The mutability of values?

Something is rotten in the purple bubble. Last week, Herbert Allen ’62 wrote an op-ed criticizing the College for its official endorsement of a performance by genderqueer pornographer Jiz Lee (“Minding our reputation,” May 2). The article prompted a polarized response from students, many of whom dismissed Allen as an “old” and “out of touch” alumnus, among other less endearing labels. The stereotype was clear: This man must be an ignorant ghost of Williams past, limited by homophobia and antiquated social standards.

Were these students simply ignorant of the fact that Allen lives in Williamstown and is active on many important committees at the College? Did they know that Allen not only donated the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance but also spent decades of his life backing multiple queer rights causes in times when they weren’t popular?

Sometimes the world is a great big Rorschach test; even though Allen’s remarks had nothing to do with the sexual orientation of the performer – only with the morality of pornography, the reputation of the College and the bias of the administration – some members of the Queer Student Union (QSU) took his article as a homophobic rant. Allen implied that sexual acts should garner emotional and moral significance of some kind, which is apparently an alien idea to some members of our community. “When LGBTQ people have sex, they are inherently transgressing society’s rules of appropriate conduct because their sex is entirely about pleasure,” argued Emily Nuckols ’15 in the Record (“Porn is not the problem,” April 18). If this were the QSU’s official position, it would not be surprising to find some LGBTQ students who are offended at being included in this entirely epicurean stereotype.

Do the radical queer advocates on our campus see no contradiction in claiming offense at “hetero-normative” Junior Advisor pictures (one of which involves a male student getting a piggyback ride from a female student), only to then drape posters of a naked porn star across campus and disdain those with more traditional sensibilities? If the Dively Committee and the QSU simply wanted to eradicate social bias against LGBTQ individuals, they would be wise to hang posters of properly clothed queer couples in loving relationships. But they are seeking more than equal treatment, demanding a monopoly on the privilege to break all standards of sexual decency.

Perhaps we should take the principle frequently expressed by the Williams administration that at Williams College, our only value is the mutability of values. Yes, Williams should allow for the free expression of ideas. If a quasi-independent funding body wants to play porn in Paresky, that is fine. But when the deans’ office – among other official departments of the College – provides money for a porn showing and stamps its endorsement on the event, it has implicitly included everyone in the Williams community in that statement.

I am not so naïve to think that homophobic remarks have never been uttered at the College, nor am I dismissing the hurtfulness of such words. I have heard the f-word spoken here – once. During summer practices before my first year, one of my teammates used it in the football locker room. The next day, with no administrative prompting, the senior captains took it upon themselves to huddle up the entire team to remind us that at a place like Williams, we are above such language.

Something is wrong when the College promotes “sex positivity” in its students and then denounces the prevalence of sexual assault on campus. Kudos to the administration for discontinuing the First Days speaker who encouraged the Class of 2014 to have as much sex in college as possible.  But the QSU was intent on playing porn during Queer Bash again in 2012, claiming that the sexually explicit atmosphere that porn creates has nothing to do with the campus-record number of assaults that occur at the party. Do we really believe that promoting a form of media built on reducing human beings to the status of sexual objects has no connection to the ubiquity of that attitude in our weekend culture?

Last week, a few students intent on ridiculing Allen took it upon themselves to place a colorful tongue-in-cheek poster above the fireplace in Paresky that mocked, “Sorry, Herb!” Would any of the students who made that poster like to debate, for example, whether Lee’s videos have more intellectual value than the copy of The Federalist Papers in Chapin Library that Allen gave us, which was signed by George Washington? Sorry Herb, indeed: I hope that one day the College can live up to its mission statement and treat every reasoned perspective with equal respect.

 

Jack Noelke ’13 is a history major from Chatham, NJ. He lives in Thompson.