Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Jokes, Attention and Challenges

I got this comment to my earlier post and thought it deserved more attention:
"I have not been paying attention." I know that we are sometimes frustratingly imbedded in internet culture. The tone of recent political action can be hard to interpret. "As a joke," and "for attention" mean different things to us than they do to you, I think. It is a joke because fun is politically powerful. Having a light tone in political engagement is a way to criticize and resist the way the power structure at school is assumed to work. People assume the administration runs well and makes good decisions for the university as a whole. That is why they have disciplinary and legal authority on campus. We trust them to make decisions. Having a party for Mendelson's resignation means that we don't seek the overthrow of that structure. It means we're resisting uses of authority we think are disrespectful to the McGill community. The party is to show that we don't pretend to be a replacement authority. We're not terrorists. We're not maoists or trotskyists or anarchists (there may be an individual anarchist).

So it is a joke. It is also for attention. The students doing this have gotten attention. There are antics and missteps, but they are earnest political activists. They want attention because they want people to know what's going on with the oversight of student groups and their relationship with McGill. They want students to pay attention to how the structure of power changes McGill. I think everyone loves McGill, so it's worth paying attention to.

What they're doing is very controversial. In an email an administrator called it "unacceptable". It's dividing the student body and bringing out hate-- wishes that these kids die. You are one of our Professors. Please be responsible and informed if you're going to write about these events, because people outside McGill, and people forming their opinion, will look to you for a balanced account. Saying the kids are Maoists and retracting it in an addendum doesn't really help the dialogue on campus.

But thank you for paying attention. I hope none of your students are expelled.
Because there is some confusion, especially by me, about who the occupiers are, there has been room for at least one website to engage in a bit of mockery.  Because the occupiers do seem to be making light of things, that does encourage others to follow suit.  I ended up making more fun of a parody site than of the occupiers themselves.  I have no intention of feeding any hate, but I would note that the occupiers do not seem to be representative of the average McGill student.  Whether they hope to be a revolutionary vanguard or not, the occupiers are not getting much support even if they are getting attention.

And that is the critical thing--getting attention is easy, getting support is hard. 

Oh, and I doubt that any students will be expelled.  Occupation and dissent happen, and I think the university did learn the lesson is not to over-react.  Throwing students out of McGill because they engage in some dissent is unacceptable.  Occupying?  Acceptable but persuasive?  Not so sure.

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