The (Not) Funny Pages
In the spring of 1979, the Minnesota Daily, the U of M campus newspaper, marked the end of the school year with the publication of a satirical interview with Jesus Christ, in which the Savior explained his popularity by saying, "People are stupid." The Daily's Christ then instructed followers "[to] take drugs and fuck. And drink." The gag did not go over well. Within weeks, outraged legislators were calling on the U to sever financial ties with the paper. Under pressure, the Board of Regents adopted a policy permitting students to withhold the portion of their student fees that helped underwrite the publication's operations. That prompted the Daily to sue the school for violating the First Amendment. In 1984, the paper prevailed.
Last week, the Daily's annual parody-driven Finals Issue once again kicked up controversy. But according to staffers at the paper, this brouhaha is not about free speech; it's about a lack of editorial scrutiny and the need to be more sensitive about racial and sexual stereotypes.
At issue is a seven-panel comic strip entitled Thuggish Ruggish, published under the pseudonym butter D. The strip, rendered in the style of Comedy Central's South Park, depicts Laron, a black man in stereotypical hip-hop regalia, bragging to a friend about a sexual conquest; in the ensuing panels, his partner Trina--bushy-haired and bug-eyed--takes a pregnancy test, then calls Laron.
Trina: Laron baby what the hell kind of jimmy hat did you use last night? 'Cause I think I'm pregnant.
Laron: You know I wrapped it up propa-like. Why you trippin' bitch? Damn girl, it ain't mine, who else you be hoing around with?
Trina: I know you ain't tryin get outta baby daddy duties.
Laron: Bitch YOU KNOW I AM! [Slams down phone.]
The Daily received some 20 complaints in the four days following the publication of Thuggish Ruggish, according to Ben Blair, the Daily's director of public relations. "We're expecting more," he adds, noting that a lot of students had left campus for summer break before the paper hit the streets.
"As an organization, we're extremely embarrassed by this. We will be implementing mandatory training for all staff on diversity issues beginning next fall," vows Blair. "This isn't going to be inviting someone to come and speak. This is going to be actual training on real issues. The fact that this happened is not acceptable."
Mike DeArmond, a.k.a. butter D, could not be reached for comment. Todd Milbourn, the Daily's incoming editor, is baffled by the strip. "If there was a political or social comment, I didn't see it. But I can clearly see how people would be offended. This plays on sensitive stereotypes and does it in a crude way," Milbourn says.
It may be time, Milbourn adds, to phase out the parody issue all together. "It's kind of descended into a hack edition. I think we might be better off running a semester in review, with more relevant news coverage, instead of things like this."
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