I do not argue that altering the LGBT Co-op’s sign from “Yale Pride” to “Yale Gluttony” is a non-issue. Rather, I observe that if the LGBT Co-op itself had put up a sign saying “Yale Gluttony,” it would not be an attempt at humor made at the expense of a minority group (to borrow the reporter’s language in “Co-op gay pride flag vandalized,” 4/16) or as part of a larger pattern. I guess that it would instead be interpreted as a protest against some aspect of Yale culture, perhaps against a wasteful and superfluous use of resources — or even against the larger pattern of humor attempted at the expense of minority groups.
But given the Co-op’s objection to such previous attempts, they would not be seen as continuing the pattern they allege is hurtful. This proves that meaning is not located in words themselves but rather in their source (“Yale Gluttony” could be a rallying cry). Understanding the source of meaning is important because we cannot be offended by something until we know what it means.
The source of offense is not in the altering of the sign, either. If the Co-op itself had changed the sign, it would still not be interpreted as humor at the LGBT community’s expense, but rather conducive, somehow, to the group’s goals.
The reason why “Yale Gluttony” is offensive is not because of the words themselves or because the original words were changed, but it is because the agents of change are assumed to be outside the LGBT community. If it were to turn out that the people who did change the flag were members of the Co-op itself acting independently of the Co-op but under the misunderstanding that they were advancing the Co-op’s goals (I do not propose that it this is the case), then this would no longer be an attempt at humor or part of a pattern, and paradoxically, we would forget we had ever thought it was.
This becomes apparent when we consider comments like those of Co-op Coordinator Anna Wipfler, as quoted in Macbeth’s article. She is quoted as saying, “We thought we made it clear to folks that this kind of ‘humor’ is just not funny.” The unstated baggage that goes along with Wipfler’s statement is in two parts: The Co-op has access to the single, absolute, objective Truth (the kind with a capital T); anyone who disagrees with that Truth is completely wrong (humor becomes a matter of fact, not opinion or taste); and the Co-op holds a position of absolute and unquestionable authority over any communication that has to do with a set of issues, a position not unlike God’s. Wipfler’s statement cannot overcome even the simplest of counter-points: “Why should we listen to you?”
The Co-op is pursuing an entirely political agenda. The prize in politics is always the same: power. In this case, it is editing power over the views expressed on campus, the manner of expressing those views, and the interpretation of those expressions, especially related to LGBT issues. This is so that the Co-op’s views will gain favor and all others will fade away. The fact that identical words would be praised or condemned based solely on their origin shows the simultaneously absolute, arbitrary and self-serving nature of the power the Co-op seeks: nothing the Co-op does causes a problem, the only problems come from people advocating for a version of reality the Co-op doesn’t like.
I propose that the reason their previous attempt was ineffective at preventing future incident is in two parts corresponding to the baggage of Wipfler’s quotation. First, liberalism, the dominant philosophical attitude, prevents the existence of the capital-T Truth that the Co-op implicitly claims to have. Second, the Co-op is not in the position of authority that its rhetoric needs to be effective. (It needs the administration to do much more than a day of silence.) In short, no one can hold the power they seek.
It is important to note that the only thing I have done is describe a circumstance and a particular group’s strategy in response. A conclusion of whether or not I agree or disagree with the Co-op’s philosophy, goals or practices could not be drawn from this analysis, for I have not made an argument whether the Co-op is correct in its interpretation or whether the changes they seek are desirable. The argument I make is simply that the Co-op or any other campus group that uses this strategy will fail to achieve its objectives.
Michael Wayne Harris is a sophomore in Branford College.