What am I, as a student journalist, academic student, 22 year-old male and Canadian resident in 2010 allowed to expound in this space?
First of all, no commentary on what I can say can be explored without defining who my audience is. Of course, in a perfect world, my audience shouldn’t matter – my right to free speech, free expression and free thought should be applicable in any situation and in any publication.
Of course, as writers, we tailor our writing in consideration of our audience; that is, if I was writing for a magazine read by the over-eighties, I wouldn’t throw in a reference to Young Jeezy or Kim Kardashian. By that same token, I wouldn’t start banging on about Bobby Darin if I was writing something for some young whippersnappers to ignore.
In addition, if I’m writing an academic essay in class, I’m not going to start chatting the shit that I usually spout in this space – outside of my desire to impress and dazzle you all with my brilliance so you’ll be my friends, I do have designs on getting a degree that will allow me to stop turning tricks for crack on the mean streets of Abbotsford.
In the course of my run as the Culture Mulcher, we’ve covered some wide-ranging, varied and sometimes esoteric material. I’ve tried to include a mix of topics, from maths in music to culture on campus, to ruminations on movies, books, cultural figures and trends, and much more in-between. The one thread running through and tying together this disparate, desperate, disillusioned and disillusioning rag-tag motley crew of articles is humour. My humour.
I don’t know if anybody said this before me, but I’m never as serious as when I’m joking. Clichéd pretentious shit, yes, but I do think it reveals a greater truth about the human condition and how we as a people exchange ideas, think about things, and generally face up to our own mortality.
I have always tried to bring humour into the Culture Mulcher, which is not to say that I sit here for hours on end frowning, scribbling jokes and smoking furiously. The humour that imbues this column comes from an organic and honest place that I rarely have to think about.
And what is the cost of humour? Well, the cost of humour is knowing that nothing, nothing, is beyond the pale in terms of comedy. As George Carlin famously said, you can make a joke about anything – in his case he argued that rape can be funny; it’s the exaggeration that makes it funny, not the subject material as such. Carlin uses the example of Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd.
Besides the joke, what Carlin is trying to say is that anything and everything is ripe to be made fun of. This belief contrasts sharply with something that happened to this very column last week.
Last week, I wrote a column about things on campus that annoy me. As with anything that I’ve written, I was trying to make my audience laugh (whether I succeeded or not is for you to decide, dear reader). To cut a long story short, I was deemed to be in contravention of the Canadian University Press code of ethics on the grounds of sexism. Two sentences that I had written were excised, and something different was inserted in its absence.
First of all, I am a believer in and exponent of the collegiality that my job requires – in fact, it’s a great thrill and a joy to bounce ideas off of friends and colleagues. Anyone who has worked with others will attest that it’s wondrous to take an idea of yours and watch it morph into something wholly different.
However, in the case of last week’s cuts, my comments were removed because they were deemed unsuitable for publication. That is, a joke that I made was deemed unfit for an audience to read and decide whether they thought it was funny or suitable.
Just for those who aren’t quite in the know, over the past couple of weeks in this column, I have: considered spraying the corridors of UFV with machine-gun fire; compared myself to the head of a concentration camp; wished death on all baby-boomers; and hoped that Justin Timberlake would begin an incestuous relationship with a member of his close family, to name a few.
I received no e-mails from victims of incest, irate baby-boomers, persecuted Jews or concerned students. In fact, the only time I have ever received an e-mail complaining about my Culture Mulcher was the time a woman was pissed off that I neglected to mention that Ray Charles had died when I was talking about the (really shit) new version of “We Are The World.” Either people at UFV don’t have e-mail accounts or they can take a joke. I think it’s the latter.
Comedy, as with so many other things, is subjective. What I find funny, you might not, and vice versa ad infinitum. So how can certain topics and certain jokes be not allowed, or out-of-bounds? Who gets to say what’s funny and what’s offensive? Who gets to say what’s fair game and what isn’t? Can we second-guess who our audience is and what they will be offended by? Or, by kow-towing to fears about offending people, are we draining the flavour and vitality out of ourselves and our work? Why should we compromise? Once you start censoring out of fear of offending people, where does it stop?
With that in mind, the Culture Mulcher is going to take a long walk off a short pier.
So long, and thanks for all the mulching.