Harvard Geniuses Re-Open the Old "Racism or Satire" Debate
December 14, 2012
When you think Harvard, you think highbrow. It's an institution where serious people go to study serious subjects, like law and underwater lacrosse-stick weaving. Chances are their senses of humor are also erudite: if a Harvardian laughs at a fart joke, it must have included an especially obscure T. S. Eliot reference. (Five bucks to the person who can make that joke.)
Recently some fun-loving Harvard students pulled a prank that was either a boorish insult to minorities and women or a delightful piece of lampoonery. (Lampoonery is a real word, although I had to look that up, because I went to a state school.) The stunt involved the publication of a fake party flier that said "Jews need not apply," but "coloreds" and "Rophynol" [sic] are "OK."
Many people were outraged by this. Other people were… well, the opposite of that.
Writing in Forbes, conservative FIREbrand Robert Shibley gave what may be the Internet's biggest eye-roll, suggesting everyone chill out, since this is obviously a satirical look at fraternity culture, not a celebration of it:
Harvard students and administrators wasted no time going into the now de rigeur outrage mode over such insensitive speech, despite the fact that a normal person would understand that the insensitivity of the language was probably an intentional caricature of the perceived elitism and exclusivity of Harvard final clubs. (It might also have been alluding to the fact that Harvard, along with other Ivy League schools, instituted de facto caps on Jewish enrollment in the 1920s and 30s.)
Of course, satire, like any other creative work, doesn’t always mean the same thing to everyone.
Whoa, whoa there. De rigeur? De facto? Some of us had to two work two jobs in college and probably fell asleep in Latin class, Mr. Shibley.
Still, he's right. Satire is a lot like pornography. You may not be able to define it, but you know it when you see it, and sometimes it makes you feel dirty. After careful analysis, I have to conclude that this flier is, in fact, satire. The most obvious clue is that a real Harvardian writing for a real Harvard audience would never misspell 'Rohypnol.'
Mistakes like that are only made at places like *whispers behind hand* USC or Yale.