Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

I'm currently reading Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society by Mario Vargas Llosa.

Word cloud

Word cloud

Friday, March 4, 2016

Now I ain't sayin' they're a speech suppressor...

I'm posting this a few months late, but free speech is on my mind since watching this debate last night. Also, God help me, I never thought I would go to the mat for the right to emulate a Kardashian, but here goes:

Last fall students at UCLA held a frat party at which they dressed up as Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, and people associated with them (e.g. some women dressed as gold miners, in reference to one of West's catchier songs). Student activists claimed that this is racially insensitive.

Let me start by saying that blackface is clearly offensive and outside of acceptable norms of good taste. If a white person does that, social sanction, peer pressure, and so forth are entirely proportionate responses.

Let me also note that no photos of white students in blackface have been produced. In 2015. We live in an era where my students actually take selfies in class (presumably to provide supporting evidence for how little work they did, strengthening my case when it comes time for me to assign a bad grade), and yet nobody was able to produce a cell phone photo with anyone in blackface? Really? Nobody can find selfies of objectively racist make-up at a frat party in 2015? Not a photo taken by an idiot who thought this was worth documenting? Not a photo taken by a (justifiably) offended bystander? The lack of evidence here does not pass the smell test.

The central issue, though, is that the proper response to an offensive party theme is shunning. Whether this party is within the bounds of acceptable social norms is debatable, and it is precisely BECAUSE it is debatable that institutions should not squash it via administrative fiat. By its very nature, the charge does not merit investigation. It probably DOES merit advising for the fraternity (the whole purpose of an adviser in an educational institution is to advise people, and one of things that social organizations exist to promote is social skills and a level of understanding necessary to navigate social norms), but by its very nature there is nothing that merits an investigation for the purpose of pursuing punitive action.

I will close by noting that dressing up as Kim Kardashian is just so objectively in bad taste that it bears no further comment, and that Kanye West's ego is so big that the only people who could hope to pull off a convincing imitation are all tenured faculty, not frat boys. (Note to self: Lose some weight so I can attend a party dressed as Kanye West.)

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