What if a hate-speech paper comes to your campus?

In light of last week’s appearance of the heinous Koala paper at the campus where I teach, I am re-posting the thoughtful piece below by Kit-Bacon Gressitt. The Koala is a racist, sexist, homophic, able-ist, and every other bad -ist publication (though that is too nice a word for it) that has now reared its ugly, closed-minded head at CSUSM. Thanks to much student activism and protest, very important dialogue is taking place about the concept of free speech versus hate speech. I am proud to be part of a campus community that condemns work such as The Koala and I look forward to its succesful eradication from campus!

Free-for-All Speech at CSUSM

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

The Koala, a tabloid launched last week by some California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) students, has achieved its publishers’ apparent goal: to inflame the university community with hate speech.

“Apparent” because, while The Koala has certainly engendered impassioned responses, the predominantly white males behind the publication have refused to discuss what it is they have wrought — or to identify themselves. At a recent recruitment meeting, they would not give their names and avoided being photographed; they moved the meeting to a private dorm room to exclude critics and news media; and they demanded 30-packs of beer from journalists who requested interviews, which, given their likely ages, smacks of soliciting criminal acts — and challenges their legitimacy as a newspaper, as they describe The Koala.

It is The Koala’s content (downloadable at csusmkoala.com) that most effectively challenges the newspaper claim. Just about every demographic — except straight, white males — is addressed with violent, prurient and/or grotesque language: gays and lesbians, women, rape and pedophilia victims, pediatric cancer and burn patients, African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Muslims. The Koala is a miasma of isms.

The Koala recommends used bikini wax as “lip balm for lesbos,” suggests leaving c-section incisions “open for easier future abortions,” and reports that one advantage of dating a 10-year-old girl is “If you knock her teeth out, they grow back.” It includes statements that glorify and encourage pedophilia, rape of a teaching assistant, domestic violence, date rape and physically assaulting campus police.

Anecdotally, the “reasonable person” test of The Koala’s content suggests that many CSUSM students and staff indeed find much of the content obscene — obscene and hateful. But obscenity remains in the eye of the beholder, and in the United States we can speak freely whether our speech is hateful, loving or indifferent.

More interesting are the test results of The Koala’s two advertisers, cougarbookrentals.com and Miramar Wellness Center — “interesting” because it takes funding to publish any speech.

The textbook-rental service is, according to bookrenter.com Vice President of Marketing Michael Geller (at 650-288-3500), an independent bookstore using bookrenter.com’s open platform, an “entrepreneur” who can “choose to market it any way they want.”

Nonetheless, when read content from The Koala, Geller’s response was, “Oh! Oh god! Okay, that’s enough!” An articulate man — and pragmatic — he disavowed any responsibility for cougarbookrental’s ad and declared that bookrenter.com “would never, ever, ever” advertise in The Koala. He also said, “I’m going to contact the owner of [csusmbookrentals.com] and first make sure he or she is aware of what this is all about.” Then the company will “evaluate whether or not we should attempt to restrict our store partners’ advertising.” Whether or not? Hmmm.

The Miramar Wellness Center (at 858-689-9098), a marijuana dispensary, had a slightly more definitive response. An employee who did not identify herself said the Wellness Center had received “a lot of upset calls, a whole lot” and that the manager would not take any more, but she added, “I heard [the ad] was a mistake and they are trying to get it removed.”

That’s promising, but, in the meantime, what to do about the privileged young men who publish hate with anonymity?

Read The Koala so you can make informed comments about it (available at csusmkoala.com). Although the thing is no joy, condemning something you haven’t read is shallow commentary. And ignorance is not bliss.

Contact The Koala’s advertisers to reinforce the message that their ad dollars are supporting content that encourages pedophilia, racism, misogyny, rape and domestic violence. If a second issue comes out, contact any new advertisers. Eventually The Koala publishers will run out of businesses they can dupe into supporting them, if they haven’t already. Any advertisers left deserve to be boycotted.

State your opinion of The Koala freely and frequently. The right to free speech goes both ways: They have the right to speak and you have the right to criticize what they say — maybe even the responsibility. Hate that goes unchallenged goes on and on and on.

Call or email CSUSM President Karen Haynes’ office (760-750-4040 or pres@csusm.edu) to ask what the administration can do about the content that promotes rape and pedophilia; how they can protect students under age 18 from The Koala’s obscene content; and what they can do about students who appear to be below the drinking age soliciting alcohol on campus.

Identify, if you can, the fellows involved with The Koala, in the photos below (please see the original post to view the photos). They are accountable for the speech they publish. No one — white, male student or anyone else — has the privilege of anonymous hate masquerading as “lighthearted humor.” If they can say it, they can own it for all the world to see.

Then, find some peace in this thought: What goes on the Internet stays on the Internet, and one day in the next few years The Koala’s publishers will be looking for jobs in competitive marketplaces where respect for diversity, social maturity and the ability to self-edit will be deciding factors for employment. These young men have already round-filed their job applications by exercising a most wonderful right irresponsibly.

Free speech is a messy, exquisite, ugly, glorious and precious free-for-all; comeuppance is delicious.

What if you need to add/crash a course?

I am well aware that the education budget in California is decimating the CSU system I work for. I feel student’s pain each semester when there are not enough classes or when courses they need are full.

However, the lack of courses is not under my personal control.

Turning students away is tough, and each semester more and more people line up (virtually and in person) to try to crash courses. This results in MANY urgent emails. As such, as an update to the post “What if you plan to email your professor?” I would like to add a few more (cranky) suggestions, especially as my inbox is currently over-flowing with students who MUST, simply MUST add my class, or they might die!

So, a few hints for those hoping to add my course or get on the wait list:

1.      It would help if you tell me what course you are trying to add! Wish I only taught one a semester, but as I teach five, I need to know which course and at what time.

2.      If you spell my name wrong, fill your email with mistakes, or address me with “Hey” as the salutation, your likelihood of getting in to my course will be significantly lowered.

3.      If you really want to add my class, display you know what it is and what it’s about – something that appears to be a mass-produced query is likely not going to get you on any waiting list any time soon.

4.      Emails like the one below are not conducive to securing a spot on the wait list:

“Hi. I email you and email you and no reply. You remember? Yesterday I email you again. Did you remember? I think I am first on waiting list as I been emailing you lots. Can I get permission number to add now? I really want to took your class. Reply to me asap. Give me permission number to add.”

Such emails indicate what type of student the person sending the email is likely to be.

Who would want to add someone likely to be a constant thorn in one’s side (and one’s inbox!), who can’t bother to take the time to either come to office hours or the class itself LET ALONE name what class they are hoping to take, who’s papers will be difficult to grade, and who is a bossy boots? Not me!

For those trying to add, kindness and good grammar go along way. So does knowing my name, the title of the course, and what the course entails. All this should go without saying, but in the age of ATM Education and entitlement on over-drive, it sadly does not…

What if they showed the bruises? The Wedding Night Photo from Breaking Dawn

Photos from the film adaptation of Breaking Dawn are trickling into the pop culture atmosphere. What a shocker that the new wedding night photo from Breaking Dawn shows Edward on top! And, no sign of the bruises to come — or, as Bella calls them, “decorations.” I am soooo anxious to see how the film will deal with the quasi-abusive/masochistic headboard busting seen. It will be hard to make a black and blue covered Bella look all romantically post-coital…

As I argue in my book, scenes like this one glorify sexual violence, male domination, female submission – perpetuating both rape culture and the purity myth.

What if Barbie went for a swim? Thoughts on the “Drown the Dolls” Project

“For decades, Barbie has remained torpedo-titted, open-mouthed, tippy-toed and vagina-less in her cellophane coffin—and, ever since I was little, she threatened me,” writes Susan Jane Gilman in her article “Klaus Barbie.”

This sentiment towards Barbie, one Gilman describes as “heady, full-blown hatred,” is familiar to many females (myself included) – but, so too, is a love of Barbie and a nostalgia for Barbie-filled memories.

Feelings towards Barbie often lie along a continuum that shifts with life’s passages –as children, many love her, then as tween and teendom sets in, she is tossed aside, forgotten about her for many years, and then later, when children come into one’s life – through mothering or aunty-ing, Barbie once again enters the picture. For feminist women, the question of whether or not Barbie is a “suitable” plaything for the children in their lives often looms large as they navigate the toy-fueled world of early childhood.

“Drown the Dolls,” an art exhibit premiering this weekend at the Koplin Del Reio art gallery in Culver City, California by Daena Title continues the feminist tradition of analyzing Barbie, this time with an eye towards “drowning” (or at least submerging) the ideals of femininity Barbie embodies. In the video below, the artist explains her fascination with Barbie as “grotesque” and how her distorted reflections under water mirror the distorted messages culture sends to girls and women about feminine bodily perfection.

Title’s project and the surrounding media campaign (which asks people to share their Barbie Stories in 2 to 3 minute clips at You Tube), has garnered a lot of commentary. Much of the surrounding commentary and many of the threads have focused on the issue of drowning as perpetuating or normalizing violence against women. For example, this blogger at The Feminist Agenda writes,

“When I look at the images… I don’t so much get the message that the beauty standard is being drowned as that images of violence against women – especially attractive women – are both acceptable and visually appealing in our culture.”

Threads at the Ms. blog as well as on Facebook include many similar sentiments. While I have not seen the exhibit yet, the paintings featured in the above clip are decidedly non-violent – they do not actively “drown” Barbie so much as showcase her underwater with her distorted image reflected on the water’s surface – as well as often surrounded by smiling young girls. As Title indicates in her discussion of her work, it is the DISTORTED REFLECTIONS of Barbie that captivate her – as well as the way she is linked to girl’s happiness and playfulness – a happiness that will be “drown” as girls grow into the adult bodies Barbie’s plastic body is meant to represent.

The reactions thus far of “drowning” as violent focus on the project’s title alone, failing to take the content (and context) of the paintings into account – they are not a glorification of violence but a critique of the violence done to girls and women (and their bodies and self esteem) by what Barbie represents.

To me, Title’s work is in keeping with the earlier aims of the Barbie Liberation Organization who infamously toyed with Barbie’s voicebox to have her say GI Joe’s line “vengeance is mine” rather than her original “math is hard!” Her work adds to the tradition of feminist work on toys, gendering, and girls studies – a tradition that is thriving and continues to examine new and old toys alike (as here and here).

The negative commentary regarding Title’s work as perpetuating violence seems to me a knee-jerk reaction – one not based in critical reading of her work. While maybe Barbie (and the bodily perfection her grotesquely ABNORMAL body represents) SHOULD sink, Title’s work – and the critiques of Barbie it is fostering, deserves to swim…