Theater Professor's Firefly Poster Declared a Threat
September 27, 2011
by Lauri Apple
The campus police at the University of Wisconsin-Stout deserve praise, bravery medals, and $100 gift certificates to their favorite steakhouse for ripping down theater professor James Miller's Firefly poster before it could murder any students. Oh wait—not praise and etc., but ridicule.
Miller, once described as "a walking encyclopedia on all things theatrical," hung up a poster on his office door that featured Firefly star Nathan Fillion and a quote that included the word "kill." Worried that the poster would result in murder somehow, school police chief Lisa A. Walter decided it was a public safety threat and had it removed. This did not make any sense to Miller, because it does not make sense at all. In a heated email exchange with Walter that is now posted on the website of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a pro-free speech organization that's defending his right to hang up posters that promote aborted sci-fi teevee shows, Miller pluckily challenges Walter's "fascistic manner" of acting. In an email, Walter replies:
My actions are appropriate and defensible. Speech can be limited on a reasonable expectation that it will cause a material and/or substantial disruption of school activities and/or be constituted as a threat. We were notified of the existence of the posting, reviewed it and believe that the wording on the poster can be interpreted as a threat by others and/or could cause those that view it to believe that you are willing/able to carry out actions similar to what is listed. This posting can cause others to fear for their safety, thus it was removed.
As far as we know, no students, faculty members, janitors, or other parties besides campus police reported being frightened by Miller's poster. But that's not relevant.
Walter also warned Miller that if he put up the same poster or "something similar to it"—language so vague, it could mean a poster of Justin Bieber, or the Muppets, or anything—that he might face disorderly conduct charges. Miller, being so plucky, did hang up another poster—this one warning against fascism. Campus police removed that poster as well, after spraying it with mace, Tasing it, rolling it up, and securing it with handcuffs. Both of Miller's terror posters are now behind bars at Guantanamo.
Miller eventually received an email from the interim dean citing "concerns" raised by the campus threat assessment team and summoning him to a meeting with Walter. Pain in the ass! Oh well, surely it was necessary. For his troubles, Miller's made several new, strategic friends and allies—including Nathan Fillion himself. One alumnus and former student of Miller's has vowed not to make any donations to the school until it apologizes for the incident.
Someone should cover the entire Stout campus with millions of anti-fascism posters. Then the whole campus would become a "public safety threat," and also an impressive art installation about reactionaries and the absence of critical thinking skills in today's America.