Staff Editorial: What's in a joke?

By Mac Weekly Staff

We’ve heard a lot about Macalester’s at times over-positive view of itself through discussion of today’s Day of Silence. Staff writer Sarah Mueller and contributing writer Alvin Kim both put forward valid concerns about Macalester’s troubling implicit assumption that campus is a safe space for everyone and that “real” homophobia does not exist within its boundaries. In light of this discourse, we’d like to discuss a group (event? meme?) that we feel in many respects is based on these same sorts of assumptions—the Say No to Springfest protest that occurred yesterday, after press time. Posters, chalking, and Facebook pages in promotion of the event have been seen around campus in the past few weeks. Though the anonymous person (or persons) behind Say No To Springfest has not come out and said that the event is anything but serious, we feel comfortable treating the event as satire given the presence of irrelevant email addresses on the initial flyers and the fact that there is no Mac Improvers society. In short: it’s a joke. And a lot of its individual elements are pretty funny—the approval of the Titanic remembrance plan to ban ice water is one of them. But we at The Mac Weekly have to take issue with the underlying premise of the joke—that implications of sexism, heteronormativity and racism in conjunction with a Macalester function are absurd. Consider the ten reasons listed for their opposition to Springfest on their Facebook event page. Some of them are very silly by any interpretation: “Are the elderly able to get drunk and jump around listening to Deerhoof? No!” Or, “It will be a jumble of environmental destruction,” meaning that people will be standing on the grass of Shaw field. Again, jokes. But at the same time, the list contains many things that could actually be seen as real concerns. Though they misinterpret “just a friend” to be the girl referring to Biz Markie, the idea of rejection not being taken seriously is, legitimately, part of rape culture. What’s the joke here, exactly? This is, to use the technical term, a tough nut to crack. On the one hand, there’s no requirement to be humorless if you’re concerned about issues of difference or oppression. You can joke about most things; the question simply becomes how you go about it. The more serious the issue is in reality the more nuanced your jokes need to be to accomplish real satire. Say No to Springfest does not succeed at this goal. In many of their posts, they use the word “heteronormative” like it doesn’t mean anything, even as the role of the queer community on campus is still not certain, as discussed in this issue. Essentially, their failure is that they sometimes create the impression that the end goals of legitimate movements, such as movements for the inclusion of more LGBT perspectives (aka working against heteronormativity) are absurd when applied to campus—because this is Macalester right? I thought we were done with that stuff. Problems with Springfest—what a silly idea. Anti-racism, anti-homophobia, and other movements for equality aren’t something you wear on a sweatshirt. You don’t automatically get your “I am not prejudiced” card when you enroll at Macalester, even if it is a more inclusive school than most as Kim points out. We have to recognize that we are part of the larger world and its biases no matter what we do; working against them needs to be an active and reflective process. By all means, make jokes—everything has its absurdities. But when those jokes depend on the image of Macalester as some evolved utopia, it might be time to take a step back and think about what that means. refresh –>