(Updates follow at the bottom)
One of the giant elephants in the room at Notre Dame is that for a campus that espouses social justice and equality, it has not made much progress on creating a sexual orientation-neutral culture on campus. In many ways, it has directly stifled it, by rejecting non-discrimination language intended to welcome homosexuals, and also by repeatedly stonewalling requests for club recognition by AllianceND, Notre Dame’s unofficial gay-straight alliance. Anecdotal reports of homophobia are rampant, and the campus has rightfully earned itself the #5 ranking in Princeton Review’s “Alternative Lifestyle Not an Alternative” list.
For the most point, these issues remain below the surface, aside from occasional flareups over the Queer Film Festival (no defunct) or the Vagina Monologues. This week, however, there was a giant wakeup call when the student newspaper, The Observer, ran a homophobic (and hate crime-encouraging) comic.
The comic is notable for its stupidity as well as its hatefulness:
Character A: What is the easiest way to turn a fruit into a vegetable?
Character B: No idea.
Character A: A baseball bat.
Of course, if you think that’s bad, a post on the artist’s now deleted blog reveals that the strip originally had AIDS as the punchline. A gchat conversation that the artist brazenly posted shows that the editor that evening was concerned with making fun of diseases, but not the gay angle, which the artist did bring to his attention. Apparently, the printed joke was “lame enough” to be run.
It didn’t take long for concerned students as well as outside groups to learn of this comic. Yesterday, the Gay-Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation demanded an apology and retraction of the comic. The editor-in-chief, who was not working that evening, gave a “tearful apology” and said a retraction would be printed today (the newspaper’s website is down, so no telling what this retraction said).
It would be silly to blame the editor for a mistake that was made by an unwitting subordinate. However, the most troubling aspect of the whole incident is that anyone at the newspaper (or on campus) would think this comic was okay to author or to run. Indeed, the culture on campus is backwards enough that the editor that night did not think people would be offended. The artist was obviously aware of the hatefulness, but realized that for every angry letter he got, he would undoubtedly receive the support of two or three guffawing buddies. This incident is thus just the latest manifestation of a much deeper cultural problem that has been abetted by the administration’s neglect of alternative sexual orientations. One can add it to the laundry list of contradictions that Notre Dame presents.
With that, we return to your previously scheduled programming.
Update (10:45 AM): Not sure if this is legit, but this is the artist’s purported apology:
I know. It’s awful, it should not have been published. Honestly, I feel really bad about it.
BUT, there’s a story behind it. We normally create comics with a group of people and a case of beer, just throwing out random ideas. Usually we create things like this for our own stupid amusement, and the Observer people know that. Sometimes we’ll send them 3 comics over the course of the night because the first two get censored. This was one of those times. My friend told this ‘joke’ to the group and we sent it the comic to mess with the observer people (as we often do). Obviously the person working that night did not get the joke and let it through. I don’t want to in any way want to try to absolve myself from responsibility, but we did not intend for it to be published…. See More
I’m sorry you were offended (for good reason), and we’ve written a letter to the editor apologizing and attempting to explain ourselves.
Update 2 (10:56 AM): People are sending emails to email@example.com about this cartoon. I’d encourage anyone who is willing to do so, and to focus on the systemic issues behind this cartoon.
Update 3 (11:09 AM): Sociology professor Dan Myers has an excellent letter to the editor about this situation.
Update 4 (11:10 AM): The Observer’s retraction is here.
Update 5 (12:49 pm): The apology from the artists is here.