Students at the University of California, San Diego, held an off-campus “Compton Cookout” Feb. 15 to mock Black History Month, with guests invited to don gold teeth in the style of rappers from the Los Angeles suburb of Compton, eat watermelon, and dress in baggy athletic wear.
Outrage ensued from the relatively small black student population here and their supporters, who grew more inflamed when a satirical campus television program broadcast a segment on the party and used a racial epithet to denounce black students.
On Thursday night, a third incident, a student’s hanging a noose from a bookcase in the main library, spurred a large, multicultural mass of chanting and drumming students to occupy the chancellor’s office for several hours on Friday and fed a simmering, some say much-needed, debate over race relations.
Which is all well and good, but I don't think it's just race relations that needs to be discussed.
Don't get me wrong -- I do believe open discussion is useful -- especially when it entails an honest appraisal of how to counteract (not eradicate, which is impossible) the prejudices that we all hold in our hearts.
However, I think this flare-up, by focusing on a segment of students who seem to have missed out on a few decades of basic human progress and empathy, misses the larger point. When a person uses satire, it is to voice views they know will be viewed by the larger population as repellent, but can be distanced from themselves personally because it is intended to be humorous, and to show a lack of humor in their targets. This is a popular tactic, with everyone from The Daily Show to The Yes Men on one side, and James O’Keefe to Glenn Beck on the other taking part.
But there's a common thread to true satirist: there is a single agent provocateur at the center of the mission, who uses over-simplified positions to illuminate a larger point. When someone creates an event where an entire segment of people are placed up for ridicule (think this year's Super Bowl ads and their attitude towards women), that is not satire -- it is a panicked laugh.
When a privileged group sees the decline of its power (United States foreign policy, straight white males in the current recession), more often than not that group will lash out in irrational ways to shore up their power -- or at the very least slow it down: (the war in Iraq, popped collars/the inexplicable popularity of Tucker Max).
And make no mistake, this ridiculous event in San Diego was a response -- to the celebratory month, to the election of a black president, to the ongoing commodification of black masculinity in every popular arena.
So was the badvertising campaigns during the super bowl which chose to depict women as emasculating harpies: suburban/rural men, losing more jobs in the current downturn than women, seeing as if for the first time their stagnating wages over the past decade, need someone to blame, someone to hate.
And who better to blame the the coons and c*nts who are making this once-great nation fall into a misegenated mess?
But since lines like the above are still too distasteful for most, we have hate speech masked as "satire". And if you want to be outraged, that's your right. Occupy chancellors' offices, why not? Better yet, skewer it -- like this person did:
But above all, understand that there is a larger dynamic at work here than black-versus-white, male-versus-female: it's the ugly death rattle of a privileged class. They deserve far more pity than bile.
(Especially since bile makes them think they're still relevant, and encourages them to stick around...)