Just heard back from Jack Stuef, editor of the Georgetown Heckler, an Onion-style magazine written by Georgetown students that has stirred up charges of racial insensitivity with an article about a campus “cross lighting” that invoked a cross burning, white-hooded KKK members, and lynchings in a satire of the student newspaper the Hoya. The Hoya was itself accused of the same thing last spring because of some of the content it ran in its April Fools’ issue.
One thing straight away: Stuef stands by the article.
He says he was very much surprised by some students’ reaction, which he described as “extremely” ironic in that the piece was intended to draw attention to what he described as a widespread campus problem of oblivion to racism. It’s not that the KKK and cross burnings and lynchings are funny, he said; it’s the fact that these Hoya staffers are going about all this offensive stuff without any self-awareness of it.
“You’re supposed to laugh at the total ignorance and the ignorance of the blatant racism these people have,” said Stuef, who also writes for the Onion. He speculated that some of the offended just don’t get satire: “I don’t know if it’s a misunderstanding or a lack of experience reading satire.”
Or maybe, he said, they’re being oversensitive.
I also reached Ankit Goyal, a sophomore and a Heckler staff writer, who provided another defense of the story on a Facebook site set up to promote an on-campus forum tonight on “Racism and Satire” in response to the article. He writes:
As a writer for The Heckler, I think the basic problem is people are throwing around the word satire without understanding what it actually means. The point of satire is to critique a position by adopting it, and pointing out its ridiculousness.. Think of stephen colbert, he makes fun of right wing pundits by acting like them.
So what is it that we are laughing at, whats the argument of the piece. The whole “gag” is to laugh at how the blatant racism goes completely unnoticed by the hoya staff, that they are so ignorant that they dont realize the offensive nature of their own actions,and they defend them on the basis of “tradition.” The whole point is not to laugh with racism, but at it and laugh at the people who commit racist acts. The real irony of the situation is that the whole point of the heckler was to denounce racial ignorance.
Goyal echoed those sentiments in our conversation. “It’s mocking the Hoya, not mocking African-Americans,” he said of the article. “The point is to make fun of racism, why it’s so stupid, why it’s so ignorant.”
I asked if racism, as represented in the form of cross burnings and the like, was something to laugh about.
“I think you should be laughing at racists,” Goyal said. “Satire plays an important role in terms of helping us think.”
Said Stuef: “If it’s done right, it’s funny.”
One additional note: Though it carries the Georgetown name, the Heckler is not affiliated with the university; its writers are current (and former) students. In an “Official Stuff” note on its Web site, the Heckler says that “none of what appears in this publication is intended to be harmful, and we apologize in advance for hurt feelings and/or bruised egos.”
Both Stuef and Goyal were planning to attend the discussion tonight.