To the Editor:
The infographic from “The Eighth Page” a few weeks ago was inappropriate, yes, but so too is the backlash against it. Lest we all forget, The Phillipian is a high school newspaper; the mere existence of “The Eighth Page” puts it closer to Yale’s “Rumpus,” or some other humorous student publication, than, say, the “London Review of Books”. Some vulgarity, and some comedic missteps, should be encouraged (if not already expected) when we read the school paper.
Last week’s issue of The Phillipian contained a full-throated apology from The Editorial Board, some public self-flagellation from the editors of “The Eighth Page,” and a Letter to the Editor (of course) claiming that The Phillipian had not done enough. What surprised me most was not the Marcuse-inflected virtue signaling at play — that seems to be a rite of passage for students these days — but how PG-13 this entire “controversy” seems to be. Calling incoming freshmen hot (or not) is a little bit creepy, but it would hardtly merit a raised eyebrow ten years ago when I was a student at Andover (we called “The Eighth Page” “Features” back then; how quaint). Indeed, our controversial infographic comes across as prudish tongue-clicking even relative to what passes today for satire — be it the pages of “Charlie Hebdo,” an episode of “Girls,” or Dave Chapelle’s recent Netflix stand-up routine. And perhaps what’s most troubling is that Andover students can write very serious accusations about the objectification of women in the Editorials section, and then turn a few pages to a woman’s fashion column and completely miss the irony.
I graduated from college in 2013, which was before campus activism reached its current levels of sanctimony, but not so long ago that I didn’t see it coming. Then, as now, our liberal credibility was very much at stake — it is difficult for folks in, say, Oklahoma (where I now live) to take accusations of racism, sexism, or whatever seriously when student protests erupt over e-mails about Halloween costumes, as they did at Yale a few years ago. The current controversy at Andover lacks the brio of Yale’s protests (thank God), but the differences are otherwise only of degree, and not of kind. Both events come across as tone-deaf concerns of a detached elite. Our outrage should be directed at the truly outrageous, like the on-going sexual assault controversy at Choate, which raises hard — and unanswered — questions about in loco parentis, gendered power dynamics, and the nature of punishment and prevention at boarding schools.
The politics of distraction is an impediment to progress. In the Information Age, a Video Music Award performance, a tweet, or a silly infographic can take on the moral significance of a pandemic or a war. Let’s not let that happen here — the stakes, frankly, aren’t that high.
Alexander R. McHale ’09