matt's weblog . . .

  matt's weblog . . .: Late to the game, but still unbelievable . . .

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Late to the game, but still unbelievable . . .

Yes, this story is nearly 4 months old now. Yes, I am just now discovering this. Yes, I am pissed off at my alma matter. Here is the official account of how and why this year's edition of what has evidently come to be known as the "Calvin Spoof" -- i.e. the Bananer progeny -- was nixed by the Calvin administration (or, at least, the "Student Life Committee").

Although I strongly suspect that there were not wholesale expulsions as a result, the would-be spoofers have e-published their work (the Cliche) here. Over the top? Cross the line? In my estimation, probably. Should the Calvin administration have the right to just cancel the project because they don't like the content (the required editorial changes were such that cancelation was the net effect)? I'd say no. That said, I've never understood the funding mechanism for this. I always thought that these Calvin Spoofs were privately funded; or, at least, I always believed that they should be privately funded to avoid this very problem. If they aren't, and if Calvin has been footing the bill for the Calvin Spoofs (which is a funding situation just begging for this type of "incident"), Calvin should be able to weight the likely alumni reaction versus the likely student body reaction and do what it wants with its money. But, assuming a non-Calvin funding source, the administration's meddling is inexcusable. There are any number of ways Calvin could have distanced itself from the publication short of forbidding publication in the first instance, and as an institution constantly struggling to maintain a balance between academia, its religious tenets, and its relatively diverse alumni, Calvin is certainly no stranger to engaging in the politics of perception. This is just something I didn't think I'd ever see, and really, strangely, it's a little bit, well, embarassing.


Anonymous Alec Palsgraff said...

The first sign of trouble is the “Student Life Committee formed the spoof review sub-committee.” This is actually more than one sign of trouble. Not only did a committee get involved (remember big three network sitcoms are run by corporations and committees and we all have seen how well that works out; they may be a commercial success, but usually at the expense of the funny). Then the committee formed a sub-committee for review. Oh good Lord! That means you now have two levels of review; because everyone knows that no subcommittee is exempt from its uber committee. Do you hear the ominous strains of the funeral march in the background? That ain’t “Baby Elephant Walk” being played on the pipe organ by the bony figure in the black hooded robe.

The phrase “We all accept that the college has the right to withhold funding for this publication . . .” seems to indicate that a spoof ridiculing the school was funded by the school. Over the years readers must have felt like a spectator at a demolition derby. Time after time the Pinto of the publication backed into the monster truck of a conservative, religious, academic institution’s administrative body (there you have one, two, three, four, five clues as to the lack of humor the spoof was butting up against). But, sooner or later, the Monster Truck was going to get its 3 gallons to the mile engine revved up and bad things were going to happen to the Pinto.

That the “spoof” lasted since the ‘60’s under these conditions is a testament either to the school’s open-mindedness (my prejudices tell me this is unlikely, but perhaps I’m not well enlightened, after all, this isn’t Hope) or the secret spoof editors’ sensibilities. I’m guessing they were their own internal “review” committee, having to tell “Tweedle”: “Hey, dude, we totally get it. It would be hilarious to have Mapplethorpic cover art featuring the image of the dean clad in leather and the Insane Clown Posse playing Sodom and Gomorrah with him in a mason jar filled with Red Pop. The title: ‘Faygo-Fag-o!’ Classic! But we already settled on a theme attacking the school’s financial policies for this year, instead of the church’s stand on homosexuality. Plus, your idea sounds great, but we can’t quite picture it. Could you put this together so we can see what it looks like?”

Of course, they knew all along that Tweedle would end up playing X-Box the rest of the semester and forget to get it done until the day it was due. There he was on the last day, going door to door through Beets-Veenstra Hall (snickering to himself all along about how he could write an article for the spoof with a pun on a guy named Rooks VanDellen beating a guy named Veenstra in a residential hall . . . Yeah! And he could use a nom de plume with a last name like “Pot” or “Cannabis”) until 3 in the morning looking for a mason jar (which is hard to find in a dorm).

But it is hard to pass up the allure of the big budget. Do you want to be Bill Hicks dying in relative obscurity, hoping that you receive some posthumous respect for your cutting edge work, which is then promptly homogenized and packaged for the same kind of commercial advertisement you used to rail against? Or would you rather be Matthew Perry? Sure he may not have always said what he wanted to on the set of Friends, but he was happy to settle for some chuckles in far away living rooms he would never hear . . . and a big, fat paycheck.

Ah, the travails of the underground paper. I’ve done it. It’s a thankless job. You don’t even get the satisfaction of hearing someone laugh. And no one seems to want to pay for humor. People tend to think comedy should just happen. And if you go out looking for advertising to support you through all the time and energy you have to spend putting together the funny, you are essentially back in the position of having to please the holder of the purse-strings.

Of course, that’s the fun of the internet. For almost nothing, your “underground” opinions can soar above the fray for everyone to see. And you don’t have to feel like you are a little part of the hypocrisy you want so badly to lampoon, as you submit drafts to the subcommittee awaiting their decision on whether the funding check will come this year.

Alternatively, you could support your paper with your own hard earned beer money. But let’s face it, if you are like most of us were in college, you haven’t earned the beer money yet, but you will. I hope. And then you’ll pay it back over the next thirty years (or longer if you defer or go to graduate school), with interest. Don’t get too depressed, but that $1 beer on Thirsty Thursday, over 30 years, at 5% interest, is going to cost you $4.47. But that’s not funny. And as I write my checks every month, I can’t find a way to make it funny. Maybe next month I’ll try making the two zeroes after the decimal point into the tires of ‘Mater, the Larry the Cable Guy character in Cars. That might make the negative cash flow funny. Or at least funnier? Or at least less depressing?

I wish the “spoofers” well. May those who want to take their humor in a subversive direction find a new home on the internet or with private funding and finally let loose with whatever they want to say. It’s hard work to actually be funny and critical. Hone the craft of eviscerating the ideas you oppose without sounding like a whiner. It’s harder than it looks. And may those who really enjoy making more mainstream humor within the parameters of the school’s policies also find joy in their carefully crafted comic adventures. Hopefully this fall-out will ultimately result in twice the resources for humor. And please, everyone who enjoys good humor, whether it be subversive or Dick Van Dyk tripping over the ottoman (both of which I enjoy), support it. It takes time and doesn’t come easy. If you are like me, a good smile or a laugh is worth every penny.

My own “underground” thoughts have now cost me too much time that I can’t bill to a client. Time I don’t have to do work, to spend with my family, to hang out with my friends. Why do it? Maybe, just maybe, someone will chuckle.

8/24/2006 9:30 AM|Comment Permalink|  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home