Letter to the readers

By Emanuel Johnson | 12/8/11 12:06am


Dear readers,

Let me first start off by saying that I appreciate the wave of letters to the editor (namely the ones printed on the next page from readers who had the guts to put their name with their opinions) and comments on our website from readers who either supported or were appalled by Monday’s column by Chris Slattery, “There’s only room for one holiday.” It’s always good to see people voice their opinions and have community discussions on a given topic, and if in the process writing I use some of your points, then consider it flattery — many of you voiced your opinions in ways that I could not have said any better.

However, if you picked up today’s paper in the hopes that you’d find an official apology, plans for a retraction or information about disciplinary action to be taken against Slattery, you’ll be disappointed.

Chris’ column is an over-the-top, exaggerated work of satire, and if you did not understand that upon your initial read, then it can (and did) easily stir up some strong emotions among several members of the Grand Valley State University community, especially if you aren’t familiar with his other works, many of which (like the columns discussing recent Dr. Pepper 10 advertisements and various “Freshman guides to success”) were also taken far more seriously than they were intended to be.

From day one of being hired on to work with us, every single column that Chris has written has had a sarcastic undertone unless explicitly stated otherwise. In this case, many people failed to identify that, which is understandable.

There are many others, however, who recognized it as satire (or at least acknowledged it as a possibility) and still had a problem with it. But think about some of the most popular works of satire in recent memory, like “South Park” and its frequent mockery of every religion in existence, “Family Guy” and its stereotypical Jewish family, the Goldmans, or “Chappelle’s Show” and its portrayal of such characters as the black white supremacist. Each of these shows, as well as many others, cross the line habitually, but we still view and appreciate them as comedic satire.

The biggest and only real difference between Chris’ column and other popular satirical works is its appearance in print. Because readers are not able to interpret facial expressions or vocal inflections, print satire relies on over-the-top expression, sarcasm and voice as unique characteristics. Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” makes frequent satirical references to Christianity and slavery, yet it is still praised as one of the best satirical works in American literature. And as one of the comments on our website read, “One of the most well-known satirical pieces suggests that we EAT BABIES to solve the problem of overpopulation.”

Yes, Chris’ column crosses some lines, but I challenge you to name one piece of recognized satire that doesn’t cross lines or offend someone or some group of people at some point. It is the nature of the genre.

In Chris’ case, he wanted to show how ignorant, intolerable and closed-minded a person or persons of similar mindsets must be to post offensive and insensitive material like the quote he provided from Facebook. He is not promoting racism, racial tension or anti-Semitism; he is illustrating the same point that many tried to illustrate to him — that racism and anti-semitism should not be tolerated. And the things that some readers are poking at; such as his references to “Hanukkahland,” “Kwanzaa City” and America as a melting pot; are all tools that he uses in order to illustrate the ignorance and stupidity or such a viewpoint. I mean, I’d love to use the famous Evelyn Beatrice Hall quote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” but since Chris is actually on the same side as many of our readers, that doesn’t really apply here, does it?

But even if you didn’t understand that, I ask you, do you really think that the Lanthorn would hire on a columnist to promote hate, racism, sexism or any of the other things that he is frequently accused of promoting? Do you honestly think that I, or any other editor-in-chief in the world for that matter, would publish his column had it been meant to be taken seriously and at surface value, especially since doing such would go against every one of our opinion policies? The sheer fact that such words appear in any publication should indicate that they are meant to be taken for more than what they appear.

But hey, perhaps it’s my fault. I thought members of the GVSU community would be able to pick up the paper, read through a sarcastic commentary on the ignorance of a stupid Facebook post and move on through the rest of their day without using its words to draw lines between social groups on campus. Apparently, I was wrong.

There will be no retraction, there will be no disciplinary action against Chris, and although I refuse to apologize for including what I thought to be a decent piece of comedic satire in Monday’s paper, you can take solace in the fact that I won’t be around to make such decisions after next week. I’m sure that my successor, Samantha Butcher, will make better decisions than I did.

Yours Truly,

Emanuel Johnson

GVL Editor-in-Chief

P.S. – Stop blaming the university for all of this. In our opinion policy, it clearly states, “The content, information and views expressed are not approved by nor necessarily represent those of the university, its Board of Trustees, officers, faculty and staff.”

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