Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Old copy can now truly live on

If my memory is correct, I once wrote a commentary in a college newspaper that suggested rape could serve as a form of entertainment – for the men, at least.

The commentary had a serious point – that the student body of which I was a part of at Illinois Wesleyan University just over two decades ago had its share of petty gripes about stupid issues and tended to ignore real problems.

I REMEMBER TRYING to point out with the column in question that the overall lifestyle of a student wasn’t all that bad; that there are people who live with far more serious problems than we confronted.

But the piece in question was also intended to be parody. So to ensure that no one could possibly take the column in question literally, I laid the rhetoric on so thick.

I was afraid someone would think I was being literal, so I laid on the absurdities. No one could possibly take on its face value a piece that suggested rape could be acceptable (even though there are people who live in environments where the threat of it is a daily possibility).

I recall that the student body (or at least a few vociferous letter writers) was ticked off at me, and some even called for my dismissal from the student newspaper I wrote for. At least for a week, until some other issue came along to stoke their anger.

THEN, THAT PARTICULAR column receded into the background. For all I know, most copies of that particular edition of the student newspaper (known as The Argus, which inspired the name of this particular website) have long been turned into mulch. I know of a few places that kept bound copies of the newspaper for archival purposes, so maybe somebody who happened to feel a need to thoroughly read copy from 1983-84 would stumble across the piece.

If so, I haven’t heard from them throughout the years.

But now, the wonders of the Internet have me wondering if/when this copy will pop back into my life.

That question came to mind after reading a story published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, about various people who want college newspaper websites to do things to cover up the old copy that might get people ticked off about themselves.

ONE WAS A Marine who thinks his military colleagues would not appreciate his political views from college days, while another is a lawyer who doesn’t like to be reminded that he was once arrested for burglary.

And now, you can add to that category myself, the guy who in theory could be accused of once advocating rape as a form of entertainment.

Despite this, I’m not about to ask anyone at my alma mater to expunge copy from the website that depicts the old issues of The Argus, scanned into the computer so that people can read them in their original form on printed pages.

For one thing, the actual technology doesn’t really remove anything from the Internet. It merely puts up layers that “hides” the old copy, making it less likely that people would stumble onto it.

WHICH MEANS THAT someone who really knows what they are doing (instead of just typing a name or phrase into a Google search engine) is going to be able to find it, no matter what is done.

Besides, the fact is that I wrote that particular piece in question. I ought to have to live with it (along with the follow-up story that ran in a parody of the student newspaper, in which an angry mob forced its way into my dorm room and violated me in every way possible).

That would be my response to anyone who thinks that they’re entitled to have potentially negative copy about themselves removed.

It happened. It was published. Those old archives being transferred to forms on the Internet can only be reliable if we’re assured that we’re reading exactly what was originally published.

OTHERWISE, PUTTING AMENDED versions of old copy on the Internet is a complete waste of time and space.

It also is my basic policy with regards to making changes to commentary published at the Chicago Argus or its sister weblog, The South Chicagoan. I will correct errors, but I will not rewrite the old copy.

That would appear to me to be an attempt to cover up my own mistakes. I ought to have to live with them, just like everybody else ought to have to live with theirs.

Now for those of you who are voyeuristic enough to try to find the old commentary, I must admit I couldn’t find it when I went through the newspaper’s web presence. I have never seen this particular column crop up in connection with a search engine check of my name (which I do periodically to see if anyone is reprinting my copyrighted commentary here without providing me compensation – it happens occasionally).

BUT I ALSO am an Internet amateur. So I’m sure someone more skilled and with much more patience than myself could find it, although I would have to wonder why they don’t have anything better to do with their time than search for a 26-year-old piece of parody.

And when it comes down to the bottom line, I’m not apologizing for writing that column. I still believe that people often get worked up complaining about the stupid trivialities of life, rather than focusing on issues of importance.


EDITOR’S NOTES: One professional reporter thinks her old college newspaper column about the “hook-up culture” on campus (http://chronicle.com/free/v55/i36/36a00103.htm) detracts from her current reputation.

By and large, I have fond memories of writing for my college’s student newspaper and am willing (http://www.iwu.edu/~theargus/) to stand by just about every word I wrote back then, even if my prose in those days was often too convoluted.

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