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Emily Pizzale (Thunderpants) – College Media Taking The Jokes Too Far: When Free Speech & Hate Speech Collide

April 4, 2012

By: Emily Pizzale

Team Thunderpants

College Media Taking The Jokes Too Far: When Free Speech & Hate Speech Collide

There has recently been a smattering of inappropriate jokes and articles being published in student-run media sources that have led to widespread discontent among the students the media sources are meant to reflect the views of. In other words, the few with the power to publish written pieces or create television shows are doing a poor job of relating to their wider audience and publishing material with a premise that most would agree with. Student media sources such as UCTV at UConn and BU’s newspaper The Daily Free Press have been forced by popular outcry to apologize for the offensive material they have published, garnered negative attention for their universities and tarnished the reputation of their student organizations. 

UConn’s student run TV station made a joke of rape by mocking those who report it or ask for help in the moment and giving them a stern message that they would not be helped. It portrayed blonde women as sluts always lying about rape and in many ways supported violence against women. The video was insensitive and uninformed at best and hate speech at worst. Although the TV station issued an apology and changed its policies on what material could be published in the future, the individuals who made the content in no way apologized for the video or seemed to understand why such material was inappropriate. Free speech was used by many to defend the offensive video but where does free speech become hate speech? This is not the first time the television station has made material that is condescending towards women either. In UConn’s case and the more recent fiasco at BU, we can see rape victims being mocked and their traumatic experiences belittled. Women are portrayed as asking for it, stupid or only worthwhile for their physical features.

Media outlets say they are only publishing stories like this because they are comedic sketches, meant to get a cheap laugh out of a very serious issue, but sometimes a joke can be taken too far. Advertising is another area in popular culture where negative images of women abound. A common defense of the advertising market is that you don’t need to watch the advertisements and most people say they don’t affect them anyways. But this is simply untrue, if you see women represented in only one or two ways in the media you eventually come to think of women in these narrow terms. Again, it is not an issue to depict women as sexual or even domestic but to only depict them in this way is detrimental to women’s status in society. This idea is also brought up in the film Dreamworlds that we viewed for class.       

It seems as though nearly all college media outlets are using a male gaze, certainly not a female or a queer gaze as we have studied in class. As feminist Jessica Valenti mentions in her chapter on pop culture, “ sexuality itself seems to be defined as distinctly female in our culture.” (Valenti, page 41) There is one reason for this, sexuality and all images are being defined by men, straight, white men. This is why we see articles and comedy sketches being published by liberal college campuses that offend many women and men alike. Men do not experience sexual violence and sexism in the same ways that women do, they are naïve to how their work could be offensive. In the case of women publishers, the rape culture our country has become deems rape jokes and degrading images of women not only as the norm but also as acceptable. Poking fun at a victim of rape is not longer frowned upon but rather viewed as a misguided change for a quick laugh with little thought to the consequences.

Another example of a university taking it too far: http://jezebel.com/5898425/heres-the-funny-sexual-assault-parody-boston-universitys-student-paper-doesnt-want-you-to-see

 

 

Bibliography:

Valenti, Jessica. Full Frontal Feminism. Seal Press. 2007. 

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4 Comments
  1. Jen Vitkus permalink

    I find that it’s always hard to explain this argument about free speech turning into hate speech to men and women who just don’t seem to get it. For me, I think that is the most frustrating thing about things like the UCTV blue light commercial and the newspapers at BU. At the University of Vermont earlier this year a fraternity was kicked off campus for “joking” about asking new pledges “which girls they’d rape.” Obviously, after taking a good number of women’s studies courses and getting involved in the Violence Against Women Prevention Program at UConn I have become extremely passionate about these sorts of things and I can’t help but get flustered when people around me do not understand how serious these sorts of things are. My only hope is that in the future more men and women alike will become more educated about the rape culture that we live in and will learn that just because things are “jokes” and are “supposed to be funny” they are not acceptable and are extremely serious.

  2. Leah Nelson permalink

    This blog touching on the concept of free speech is very fitting, given the even more recent events at UConn. The Genocide Awareness Project, an anti-abortion group that travels across the country, set up camp on our campus for two days. As a feminist, I recognize that I use my voice a lot to share my opinions so I need to respect and appreciate the opinions of others and their right to share them, regardless of whether or not I agree with their views. However, this outside group spread their message by accosting our students with violent, graphic images that didn’t even accurately portray truth. Their signs were so large that for some students, it was literaly unavoidable as they walked to class. Again, if a group wants to come to campus and share their message, that is alright with me. But when that message is creating an unsafe space for UConn students and putting their emotional well-being in jeopardy, then I feel we have crossed a line. I think especially when we’re looking at free speech on college campuses, there need to be limits in place in order to protect the wellbeing of students; students who pay for their education and deserve the right to feel safe and secure when they walk on their own campus.

  3. It seems that the distinction between free speech and hate speech has come up pretty often this semester, particularly in how these concepts play out on college campuses. Even more recently than the UCTV Blue Light sketch incident, earlier this week the “Genocide Awareness Project” came to UConn, setting up large images comparing abortion to genocide in the middle of Fairfield Way. The university maintains that this is a free speech issue, as the group paid money to reserve the space and was thus given the “right” to put up barricades and their display to a nonconsensual audience of students and faculty. While this is not necessarily “popular culture,” this display is composed of media in the form of graphic and in some cases inaccurate images. The inability of the university and the university police to articulate a distinction between “free speech” and “hate speech” on this campus has come out as a larger issue in this situation, much as it did through the university response and UCTV policies that allowed for the Blue Light sketch to air. The fact that in both of these instances the burden of proving “hate speech” has fallen on a relatively small group of students who feel their educational environment has become hostile to them shows that this university has a long way to go in caring for the mental health of their students and creating a positive and empowering learning environment for everyone.

  4. It seems that this semester the distinction between free speech and hate speech has come up pretty often, particularly in how these concepts play out on college campuses. Even more recently than the UCTV Blue Light sketch incident, earlier this week the “Genocide Awareness Project” came to UConn, setting up large images comparing abortion to genocide in the middle of Fairfield Way. The university maintains that this is a free speech issue, as the group paid money to reserve the space and was thus given the “right” to put up barricades and their display to a nonconsensual audience of students and faculty. While this is not necessarily “popular culture,” this display is composed of media in the form of graphic and in some cases inaccurate images. The inability of the university and the university police to articulate a distinction between “free speech” and “hate speech” on this campus has come out as a larger issue in this situation, much as it did through the university response and UCTV policies that allowed for the Blue Light sketch to air. The fact that in both of these instances the burden of proving “hate speech” has fallen on a relatively small group of students who feel their educational environment has become hostile to them shows that this university has a long way to go in caring for the mental health of their students and creating a positive and empowering learning environment for everyone.

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