The end of the semester makes us more reflective: it would have been so easy, we think, to have adjusted one thing here and another there, and then I would have more time and less info to suddenly know as I sit here, we think, watching another sunset, heart thudding with the tick of the clock. Because we are students of UFV, being led through courses that align with Institutional Learning Outcomes, we analyze our courses critically and imaginatively, we are self-reflective in our learning, and we ask questions like “What am I doing?” and “When will this end?”
I think the first question is probably the one a student newspaper should answer, or explore, or both, but the second one is easier, so I’ll answer that one: soon, but not completely for many of us until the end of April. Back to the first one: since The Cascade didn’t get around to doing an opinion survey this year, it’s worth asking — is this paper actually reaching students, and, since I’m a little more journalism-agnostic than newspaper editors tend to be, is a newspaper even a medium that can contain the worlds of thought and agony and joy and pats on the back and laziness in a student?
Here’s something the paper did not cover this week: the passing of actor-writer Garry Shandling. I don’t expect the paper to (we try, as best we can at the paper, to prioritize matters that are unique to UFV and students here, rather than information or views that can be found in two clicks, and no fans of The Larry Sanders Show showed up at the paper’s office), but he’s been on my mind a lot over the weekend. I am not an expert on his comedy or his shows, but reading about him after the fact, he’s the kind of person where, though I knew next to nothing about him a week ago, his influence now seems to stretch into all corners of things I do know.
But more than his influence on late-night talk shows, or his skill as a stand-up performer, or even his caring support of young, unproven actors, is his way of thinking and talking about the way we talk to each other, the way a performer and an audience see each other. It isn’t the first time someone has thought this, but Judd Apatow described Shandling’s life’s work this way: “He always talked about how it’s incredibly rare for people to say what they mean. People are lying a great deal of the time. The root of [The Larry Sanders Show] was the disconnect between what people are trying to project versus what they’re actually feeling.”
In the context of a talk show, the most artificial “normal” conversation platform around, this was enough material for six seasons. And, to a journalist looking for a story, it’s kind of the basis for everything — but rather than simply say that something is worse, more violent, more fraudulent than it seems, what I would hope a newspaper can do is show that things are more complex than they seem.
I’m drawing a bit from the French essayist Georges Perec’s idea of the infra-ordinary (as opposed to the extraordinary). “Railway trains only begin to exist when they are derailed, and the more passengers that are killed, the more the trains exist,” he wrote in 1973. “Aeroplanes achieve existence only when they are hijacked. Behind the event there is a scandal, a fissure, a danger, as if life reveals itself only by way of the spectacular, as if what speaks, what is significant, is always abnormal: natural cataclysms or social upheavals, social unrest, political scandals.
“In our haste to measure the historic, significant and revelatory, let’s not leave aside the essential: the truly intolerable, the truly inadmissible. What is scandalous isn’t the pit explosion, it’s working in coalmines. The daily newspapers talk of everything except the daily. The papers annoy me, they teach me nothing. What they recount doesn’t concern me, doesn’t ask me questions and doesn’t answer the questions I ask or would like to ask.”
Now, if most major news sources fail to observe this contradiction (turn on the news, always horror, even though the majority of life continued, in its way, undisturbed), what chance does The Cascade have? Is this ideal something that belongs more in the hands of writers of short stories, to social media (which we procrastinate on, read more of), to film and photography captured with an eye towards banal documentary? And wouldn’t this idea, in the hands of a newspaper, turn into either endless autobiography or intrusive person-on-the-street interviews?
Well, The Cascade isn’t bound by all of those same rules — at a student newspaper, every year is different; constant staff change has a downside, but it also means this is a problem that can, in a way, be approached without sacrificing a reputation. Rather than the distant fact-checking journalism normally should provide, Shandling, perhaps, would have wanted unadorned honesty — not the dry structure of reportage, but detailed observation, a recognition that what we see is not complete, not an easy-to-follow narrative, though it is always human to want it that way.
To bring it back to those late-semester thoughts at the top of the page: did The Cascade get there this semester? The answer always lies in the middle: here and there in every section, there are paragraphs, articles that try to document the life and near-death of a student. Can it improve? Of course, it has to — but while the lack of a degree-sized journalism program at UFV can seem like a weakness, it is, perhaps a strength: what we want is not the same as what the rest of the industry already does. In order for this paper to do something for students, it simply needs to remember: this is not merely a performance of a “real” newspaper, but an attempt at speaking and printing what otherwise would be disregarded — the perspectives so-called “objective” journalism misses, the unearthed territory that has been under our feet the entire time.