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The state of the (viewpoint) union

Jason Coleman | Thursday, August 28, 2008

All right everybody. As this is the beginning of another fantastic, and hopefully fantastically controversial, new year in Viewpoint, I thought it might be beneficial to talk about the state of the Viewpoint section. I do this only to throw fodder into the fire and get an early start on the year.

Of course, most of these topics have been trampled on pretty seriously in the past, but here at Notre Dame they always seem open to new and passionate discussion. This also serves to warn the freshmen and prep them for the serious debates splayed across these pages.

Let’s start with the obvious elephant in the room: the Vagina Monologues. Since this Eve Ensler production was first put on by Notre Dame students a few years ago, it has managed to play on campus, then get kicked off campus, then get back on campus. And we have heard about it all in hundreds of letters. It has drawn criticism from Archbishops, alumni and students on both sides of the issue; last year the convention of bishops was moved from Notre Dame because of it. There has been no lack of controversy. However, from those emphasizing the play’s importance in sexual abuse awareness to those writing it off as sexually promiscuous trash, the letters have never ceased to amuse the other 95 percent of the student body who remained fairly uninterested in the whole thing. Not to make light of the subject, it just seemed that no common ground was ever found between writers, and, to be honest, I predict yet another rehash early next spring.

Let’s move on to a similar set of gender issues, the ones involving Notre Dame’s friendly neighbors to the West, St. Mary’s. Generally, this debate is pretty formulaic. It begins when one of The Observer comic strips takes some exaggerated and stereotypical jab at the St. Mary’s student body. These claims are usually one of two tasty flavors. The first, of course, is that they are some seriously promiscuous girls. The second, that they can’t add two and two together (or that a St. Mary’s lit final is based on a combination of Dr. Seuss and Beverly Cleary novels). I expect these to be slightly less heated this year, with only one comic strip, rather than three, to spark these letters. These debates are generally sort of boring anyways. The first letter lambastes the comic strip for the dig; the responses are usually just to “lighten up”. Snore. Besides, we all know what the difference between your sister and the St. Mary’s shuttle is.

Continuing, we come across (surprise, surprise) another gender issue at Notre Dame. This one involves our beloved Victory March and the fact that it only mentions loyal sons, leaving out our loyal daughters. This one is usually thrown out there by female alums or parents who feel offended that the boys are getting all of the love. Not to sound sexist, but I want to put an end to this one right now. First, the song was written before girls were even admitted to this school, so its not as if they were deliberately shafted out of the song. Secondly, have you ever tried to add “loyal sons and daughters” into the fight song. The timing is completely off and the entire song suffers for it. If we change it now, “Hail to the Victors” has already won.

These issues have been the meat of the Viewpoint section over the last couple of years; however, they have never been the most interesting. If you want your letter to make it to the paper, you only have to make it controversial enough to draw fire. At this school, that isn’t too difficult.

Last year, there was the kid who suggested parietals were already too late and should be moved down to 10 p.m. You can imagine the backlash. Business majors who never had thought of putting down their Natty to pen a Letter to the Editor were polishing off their long forgotten skills to unleash a deluge of criticism on this guy. His complete insensitivity to the rest of the male population’s hopes and dreams of making a successful play on a girl was appalling. The suggestion did, however, result in a few days of pretty funny discussion.

However, while these letters are amusing and some of the debates (still) controversial, I want urge the student body to take the great opportunity this year provides (there is an election, if you haven’t heard) and write a couple of thoughtful, evidenced and well constructed letters on the major issues out there: health care, the federal deficit, off shore drilling, the merits of experience vs. youth, etc.

While this trek down memory lane was fun for some, and probably brought up old arguments for others, it should stay at that. These discussions have been had and the arguments have been made. As to the damage done, I’m not sure anybody new is going to be convinced at this point, so it would be better for us, as a student body, to move on to newer, fresher and perhaps more challenging and nuanced issues. I hope to do the same in my future columns. And of course, I will always accept e-mails from readers who disagree.

Jason Coleman is a junior majoring in management. He can be contacted at coleman.70@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.