Step Forward contest: irony is no excuse

By Matt Won

Given all the diversity hanging on the lamp posts during the Step Forward fundraiser this semester, I felt empowered by Macalester’s own student video award winner to, you know, step forward myself. So I think it’s only fair that I break you off with a little Mystery Minority Theater 2008 for “A Macalester Madrigal.”The winning video, by Matthew Ecklund ’09, proceeds to show, mostly through a sequence of drawn slides, “The Macalester College story”-“your” story. Hope you recognize yourself in it.

As I recovered from the Caucasian skin grafts, I had a gander at Macalester’s student body and was profoundly unsurprised to find it indistinguishable “diversity”-wise from Bob Jones University.

I’ll spare the gory details, but my story here is that of a white man, one who goes through Macalester happily, without a care, graduates, becomes some sort of empty suit, and then after a crisis of conscience spurred by allegiance to the alma mater apparently joins the Red Cross to go help the “needy.”

If you’re non-male or a person of color, you might wonder where you fit in this oh-so-Macalester narrative. If you’re a woman or, God forbid, some sort of transperson, well, you’re either passing as a man or, in two frames, as a “cool upperclassman” with bright red lipstick.

If you’re not white, the situation is a little uglier. You’re in a few frames, never with a face, as one or more of the “needy.”

When enjoined to “improve this world we share,” our white hero, like his colonial forefathers, takes the globe in his hands (rather than looking at the indigenous genocide and institutional racism he’s implicated in in his own backyard) and then walks “barefoot ‘mongst the needy” ( la Jesus Christ among dark-skinned people?).

Confused about global citizenship? This video’s got the answers. A jump cut takes us from an undergrad “me” reading a pamphlet entitled “global citizen” to being in a Red Cross outfit helping hurricane victims, with a sea of dark-skinned hands reaching up at my white self for salvation.

OK. Vomit break.

Done? Great. So let’s get into some interpretation here.

Of course! I forgot. The video was ironic! It was a spoof of how white and male Macalester’s focus and leadership is. Don’t you get that it’s a “madrigal,” that it’s supposed to be, like, totally absurd?

Well, friend, irony’s no OrbitT for my bile.

Here we see the mainstream Macalester perspective in all its ignominy, all the exclusions of that presumed “we” and what that “we” looks like: white, American, middle class. The video comes from the same place American history tends to. The real story is the white man’s story and the rest of us are just supporting actors. Thanks for the bit part, white man.

I know falling into all this whitey talk is unseemly, but I’m really just being forced to stoop to the college’s level here.

The video exemplifies the master Macalester narrative, and how we understand ourselves. We’re privileged white people who project our guilt abroad to avoid thinking about our guilt at home. We adopt the “missionary position,” of the white man’s burden, to quote one great Macalester professor.

The video, through a comedic and an overtly constructed nature as opposed to photorealism, can claim the refuge of irony, the new home of oppression in America.

Apparently, the version that I saw online was cleaned up in light of similar criticisms. I shudder to think what the original must have been like. Lipstick on a minstrel is still blackface, ladies and gentlemen. We’ve got a white protagonist, and the only non-white people are still reduced to dark-skinned and needy hands to whom this video neglects to even give a face.

If I were a Macalester representative, I would be ashamed and disgusted to show this video to potential donors or prospective students. It is insulting, smug and the clear product of privilege. And maybe that is Macalester’s brand, but it seems like a poor sell.

I say this in our college’s interest: please don’t take this video on the road. Or at the very least, have the courtesy to make vomit bags available.

To see the video in question, visit

Also see Professor Clay Steinman’s Letter to the Editor in the Opinions section, which addresses similar concerns.