LARSON: Toning down our rhetoric

Nothing in Particular

A finger presses down over lips without a face, directing you to stay silent. Streets are deserted. Ominous, masked medical professionals handle syringes and a man points a gas pump into his head as if it were a gun.

If you think this sounds like a trailer for a bad horror movie, you’re only part right — Rick Santorum’s campaign ad “Obamaville” has the horror part down but does not preview any movie that will actually be produced.

(If you haven’t yet seen Obamaville, watch it. It’s worth it.)

Santorum’s campaign is rapidly turning from a not-so-potent political force into an increasingly desperate plea for continued attention. Moreover, offensive, misleading and patently false attack ads have been produced and run by politicians of both parties for years, so why should we notice this one?

Well, for one thing, it’s very weird. Are we to believe that reelecting Obama will make playgrounds really, exceptionally creepy or cause our towns to become infested with crows?

But what’s truly noteworthy is the video’s apocalyptic tone. Reelect Obama, it seems to say, and America will turn into a collection of ghost towns taken right out of the Hunger Games. America won’t just be poorer, less powerful, more dangerous or less free; it will (all of it) be New Orleans right after Katrina or any city after Ghenghis Khan.

Maybe Santorum believes in the Apocalypse, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt about when it will happen and what or who will precipitate it. What concerns me is that this sort of hyperbole is not so uncommon. And I’m not talking about death panels either — I’m talking about the exaggerated and histrionic language students use on Yale’s campus.

Thus the proclamation by Kenneth Reveiz ’12 in an interview with the News before the production of his OSAMA PLAY: “I think [other] Yale theater [productions], even the Control Group, reproduces the hegemony of which Yale is a part, whether they like it or not, whether they think so or not.”

The play may have been great — I didn’t see it. But isn’t it a tiny bit self-important to think sticking it to the Yale theater scene, its values or the hegemony of which it apparently is a part, is worth creating a play about Osama Bin Laden? A play which, according to Nicholas Leingang ’14, who played Osama, “play[s] down the amount of terrorism Osama has done in history?”

Doubtless several Yale students and employees knew friends or relatives who died in the 9/11 attacks — couldn’t an effective challenge to current power structures and the capitalist system be mounted without Osama as a character, let alone a humanized one? Doesn’t humanizing the now-dead terrorist – whose family made billions off the international capitalist system – dilute valid critiques of our society with needless provocation and false equivalencies? Maybe the play found a way to avoid these traps, but the message the cast and crew delivered in this newspaper fell right into them. Exaggeration not only demonizes our opponents; it undermines legitimate debate.

Throughout the Yale-NUS controversy, proponents of the venture have taken a measured approach, emphasizing Yale’s ability to pull out of Singapore as well as the tangible benefits they foresee from expanding Yale’s international footprint or helping to spread the liberal arts to Asia. This is not to say they haven’t addressed values — their valuing of the liberal arts is the basis of nearly all their arguments — but even their values-based arguments have tended to be modest in scope.

Opponents of Yale-NUS have, on the other hand, spoken in far broader terms, emphasizing the damage to Yale’s credibility that could come from partnering with an authoritarian regime. Their objections are perfectly valid — they may even be right — but their hyperbole isn’t.

Whether Yale-NUS is right or wrong, Yale in New Haven will continue to be a bastion of academic excellence and free speech. Its reputation may suffer, but the notion that its own faculty could see its freedom of speech infringed upon or that it will somehow be irreversibly polluted is, frankly, ridiculous. The overflowing of public criticism of the project is evidence that debate and dissenting opinions are not only tolerated but allowed to flourish in New Haven.

Strongly held opinions are good. Sometimes one side is more right than the other and is justified in feeling that way. But apart from some once-in-a-generation cases, the world won’t end if the other side wins out. So let’s cool down our rhetoric.

Harry Larson is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at harry.larson@yale.edu .

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    Apocalytic rhetoric is a coin with Salvation as its other side.

    And you can guess who Rick Santorum thinks the Savior is in this scenario: One who is mightily concerned with tidying up the messiness of others’ midsections (loins).

    And, while he’s at it, he’ll throw the anti-papist JFK out with the bathwater.

    What a busybody.

    PK

  • River_Tam

    I don’t think Yale will suffer from an image problem from the Yale-NUS venture. After all, it’s already partnering with the (far more) authoritarian Chinese regime through the Yale-PKU program.

    I think it will suffer from a moral problem – a moral deficiency it already has in spades due to its collaboration with the Chinese government.

  • dolokhov

    TLDR : ‘Don’t get too uppity now….’

  • MikeConrad

    Quote: “Throughout the Yale-NUS controversy, proponents of the venture have taken a measured approach”

    Apparently you have been extremely careful with what you read. For one thing, you clearly don’t read YDN comments, but then I’m wasting my time aren’t I ;)