When Paternal Administrators, Ignorant Alumni and Hedonistic Students Rumble

On one hand, the SRTV porn controversy that students are voting on this week has grown tiresome and overpublicized. It was a waste of time and resources from the start. On the other, the various words and incidents that this controversy have spawned reveal much: UCSD’s administrators are achingly paternal; the university is torn between Apollonian and Dionysian elements that make the student experience confusingly schizophrenic; and when prudish administrators, misinformed alumni and “concerned citizens” arbitrate taste on a college campus, no one wins.

As Chancellor Marye Anne Fox attempted to weave a moderate course between students, the A.S. Council, SRTV’s managers and the administration, a flurry of angry e-mails streamed in from all corners of the country. The Guardian obtained these e-mails via a California Public Records Act request. Choice e-mails, ringing with the sounds of misinformation and overreaction, read:

“I am by no means a prude, but this definitely crosses the line … I am disappointed, however, that as the leader of a PUBLIC university being aided by PUBLIC funds that you would condone this immature, exploitative maneuver and just let them handle it.”

“I am stunned to learn that my tax dollars are being spent to broadcast a porn show on the university TV … My teenagers will not be applying to your school and I am urging my friends who are alums not to support what you call a university of learning. Unfortunately I forsee [sic] UCSD becoming the university of porn and its credibility as a place of higher learning will be ruined.”

“I have two 4.0 students interested in a medical career. Your college will not even be a consideration if student media porn is allowed under your command. I don’t care if this is a student issue or not. Who’s in charge anyway?”

These letters would pack more wallop if the writers had a decent grip on the facts. Despite what Fox News and MSNBC reported, SRTV is not funded by tax dollars. Rather, student activity fees fund the station, to the tune of $9,000 a year, or a few dozen cents per student per year. A few students complained after the porn was aired this year, and were refunded their portion of fees that went toward the station. The fact that so many people continue to scream about tax dollars, while media outlets like the Guardian have doggedly worked to dispel this myth, reveals that such “concerned citizens” only care about airing their entrenched views about porn, not about educating themselves about the unique facts of this case.

Secondly, these e-mail writers seem to be laboring under the impression that threatening to withdraw donations or dissuade a couple of students from applying to UCSD would hurt the university enough to make Chancellor Fox adopt a more hard-line, proactive approach. Ah, if only these writers realized that the chump change of alumni donations is trumped by the multimillion-dollar research grants on which UCSD relies.

But these e-mails aren’t just amusing for their slippery grip on the truth. Are there any better illustrations of generational differences in America than the differing reactions to a bit of smut? The average UCSD student didn’t see the broadcast when it aired, and merely shrugged and sighed when the news blew up and Fox News trucks showed up near Library Walk. For good or for bad, porn simply doesn’t rile up the average student. It only riles up the older generation.

When parents and administrators attempt to arbitrate taste, they must realize that college students are the most enthusiastic consumers of the most lowbrow entertainment America has to offer. And we’re proud of it. A good portion of American entertainment is geared toward us, and it pushes the envelope of acceptability, racial sensitivity, modesty and taste. Would these angry e-mail writers — and UCSD’s administrators — be shocked to learn that any UCSD student can easily access Internet porn of a much more explicit variety than what was aired on SRTV? And do it for free, privately, in their campus residence?

The firestorm that grew around this airing is especially absurd when considered within the context of the tasteless entertainment college students consume every day. The phenomenally popular Web site Collegehumor.com, for example, is popular partly for its user-submitted photographs featuring college girls baring breasts (and sometimes other body parts) painted with their university name and, often, Greek letters.

Perhaps the response to the airing was so contradictory and polarized — even among students, as a few Christians came out of the woodwork to profess their disgust — because UCSD is strung taughtly between the the blandly upstanding Apollo and the hedonistic Dionysus. In “The Birth of Tragedy,” Nietzsche speaks of the two pillars of Greek culture: the rational, temperate Apollonian and its opposite, the Dionysian, which represents ecstasy, enthusiasm, drunkenness and madness. RSOs, administrators and professors exhort us to stick with the Apollonian; meanwhile, the Dionysian lurks beneath the surface, bobbing up when a keg is tapped, or someone streaks across a field, or — gasp! — has sex, or defends our right to see a risque show on the student-run television station. The average UCSD student is torn between two pronounced extremes created by a cruelly bizarre campus culture and selective enforcement of rules.

UCSD is very good at punishing its students for being young and in college. The shutdown of SRTV is only the latest symptom of this disease. Maybe such punishment is fun; in the e-mails obtained by the Guardian, Gary Ratcliff, Joe Watson and Nick Aguilar seemed to have quite a time working out the ways in which SRTV could be student-run in name only, and how best to censor and prescreen the channel’s programming.

These concerned administrators fail to realize, or remember, that college students will always take joy in opposing authority — the more repressive rules become, the more we will rebel. The fun of airing porn on SRTV would disappear as soon as administrators stop caring about it. After all, there is no demand for mediocre, homegrown pornography when much higher-quality smut can be found for free on the Internet.