Reinterpreting Zooperville

by Jean Simeon Jr. | 3/4/02 6:00am

To the Editor:

Simply put: Jared Knote just doesn't get it.

Michael Weiss' strip, "Zooperville," wasn't aimed at vilifying gays. It was aimed at making fun of the Dartmouth Greek system. His moose character, Sammy, says he de-pledges his fraternity after visibly enjoying "one of [their] time-honored ass-paddling hazing rituals." So I guess old Sammy gets an erection, which is both funny and ironic, considering frats tend to posture as exclusive macho strongholds yet often mandate highly homoerotic initiation rites for its members. The humor in Weiss' strip is therefore to put a gay student in a situation where he's actually turned on by something intended to humiliate a straight student. There's nothing offensive about that, insofar as Sammy's human (well, a moose, but a symbolic, anthropomorphic one) and has a sex drive. It subtly demonstrates that his fraternity didn't expect to attract a student different from their ideal conception of one -- and when they did, they reacted by alienating him to the point of leaving. I read Sammy's de-pledging as more of a coerced act than anything else. I see real-life parallels to what Weiss is describing all the time at Dartmouth. So I don't think it's off-color or wrong to portray what really goes on at this school in a comic strip -- that is, if the readership is of a higher analytical stock than Knote.

True, the fact that Sammy can now "listen to his Bjork and Erasure mix-tapes without headphones" does remark on a gay stereotype about musical preferences. But I don't think Weiss employs this reference in a malicious way. It's no different than something Eric McCormack's character might playfully quip about the gay community on "Will and Grace;" not to mention, it connotes an awareness of that community, which rhetoric-spouting homophobes notoriously lack. Would Barbara Streisand and Liza Minnelli have been more acceptable to Knote, given that they've been more firmly established as gay icons?

Knote not only misses the meaning Weiss was trying to impart, but he does so in such a ridiculously stilted and self-important way that his language undermines the point he doesn't have. Perhaps Knote's shooting for his own space in the funny pages when he writes, "After [The Dartmouth] served as the forum for so much productive discussion about stereotypes and diversity vis-a-vis recent op-eds, The Dartmouth's abandon in printing this base comic astonished me." Productive discussion in the op-ed pages of "The D?" Now that's truly hysterical. As is the line: "Weiss' fabrication of this comic..." I'd suggest to Mr. Knote that the next time he decides to mount a soapbox with his thesaurus in hand, he make sure he's turned to the right page first.