The public editor returns

Controversies, race theory, and The horny Daily

On the web version of my first column, reader “LeftCoast” asked what qualities I thought were shared by The Daily’s exchanges over Engineering Frosh, IDS internships, and Choose Life.

In that column I suggested that the cattiness of Daily authors resulted from a sense of obligation that the paper’s lofty ideological goals seem likely to instill in them. Our interest in those three topics also stems from our concern with the school’s politics and reputation, though I think we would deny this if so “accused.” But, in News and Commentary articles on each of the three stories, there were admonitions from all sides to do the right thing for the University’s sake.

The Engineering Frosh uproar ended by making feminism obscure and aggressive, without producing a full report on, for example, the effect of language in the formation of stereotypes. A few murmurs on the ripe issue of student expatriates were all that followed the ridiculing of the instigating author in the IDS internships thing. Articles about Choose Life and its demise didn’t change anybody’s mind about abortion, and took on the free speech issue too gingerly. By now the three stories have slunk away; luckily, the “University We Want” (November 30) issue is just young enough to save it from oblivion.

Bah, “we.” Whoever “we” are, we are for a lot of things (equity, sustainability, integrity, democracy, minimal tuition, unions) and against a lot of things (multiculturalism, dirty money, worrying workers, library disorganization.) Still, few of the issue’s articles spoke to how we get from what we have to what we want, which is all the more important since whatever we want to do at McGill we probably want to do with the world.

The abovementioned web comment goes on to lament that The Daily’s global pieces and features (e.g., social justice at South American mines), can be difficult for readers to relate to, and concludes that it will be hard to achieve the paper’s global-scale aspirations with so apathetic a student body. The charge of “apathy” has been an ineffectual and insipid criticism of McGill students and The Daily, though it should not be discounted completely. It’s clear that this criticism – that other people can’t accomplish what we think up, and that if they could we’d be doing a lot better things – needs a student author’s fuller articulation.

And we’ve seen that authors can provide that. “White guilt fantasy,” as purportedly evidenced in James Cameron’s Avatar (“The modern minstrel show,” Culture, January 20), made for a good point and would make a great name for a smoothie, but it didn’t hold up as an article. Jake Sully might have been a white guy because most American guys are white guys, or because of a nationwide web of commercialized white guilt.

Most regrettably, there is probably an element of truth to the latter, but by going all-in for the white-man-behind-the-curtain theory, the article overshot the crucial and undeniably marginal issue of white feelings about the colonial legacy. Mass culture is always relevant and should be read into. But pointing out awful things about mass culture is easy, and so to say something serious and insightful about the issue means the discussion needs to go deeper than stating a possible instance of a certain racial theory. Do white people – not James Cameron – feel guilty for the world? Ideally this should be done in Commentary, since Culture itself has tended to turn out as commentary.

Though it can also suffer from an excess of politics, News has been strong. Comments about web articles as well as blog reports from the COP15 Conference kept The Daily’s web site lively over break. The December 14 errata addressed reader comments about the presentation of facts in news articles; The Daily’s sources will be a topic of next week’s column. In the meantime authors should stop offering “history lessons” in articles, because that is an obnoxious thing to write. And “Fuck This!,” which you can thank for making you even less comfortable about doing anything anywhere on campus, needs to either get really funny or get the hell out.

The Daily looks to be on a sex track, and, with breaking news on lubrication last Thursday, seems comfortable there. I hope we can look forward to more articles developing on The Daily’s new tack, fan mail from the newly sexually enlightened, and objections from anyone who worries The Daily’s gotten too horny. I’d say speak now or forever hold your peace.

Mike Prebil is The Daily’s public editor. He feeds off your comments: