Derecognition of Jack O Would Set Dangerous Precedent for Censorship

by Dave Gacioch | 11/5/97 6:00am

To the Editor:

The Committee On Student Organizations meets today to determine whether or not the Dartmouth Jack O'Lantern humor magazine will continue to receive College recognition and funding. Allow me to briefly express some thoughts as to why COSO should not alter the magazine's current status.

On the first page of the issue, The Editor's note informed readers that the magazine sought to "amuse you with absurdity, provoke you with parody, stimulate you with satire..." It seems that many individuals missed this preliminary note and went straight to the "Dartmouth Review Dictionary," thus missing the important context in which the latter sketch was set.

Those students who, in the past four days, have made it their lives' missions to brand the Jack-O-Lantern unworthy of College recognition have done so in the name of racist hate speech and malicious ideas on campus. Ironically, if one reads the "Dartmouth Review" sketch in context, it indicates that the creators of the Jack O'Lantern strive for the same goal.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines satire as: "Irony or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice, or stupidity..." The reader was warned by the Editor's note that this literary device would be relied upon within the magazine. Thus, while many simply read the words "spick," "coon," and "fagot" and declared the publication racist, many of those who, in my opinion wisely, reserved judgment until they had considered the context set by the Editor's note and the sketch's title as the "Dartmouth Review Dictionary" found the actual underlying purpose and theme of the sketch to be just the opposite. In my eyes, and those of many to whom I have spoken, the sketch is clearly meant not to espouse a racist ideology on the part of the Jack O'Lantern, but to point out and criticize one already espoused by the notoriously homophobic, allegedly racist, and questionably even-handed off campus publication whose namesake appears in the title of the sketch.

Some have argued that not everyone read the title nor the Editor's Note and that those people were substantially offended by the inclusion of the racist terminology. To those, I must caution that failure to completely read the provided contextual clues demonstrates their own carelessness and not the publication's negligence. If they had read the contextual clues, as many of us did, I suggest that they might have found the Jack O'Lantern to be an ally to their moral cause, rather than an adversary.

But regardless of my opinion on the above question, or anyone else's for that matter, derecognition of the publication by COSO would send a dangerous message that speech on campus is not as free as we would like to believe. Regardless of whether any of us agree with what was said in the Jack O'Lantern, do we really want to risk the black-listing of our own ideas by a future COSO who thinks that they are undesirable? I hope that the Committee's and the campus' answer is a resounding "NO!"