Swift “Not Funny”: Mines students agree

Students in a literature class called “Satire in History” continued Mines’ long tradition of hating liberal arts by expressing outrage at how dark the stories were. “How could Swift joke about cooking and eating babies?” one student remarked, “it’s such appallingly bad taste, it’s not even funny.”

Other students were similarly incensed, and are calling for a public protest of the class in question, as well as several other LAIS courses. “I mean, look at ‘Cat’s Cradle,'” said Julia Smith, who is leading the protest, “That guy talks about wiping out the whole planet as if it’s a big game! He’s not a humorist, he’s just sick. And yet we were forced to read this atrocity in my freshman NHV class because it makes some point about nuclear proliferation, or something. If anything, they should hold up the book and tell us to seek help if we write anything like that!”

Teachers protested that sometimes morbid stories are intentionally shocking just to get their point across. “There are areas of modern culture that are really messed up, even shocking,” said Satire in History professor Kurt Ambrose, “we just have lost our ability to be shocked by them because we’re overexposed to them. We’re used to them. Sometimes a satirist has to put these issues into horrific terms just to call attention to them. For example, it’s hard to get anyone’s attention with car accident fatalities. They are just a fact of life, one which takes over 40,000 lives per year in the United States. But to joke about hijackers flying planes into buildings suddenly becomes ‘poor taste.’ Yet with a death toll ratio of 15:1 — for the year 2001 — which of these is the greater tragedy? Which tragedy is the one more readers will have experienced, the one more likely to bring up painful memories of a dear one?”

Ambrose elaborated on his point by explaining that satire often asks a question that is commonly posed in the author’s time, answering it in an absurd or horrifying way. “This kind of satire, this exercise in reductio ad absurdum,” Ambrose said, “uses that answer as a wedge to point out that none of the existing answers to the question are satisfactory and that, in fact, the question itself is the wrong one. Perhaps the mere existence of the question is itself shocking, but people have gotten so caught up in answering the question that they forget the larger societal issue that makes the question necessary.”

“Of course you can make points,” Smith said, responding to teachers’ protests of her protest, “but there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed all the same. Ever read the book 1984? They had a good word for that kind of tact, ‘crimestop’ or something like that. The great thing about old literature is that it promoted boundaries like that. I mean Orwell said in his book that crimestop was even taught to young children, and the whole story is about this guy who thought there was something wrong about his society and tried to rock the boat, but eventually grew to love those boundaries around action and thought. I wish we read more books like that, and less of this disgusting ‘satire’ stuff.”

Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments… and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity. -George Orwell, 1984Swift “Not Funny”: Mines Students Agree
Janeen Neri

Students in a literature class called “Satire in History” continued Mines’ long tradition of hating liberal arts by expressing outrage at how dark the stories were. “How could Swift joke about cooking and eating babies?” one student remarked, “it’s such appallingly bad taste, it’s not even funny.”
Other students were similarly incensed, and are calling for a public protest of the class in question, as well as several other LAIS courses. “I mean, look at ‘Cat’s Cradle,'” said Julia Smith, who is leading the protest, “That guy talks about wiping out the whole planet as if it’s a big game! He’s not a humorist, he’s just sick. And yet we were forced to read this atrocity in my freshman NHV class because it makes some point about nuclear proliferation, or something. If anything, they should hold up the book and tell us to seek help if we write anything like that!”

Teachers protested that sometimes morbid stories are intentionally shocking just to get their point across. “There are areas of modern culture that are really messed up, even shocking,” said Satire in History professor Kurt Ambrose, “we just have lost our ability to be shocked by them because we’re overexposed to them. We’re used to them. Sometimes a satirist has to put these issues into horrific terms just to call attention to them. For example, it’s hard to get anyone’s attention with car accident fatalities. They are just a fact of life, one which takes over 40,000 lives per year in the United States. But to joke about hijackers flying planes into buildings suddenly becomes ‘poor taste.’ Yet with a death toll ratio of 15:1 — for the year 2001 — which of these is the greater tragedy? Which tragedy is the one more readers will have experienced, the one more likely to bring up painful memories of a dear one?”

Ambrose elaborated on his point by explaining that satire often asks a question that is commonly posed in the author’s time, answering it in an absurd or horrifying way. “This kind of satire, this exercise in reductio ad absurdum,” Ambrose said, “uses that answer as a wedge to point out that none of the existing answers to the question are satisfactory and that, in fact, the question itself is the wrong one. Perhaps the mere existence of the question is itself shocking, but people have gotten so caught up in answering the question that they forget the larger societal issue that makes the question necessary.”

“Of course you can make points,” Smith said, responding to teachers’ protests of her protest, “but there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed all the same. Ever read the book 1984? They had a good word for that kind of tact, ‘crimestop’ or something like that. The great thing about old literature is that it promoted boundaries like that. I mean Orwell said in his book that crimestop was even taught to young children, and the whole story is about this guy who thought there was something wrong about his society and tried to rock the boat, but eventually grew to love those boundaries around action and thought. I wish we read more books like that, and less of this disgusting ‘satire’ stuff.”

Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments… and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity. -George Orwell, 1984



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