Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Waiting For The Cleansing Storm

I figure we’ve got about ten years left before somebody proposes a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing Americans the right to go through life without ever being offended. By anything. Or anyone. At any time. I don’t know which Congressnut will be the first to propose it, but it’ll likely be in response to a ground-up grass-roots organization of Ordinary People (read: college students) trying to Make the World a Better Place.

Listen: I might lose my electricity and Internet connection later, because we’re supposed to get walloped by a big winter storm here in Connecticut tonight. Despite the many personal inconveniences I’m likely to suffer as a direct result of the snowfall, I’m hoping for a nor’easter cataclysmic enough to become an emergency and dominate local headlines for days. Anything to get John Petroski and the people he offended off the news.

In case you haven’t heard, Petroski is the wannabe Onion writer who attends Central Connecticut State University, where he writes for the student newspaper. Last week he published an editorial piece called “Rape Only Hurts If You Fight It,” which might have been an effective piece of satire if only Petroski weren’t tone-deaf to the melodies of humor:

Most people today would claim that rape is a terrible crime almost akin to murder but I strongly disagree. Far from a vile act, rape is a magical experience that benefits society as a whole. . . Take ugly women, for example. If it weren’t for rape, how would they ever know the joy of intercourse with a man who isn’t drunk? In a society as plastic-conscious as our own, are we really to believe that some man would ever sleep with a girl resembling a wildebeest if he didn’t have a few schnapps in him?
Blah blah blah. Between the first sentence and the wildebeest/ schnapps clause there’s a couple of paragraphs* that fail as satire because Petroski doesn’t realize that to do effective satire you can’t simply repeat something you don’t believe; you have to take it to an absurd extreme. Maybe if he’d gone so far as to suggest that rape be made a graduation requirement: to qualify for a diploma all women must amass 120 credits, 25 hours of community service and one forcible rape. And every man is required to help at least three women meet this requirement in addition to spending 25 hours at a university-sponsored Rape-Prevention Prevention seminar. The school nurses can do DNA testing to ensure each student follows the rules, and then — oh, never mind.

Perhaps, if Petroski had been a completely different person who possesses actual talent, his hooray-for-rape piece would be hailed by future generations as the Swiftian Modest Proposal of the twenty-first century. Maybe. But even if he had, that wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference to the campus protestors who will one day cite Petroski’s article as an example of why we need that Constitutional amendment:

Student protesters said they found many articles and cartoons in The Recorder [the newspaper] offensive. Among demands were [editor] Rowan and Petroski's written apologies, the establishment of a student code of ethics that will update The Recorder's constitution, the refund of all women's student fees for the spring semester and mandatory participation in a rape prevention program for Rowan and Petroski.
Notice that? All the women on campus, even the ones who never read the article, have been so victimized that the university owes them money. Now read the response of the administration:
CCSU President Jack Miller's statement took a moderate approach. "It goes without saying that John Petroski ... has the freedom of speech to offer his opinions … Miller promised that a group of students and faculty will examine the editorial process and make positive steps to educate students about the damage "such blatantly misogynistic and homophobic content causes." He added that hateful speech is not protected by the First Amendment and is not worthy of publication.
Okay, so Petroski has the right to express his opinions though some opinions are just so bad that freedom of speech doesn’t apply. But Miller’s quote in this article, despite its frightening self-contradiction, sounds downright innocuous compared to what another paper quotes him as saying:
"Rape is a profound violation of body and spirit, and to make light of it, even in satire, is abhorrent," Miller said. "We need to be sure that students understand that such hateful speech is not protected and simply is not worthy, on any ground, of publication."
Wow. That snark I made a few paragraphs ago about including rape in the graduation requirements is so hateful that it doesn’t even qualify as protected speech.

Remember the story of the boy who cried wolf? That doesn’t strictly apply here; the boy invented his wolf-story out of whole cloth. This is more like the story of some people who cry “giant man-eating poisonous snake!” at the sight of an earthworm dehydrating on the sidewalk after a summer rain. Yes, rape is a hideous crime. Even worse, there still exist in this country judges and politicians boneheaded enough to believe for real what Petroski tried to say satirically: she loved it, she asked for it dressing the way she did, why’s she getting so uptight when it’s just sex?

Dammit, people, save your protests for snakes like these, not worms like John Petroski. The guy has a tin ear for satire but he DOESN’T ACTUALLY CONDONE RAPE, and thus far there’s no reason to think he’s ever done it himself, either. So write an equally insulting editorial if you wish, and rejoice in the knowledge that Petroski’ll spend the rest of his college career having one hell of a time finding a date. But don’t think your offense is actually an injustice.

*I know, by the rules of blogging etiquette I really should’ve linked to the full text of Petroski’s article here. But the only places I can find it online are in men-are-scumbag-oppressor blogs to which I refuse on general principles to link. Instead, I’ll cut and paste the text of the editorial in the comment thread.



Blogger Jennifer said...

Rape Only Hurts If You Fight It

John Petroski
Opinions Editor

Most people today would claim that rape is a terrible crime almost akin to murder but I strongly disagree. Far from a vile act, rape is a magical experience that benefits society as a whole. I realize many of you will disagree with this thesis but lend me your ears and I’m sure I’ll sway you towards a darkened alley.

If it weren’t for rape, Western Civilization might not exist as we know it today. When the Romans were faced with a disproportionate ratio of women to men in the early kingdom, they had to do something, lest their fledgling society die for lack of sons. To solve their little dilemma, they did what any reasonable man would do: they threw a festival for their Sabine neighbors, and then stole and raped their women. It’s quite logical; in fact I don’t understand why the settlers at Plymouth didn’t do the same to the local Indians. It certainly would have saved on shipping costs.

Obviously, in the case of the Rape of the Sabines, rape was a tremendous help to society. The Sabine women, for their part, didn’t seem to mind so much, as they threw themselves between their brutish old Sabine husbands and their charming new Roman ones to prevent bloodshed when the Sabine men came to reclaim their wives. Yet even when society was totally against a rape, the raunchy act has benefitted society too. Where would the Romans be, after all, if it weren’t for the Rape of Lucretia infuriating the people to the point of overthrowing their last king, Lucius Tarquinius Soperbus? If it weren’t for that event, the world might never have had the Roman Republic for a pristine example of a flawless government.

Rape’s glorious advantages are not, however, exlusively found from 2,000-year-old examples. In actuality, rape’s advantages can very much be seen today. Take ugly women, for example. If it weren’t for rape, how would they ever know the joy of intercourse with a man who isn’t drunk? In a society as plastic-conscious as our own, are we really to believe that some man would ever sleep with a girl resembling a wildebeest if he didn’t have a few schnapps in him? Of course he wouldn’t, at least no self-respecting man would, but therein lies the beauty of rape. No self-respecting man would rape in the first place, so ugly women are guaranteed a romp with not only a sober man, but a bad boy too, and we all know how much ladies like the bad boy.

Ugly women are not, however, the only people who benefit from rape– prisoners enjoy its many perks, too. What, after all, would possibly be more boring than spending years of your life confined to some tiny cell 23 hours a day? The answer, of course, is spending years of your life confined to some tiny cell 23 hours a day and never getting some hot action. With rape, prisoners never have to worry about that. Instead, they merely need worry about treating their rapists with enough love and respect to earn a quick reach-around.

But if there is one bread and butter reason for why rape should not only be accepted, but even endorsed, it is because our news editors are in dire need of interesting stories for our front page. Bookstore stories? Fossils? One dollar coins? Please. Now, some saucy circle jerk rape action? Yeah, that’s the ticket.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Dave-o-ramA said...

Yeah, this guy's clearly bad at his job of writing satire. I'm not sure he's really aiming for The Onion, though, more a guest spot on a right-wing radio outlet.

Anyway, my take on the whole thing is that his offense is fireable from the student newspaper for the sheer failure as a satire piece. If you're going to write offensive jokes, they should at least be funny, and seriously - not funny.

If you can't be funny, stay away from stuff that you KNOW is going to send people over the deep end. If you can't do it right, think about doing something else.

HOWEVER. I do not think that there should be any change to The Record's general policies, and the claims that satirical speech should be unprotected strike at the very heart of the 1st Amendment. So I'd be just as happy to see the college president canned as this petroski guy.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Dave-o-ramA said...

Oh, and a couple of other articles that make me think this guy's more of a Rush Limbaugh wannabe than any serious satirist.



5:25 PM  
Blogger Dave-o-ramA said...

Let's try those links again.

Black History Month


5:27 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Dave, after skimming the anti-affirmative action article I must say his ideas don't strike me as objectionable. As to the abortion article, I completely oppose his view that a man should have the right to force a woman to remain pregnant if she doesn't want to, but neither would I consider that article "evidence" in any charges-of-misogyny case against him.

That said, I do agree that losing his job over the abysmally bad rape satire could certainly be a fair option. But NOT forced attendance at a rape-prevention seminar, or any legal sanctions.

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Stevo Darkly said...

Blugh! I can be as piggish and politically incorrect as the next guy, but I can only read about three sentences of Petroski's work before I begin to feel pain.

But he still has the right to write it.

Jennifer, your satirical comment about rape being made a graduation requirement reminded me of J. Neil Schulman's The Rainbow Cadenza, which you may already be familiar with as a science fiction reader.

The set-up, which is satirical (but not intended to be funny): In the future, men vastly outnumber women. This is a result of government policy, which had encouraged the breeding of males to serve as soldiers in a recent war that lasted many years. Now the government has another problem: Excess numbers of young, sexually frustrated males tend to be overly aggressive, antisocial, violent, etc.

The solution: All young women are required to serve in the "Piece Corps," where they are forced to have sex with males under conditions set by the government.

It's an indictment of conscription: If the state can draft young men in order to die for the good of the nation, why not also draft young women to provide a little sex in the service of that same greater good?

Schulman's novel appalls; unlike Petroski's piece, it was on purpose.

7:00 PM  
Blogger Timothy said...

Seriously, awful writing. Godawful.

What scares me most about the University response is the bit about "homophobic content." Seriously, WTF? A badly written satirical piece about rape is somehow homophobic? WTF, mate? Obviously the man doesn't know the difference between homophobia and misogyny, and he also seems to think that people only have a protected right to say nice things.

Heavens to Betsy what he'd make of this thing (check page 4, warning .PDF)

7:57 PM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...


Insensitivity = lack of regard for the sensitivity of others.

"Hateful speech" is not protected speech? Doesn't that and hasn't that always depended on who or what was being "hated" and how much legal or political power they could muster?

2:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As always, we need to repeat the mantram, "Free speech means that people who disagree with you have as much right to speak as you do." The doctrine of free speech was intended to protect us from people like the cowardly college president in this story. If he doesn't have the cojones to protect free speech on this university's campus, he needs to resign or be fired.
BTW, I don't have much sympathy with the idea that Petroski should be punished because he's a bad writer. If that standard was applied to everyone who published a controverisal piece, which blogger would escape punishment? Who would judge what is "bad writing"? Do you think those who judged the writing might get their personal opinions about the content of the writing mixed up with their judgements about the writer's craftsmanship?
To paraphrase the neo-McCarthyites, "No means No.", as in, "No censorship means no censorship!"

3:08 AM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

A badly written satirical piece about rape is somehow homophobic?

Ah, you miss the point, Timothy. "Homophobic" has gone the way of applying to anything anyone disagrees with, regardless of whether or not it has anything to do with homosexuality.

I'm waiting for somoene to proclaim "Assault Weapons" as "Homophobic" up here in Merry Land. It's gotten that bad, though it would probably be an appropriate joining as both terms are so randomly applied so as to be absolutely meaningless. However, it would be a great excuse for them to throw some more idiotic laws on us, as they are hot button terms.

Unfortnately, some asshole DA will take things too far. For example, listen to Guliani's discussions of what laws he wants to use as "tools" as president, when he's interviewed, it's quite chilling. Take the 'Patriot Act', which as not resulted in the capture of one terrorist to my knowledge, yet continues to be pushed by DA's as a way to avoid actually doing their job.

I guess my point is, I agree, some asshole someplace will try to make this into an excuse to pass laws, and that is not a good thing.

My take is similar to Jennifer's, let the guy be fired, scolded, publically humiliated, but for whatever diety suits you's sake, don't make this into anything further. Whether intended as satire or not, his statements illustrate the issue in a satirical light.

7:39 AM  
Anonymous spelling nazi said...

"but for whatever diety suits you's sake"

lol! moose, it's deity, not "diety". :-)

8:01 AM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

lol! moose, it's deity, not "diety". :-)

Hazards of being an enjinear ;)

8:06 AM  
Anonymous Anne O'Neimaus said...

@Moose: I'm waiting for somoene to proclaim "Assault Weapons" as "Homophobic" up here in Merry Land.

Yeah, the term "Assault Weapon" has definitely been blown out of context. AFAIK, a real Assault Weapon is, among other things, capable of fully automatic fire (or these days, perhaps multi-round burst fire). Fully automatic weapons are restricted or illegal almost everywhere in the 'States, already. In the media and fear-mongering politicians usage, however, the term seems to mean "anything that vaguely resembles a weapon currently used by some national military".

Bah, humbug!

11:43 AM  
Anonymous A moose said...

In the media and fear-mongering politicians usage, however, the term seems to mean "anything that vaguely resembles a weapon currently used by some national military".

True, and that usage is designed to invoke fear, not rational discussion, with the apparant goal being passing more legislation. The term "rape" here is inflammatory, but the public reactions to the original are just as inflammatory, just hidden in poltical-speak.

Minor threadjacking (sorry Jennifer), but on the usage of language here is really interesting. Though it relates specifically to firearms, the principles apply universally to political speech.

12:31 PM  
Anonymous A moose said...

Hmm...link didn't work, here's the link I was referring to: http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig7/tonso4.html

Did Google change the HTML Tags for links?

12:33 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

No problem with threadjacking, Moose. Like a true libertarian, I'm pretty laissez-faire regarding where my comment threads go.

I have no idea how links work with this new system. But I AM pleased to note that the spambot assault has ended.

Still, though, I'd rather have kept the spambots and the Google ads, given the choice. C'est la vie.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

This is a test but I probably just typed something wrong before.

Dammit, it was me, works in the preview now. Anne's articulate response got me too all excited I guess.

I offered to buy you a cup of coffee, 'cept you never answered if you had a paypal acct. I didn't mention how big it would be, either, but don't be thinking on too grand a scale.

1:01 PM  
Blogger Mike Domitrz said...

Since when did Freedom of Speech mean "no accountability for your speech"? He is being held responsible for the words he chose. What is wrong with this process? He is not going to jail. He is not being kicked out of school. He is being held accountable.

Petroski himself is not using the 1st amendment to defend his writing. In fact, HE has ASKED those he hurt to share their words with him so that he could learn more and become more knowledgeable on the issue. You can read an e-mail from Petroski at www.askingfirst.com.

8:17 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Mike, pretty much everybody here (myself included) has said it's fine if he loses his job over this; if you're an editor and you're that blind to what your readers want it certainly makes sense. (And I say this as someone in the newspaper business myself.)

My complaint is with the CCSU president (whose bloated salary is paid by taxes withheld from MY pitifully small paycheck, incidentally) huffing and puffing about how this is so hateful it doesn't count as protected speech at all. And the implication that nobody must EVER have to read anything offensive, and if they do it's clearly a sign that the offended person is owed something (like the refund of their student fees, but only for women). And the overall cry-wolf atmosphere; I saw a TV news video of the way Petroski's critics were carrying on, and to hear them speak you'd think the guy not ONLY made a sincere defense of rape, but personally tried his theory out on a few unwilling damsels.

No. He tried to write a satire and he failed. That's it. End of story. He's not a secret agent for the Worldwide Patriarchal Conspiracy, and the university is not going to install a campuswide Department of Make Sure Those Bitches All Get Raped anytime soon.

Furthermore, as a woman myself, I worry that women making a huge fuss over nothing will make it easier for people later to ignore a woman with a more legitimate complaint, like "I got raped and the campus police did nothing about it." As I mentioned in my post, there are enough REAL problems still left to fight, without manufacturing controversies over some stupid college opinion piece.

6:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jennifer -- Sorry for posting this unrelated communication in the comments on your blog, but I didn't see an email link for you on your profile. You may remember some months ago we had a discussion at Hit & Run about corporations and whether they should be legal "persons." Well, recently I rented The Corporation, and having seen it, I'm thinking that that may be where you got some of the ideas you referred to in your H&R posts. If so, I just wanted to close the loop by pointing out that the film's version of the history of corporations is all wrong. If you still have any memory of it, reclassify the memory as fiction. I've posted a fuller discussion of the film's problems (in this and a few other areas) on the IMDB discussion board for the film (my handle there is Harvardboy).

All the best -- jp (jp95hls98@yahoo.com)

3:02 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

That's odd--I thought I had my e-mail available.

Thanks for the information about the movie, JB. I haven't actually seen it, though. It's on my eventual to-do list.

6:04 PM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

I thought you had your email avail also, but it's gone. Googlebots stole it along with your money?

10:57 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Okay, the e-mail's back. I guess it "unchecked" itself when the Blogger program switched to the new one.

7:19 AM  
Anonymous TC said...

Compared to what marcott and mckewen and their ilk write?

Though a bit coarse, it's funny as hell!

10:58 PM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

Jennifer: I figure we’ve got about ten years left before somebody proposes a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing Americans the right to go through life without ever being offended. By anything. Or anyone.

Of course, given the current trend in Executive Branch treatment of the Constitution, by then the new amendment will just be so much toilet-paper, anyway. It will only be enforced when the Powers-That-Be want some excuse to "disappear" someone.

1:17 PM  

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