*Correction: The original article erroneously identified the spokesperson of the “Sewanee Common Source” as a man. In fact, the spokesperson is a woman. We regret the error.
The Sewanee Common Source is a new blog maintained by anonymous student writers, comprised equally of women and men, who use satire to tackle both mundane and controversial aspects of Sewanee life. “Satire (at least our personal brand of satire) is meant to call out questionable happenings in today’s culture in a humorous way and to make people think,” a spokeswoman for the blog, who wished to remain anonymous, told Her Campus Sewanee in a Facebook message.
The blog quickly amassed a cult following after posting its inaugural article on March 4th, titled “Hell’s Kitchen’s Gordon Ramsay to Guest Judge Sewanee BBQ Contest”, in which the author speculates what would happen if the famed hotheaded reality TV chef went head-to-head with Chef Rick Wright.
An article posted the same day, titled “McCardell: Yik Yak to Replace Board of Regents in 2016”, pokes fun at Sewanee’s obsession with the anonymous social media platform. The satirical piece successfully conveys that complaints via YikYak about problems students have with the University are really pointless; it is direct action, rather than anonymous whining, that is needed in order for change to happen. Another article, published on March 5th and titled “McClurg To Be Shut Down Under Allegations of Common Source Violation”, satirizes the controversy over Sewanee’s common source rule. The alcohol policy has increasingly drawn ire and protests from several students and Greek organizations, who argue that the rule does little to curb binge drinking and, in fact, may even encourage it. The Sewanee Common Source humorously satirizes this issue in a way that highlights the policy’s irrelevancy and contradictory nature.
In both the Yik Yak and Common Source pieces, the satirical approach to the subjects at hand serves as a humorous lense through which to view pertinent campus issues. More importantly, though, the provocative nature of such writing implores readers to question the crux of the debate at hand, without having to navigate tangential issues that could potentially obscure the core of the argument. However, the most recent article published by the blog may have done just that, as it quickly drew criticism and debate from those convinced it crosses the fine line between humor and harm.
Published on March 9th and titled “Bridging the Gender Gap Through Room Décor” (original link to post no longer available), the article describes a pair of fictionalized male sophomore roommates who, in an attempt to be more sexually appealing to women, decorate their dorm room with more feminine posters, change their clothing, and develop practically mathematical strategies involving Pinterest and female celebrities in an attempt to lure women into having sex with them. But perhaps the most disturbing part of the article appears at the end:
“Who needs alcohol or pills to get girls when you can just show them your Pinterest and talk about Reese Witherspoon?”
Wow. One would think that in today’s society, a world in which one in five college women and one in sixteen college men will be sexually assaulted, with many—if not most—of those assaults aided by the use of drugs and alcohol, the author of this piece would be more keenly aware of the fact that drug- and alcohol-induced sexual assault is no laughing matter, no matter how satirical it is intended to be. Responses to the article on social media ranged from “unacceptable” and “downright horrifying”, to supporters of the piece who claimed those upset by the article should just “take a chill pill and laugh bro”.
Considering that sexual assault has largely been at the center of campus discourse (both at Sewanee and around the nation) for at least the last two years, it is easy to see why many readers were upset by the article’s apparent insensitivity to the crime of sexual violence. “I am appalled that this article’s anonymous author would allude to the idea that women can be lured into sex by, of all things, discussing shoes and dorm room décor,” said Sewanee alum Megan Eaves, who graduated last year. “This, rather than attempting to terminate a sexual double standard, perpetuates one.”
In response to the outcry, the blog promptly removed the original post and replaced it with a moderately revised version of the article that sought to clarify its original intent of satirizing gender roles. “We’ve adjusted our re-edited article to place the emphasis on ‘meeting’ members of the opposite sex rather than ‘getting’ them,” the Common Source spokeswoman said. “Although the nature of the article remains the same–to call into question interactions with the opposite sex at Sewanee and perceptions of masculinity and femininity in a humorous way, we hope that this new version will not trigger any traumatic experiences for anyone.”
She continued, “as one of our readers pointed out to us in a message, a shocking amount of people are desensitized to jokes about rape culture and that’s something that should be changed; we see satire as a potential outlet for the ‘re-sensitization’ through satire’s absurdity. Our intention was never to perpetuate the desensitization of rape culture, and if we have, then we need to rethink what material we put out.”
The blog’s Facebook page also posted the following:
Ultimately, the Common Source spokeswoman stands by the author’s article, but acknowledges that it can be difficult to gauge how far is too far.
“We went too far and tried to amend our mistakes by taking the article down when it was brought to our attention,” she said. “Sometimes it takes outsiders’ voices to point out your own mistakes, and as we said in our follow up post, we mean to entertain, not to hurt anyone.”
“However, the nature of satire is to provoke,” she continued. “The original article’s author very obviously portrayed its two subjects as pretty sleazy guys—it clearly wasn’t glorifying the coercion of women into sex by any means. The article satirized the immaturity and idiocy of the young men, equating that immaturity to the immaturity that surrounds the hookup/alcohol culture at this school, but a hookup culture that we see has the potential to change as well.”
Though people are still divided on whether or not Common Source took its satire too far, it certainly cannot be denied that it did its job: it provoked. Though convoluted and confusing at times, the discussion that swarmed around the article led to important revelations about gender roles, sexual assault, and the role everyday language has in shaping how we think about such serious topics.
“If we didn’t make the article as absurd as we needed to emphasize the ridiculousness of hookup culture, then that’s our mistake and we’ll be conscious of that in the future,” the Common Source spokeswoman maintained. “Sexual assault is nothing to take lightly and if it ever appears in any of our material, our satire is meant to criticize it.”