Letter to the Editor: Satire is not an excuse for discrimination
Editor’s Note: This is a letter to the editor that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. Letters to the editor are fact-checked to the best of our ability and edited for grammar and spelling by Thresher editors.
Two Wednesdays ago, instead of ending my weekly Thresher reading with a laugh, I was shocked to see a piece that included the Bible and prayer in order to mock a Christian professor on campus. Turning to other Christian students and Rice parents, I found similar shared disappointment and sadness. Myself and others sent emails to the Thresher explaining why we found this piece distasteful and discriminatory. We were answered only with an editorial published Sept. 27 saying, in essence: it’s satire, so take a joke.
According to Merriam-Webster, satire is “a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn.” Satire is meant to criticize in a comedic way, while a joke is only meant to elicit laughter. This year we’ve seen the Backpage poke fun at Fizz, Publics culture, the JFK 60th Anniversary, nice-guy dating advice and the alleged accomplishments of HackRice. Would we say that the Thresher is criticizing HackRice? Would the Backpage content creators march into President DesRoches’ office and demand that all Publics were canceled? I can’t say definitively that they wouldn’t, but in my opinion, the Backpage pieces often aren’t true satire, but light comedic relief.
Let’s take them at their word and say that the piece on Dr. Tour was satire, meant to criticize him in a comedic way. What are they criticizing? If the piece on him was about the folly of abiogenesis, what his talk was actually about, I would understand. Some abiogenesis fans out there would probably be offended, but it’s satire, so they should take a joke. The Backpage however, chose to make a piece on his personal religious beliefs. Their satire wasn’t about science, but Christianity. They mocked prayer, the Bible itself and the scripture within it.
If not ridicule and scorn, then it was just a joke meant to make someone huff in amusement and break the tension of the week’s reporting. The question I would ask then is this: amusement at whose expense? We’re told that the Thresher ensures “the Backpage does not stereotype or capitalize on marginalized communities.” Are the Christians on campus not a marginalized community? As I heard in CDOD, we’re at a majority-atheist/agnostic, secular school where Christianity, or religion in general, is not the mainstream. And when Christians on campus do speak up, we’re told to sit back down and take it. My mother used to say to me when I was little that “a joke isn’t a joke if someone isn’t laughing,” and she wasn’t giving me stand-up comedy advice. How can we tell where the jokes end? That is decided by those who were made to be the punchline, regardless of the jokester’s intentions, beliefs or biases.
We have a culture of care that extends to anyone regardless of their race, sex, sexual orientation, identity, background and yes … religion. When people come to us when they’ve been hurt, we don’t push them aside.
More from The Rice Thresher
When “Pro-Life After Roe” was published in the Thresher, we were in the midst of finalizing a semester-long report on the state of reproductive rights in Texas. We had spent the day compiling firsthand accounts of the panic, pain and trauma produced by abortion bans. It felt necessary to address the guest opinion and confront the harms of abortion restrictions.
Rice’s 111-year history is marked by lots of positive impact — and plenty of harmful actions. William Marsh Rice, the university’s founder and namesake, was a slave owner, and from the school’s establishment as a free institution for only white students to Ku Klux Klan meetings occurring on Rice property, the connections to segregation and racial injustice cannot be denied.
As Rice has been struggling for the past few weeks with our culture around alcohol and public gatherings, Speakeasy Pub last Thursday night has shown us that a safe, responsible and fun drinking environment is still very possible.