding that 36 percent of high school students think the government should pre-approve newspaper content. It's infuriating that the Athletic Department is behaving like the Ministry of Propaganda, but just sad that a student group feels compelled to goose step along.

Maybe next year's commencement speaker will be Sean Hannity.

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