Jack O'Lantern: Neither Paranoia Nor Censorship Can Foster Learning

by Unai Montes-Irueste | 11/6/97 6:00am

Censhorship has never resolved any problem of human miscommunication or misunderstanding. Language and ideas only truly belong to those who put them upon printed pages, or utter them into the audible air, when both the transmission of the message and the manner in which it is received can be controlled; otherwise, words and concepts are subject to multiple meanings, implications, interpretations and project disparate moral and ethical intentions. To paraphrase Professor William Cook of the English department, we all belong to multiple, varying, and often divergent discourse communities , and thus, dialogues which embody one set connotative and denotative properties in one context can contain opposing properties in another.

Recently, several members of the staff and editorial board of the Jack O'Lantern , have found themselves in quite a predicament as they have discovered through unfortunate circumstances that just because you think that something is funny, it does not mean that in an institution composed of individuals belonging to different discourse communities, that everyone gets the joke you are trying to make. The release of such creations as the "Dartmouth Review Dictionary" and the list of "Eskimo Pick-Up Lines" contained in the latest issue of the Jack-O were received in many ways by students whose COSO distributed student-activities-fees were utilized to fund its printing costs; not every student belonging to a traditionally marginalized group found the references made to coons, spics, bitches, and fagots offensive, but significant numbers of these students did indeed feel hurt or slighted by the sight of these words in print. Does this mean that the solution to the problems of the Jack-O lie in following an agenda fueled by a socio-economical-cultural-gender-racial-sexual-identity-paranoia -- in other words, a fear of offending members of unlike assemblages of individuals because of ignorance -- popularly labeled political correctness (whatever that term really signifies)? The answer is an emphatic no: neither paranoia nor censorship can foster learning.

Nothing is absolute but that statement. As certain as it is that we are all human, it is almost nearly as certain that we are highly complicated beings whose concepts of right and wrong are not truly hierarchical and representative of paradigms, but rather nebulous at times on both the individual and societal levels, and in some cases culturally dialectical. While we are at Dartmouth we are compelled to uphold the Principle of Community and anyone belonging to a college-recognized organization knows that any group or publication which receives funding from the college, while not subject to active monitoring or paternalistic supervision, is indeed always held to the standard of inclusiveness and sensitivity embodied in, and put forth by, this very same principle. My contention is not that the words and deeds of those responsible for the last issue of the Jack-O are not in direct violation of the aforementioned principle, but it is that there are proper and improper ways of dealing and coming to terms with transgressions of this sort.

The creative energy of a magazine seeking to find a common ground of humor and satire in an dissimilar population of individuals drawn to the same academic institution because of numerous rationales ought not be squelched. The effort to establish a publication representative of Dartmouth humor is to me an attempt to actualize the Principle of Community in a proactive, rather than a reactive manner. Let there be no mistake about it, currently the Jack-O is batting zero. The errors they have committed in the endeavor to be humorous are ones which they have already and certainly will continue to deal with. Yes, the producers of the latest issue of the Jack-O should feel socially pressured to apologize for offending people, and yes they arguably deserve the scrutiny they are currently under, and yes they arguably deserve to forever lose the trust of certain individuals who will never be able to look at the magazine in the same way, but there is absolutely no way, that in an institution of liberal education and advanced learning, that we can assert, contend, claim, or argue that we are not allowed to make mistakes.

It is wrong, I think, to punish the blunders of others by forever silencing their voices. In a country which traditionally loves cliches, I am surprised we are not instantly reminded of the adage, "If you fall off the bike, pick yourself up, and keep trying to pedal, maintain your balance, as well as control over the handlebars, until you learn to ride."