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Kaleidoscope McDaniels proves its poor taste

Letter to the Editor | Friday, February 16, 2007

I am happy to be living in a country where one’s freedom of speech is closely guarded. Yet there comes a point when a publication must decide which speech must be permitted and which speech simply does not advance any good but rather is harmful. In the case of one comic strip featured in The Observer, I feel this time has come.

I am referring to Kaleidoscope McDaniels, the comic strip by Liam Moran which debuted this spring semester. The strip often toes the line of acceptability, and it is in fact this very pushing of the envelope that provokes shock and therefore laughter. Readers cannot help but recall Jockular, the comic by Erik Powers and Alex White which often pushed this same envelope. Many readers took offense at this strip, and its very offensiveness became its comic drive.

Yet readers deserve something more. The comic strip is a kind of incidental, bonus feature of the paper, but it does serve an important role. It can poke fun at the goings on of student life on campus in a way few other genres can. Some may remember Fourth and Inches, a strip from a few years ago, which often struck a chord with students because of its careful observation of life on campus. The truly talented artist’s work is capable of being humorous in such a way that draws upon the reader’s experience and “tells it like it is.”

I and many others feel that Kaleidoscope McDaniels simply does not do this. Its use of concepts and references bordering on the obscene or – at the very least – illegal or immoral seeks to draw a laugh through its shock value. For example, on Jan. 25, I saw a girl in the South Dining Hall lobby point to the comic and say, “I can’t believe they’d print that.” Picking up a newspaper, I noticed Kaleidoscope McDaniels which was depicting a character obviously representing Fr. Jenkins smoking a joint of marijuana in Uganda, referring to the recent McAlarney incident. Is this humor, or simply the theatre of the ridiculous? What is the difference between shock and libel?

The recent comic about the Eating Disorder Conference is another example, which Eleanor Bradley responds to in her Feb. 9 letter, “Conference appreciated, jokes aren’t.” I assume the author did not intend to attack people who have eating disorders, or even to make fun of them, but when playing with fire, one often gets burned. A publication must ask itself if this kind of humor is really helpful to the Notre Dame-Saint Mary’s community, or if it rather does more harm than good. It is really a matter of what kind of publication the Observer aspires to be and what standards it wishes to set. Tabloids, of course, publish things far worse than this comic strip. Is that where our student newspaper is headed?

Vu Nguyen


Alumni Hall

Feb. 14