I didn’t want to write about this, as I am having to defend too many jerks of late,but multiple readers have flagged it, and besides, there hasn’t been a good Halloween costume controversy this year. This one isn’t good, but it will have to do.
During the University of Wisconsin football home game against Nebraska, one fan in faux prison garb wore a mask of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton over his face, and a mask of Obama on the back of his head, as another person wearing a mask of Republican nominee Donald Trump held the end of a noose that was looped around the Hillary/Obama individual’s neck.
1. It was Halloween weekend. Costumes were not out of place.
2. It was a two person costume, and an incoherent one that would support multiple interpretations. Was it an attack on Trump, accusing him of being racist or wanting to harm Hillary? Was it an endorsement of Trump, arguing that Hillary should be punished? Was it intended to evoke lynching imagery? Was it saying that Hillary was the equivalent of Obama? A sign worn by Hillary/Obama, which nobody who wasn’t close up could read, concluded, “Bernie 2016.”
3. This was unequivocally political speech, whatever it was supposed to mean.
4. The University has some discretion to forbid expression and conduct at a sporting event that risk creating violence or that are objectively uncivil .
5. Anyone who uses lynching imagery in public, in any connection to a back public figure, or any African American at all, is an asshole at best. This is a public event intended to be entertaining and a family-friendly activity. Using it for political theater is obnoxious. The civil place for this costume, if anywhere, was in front of the stadium, on the sidewalk.
The University handled the episode correctly, with restraint, and while exhibiting proper respect for the First Amendment. It is a state school, remember.
According to UW-Madison, Camp Randall Stadium’s guest services staff asked the person wearing the noose to take it off, which he agreed to do during the first half. The fans were allowed to stay in the stadium, officials said. On Monday, UW-Madison spokeswoman Meredith McGlone said, “Stadium staff monitored the fan to ensure that he did not put the noose back on and was prepared to remove him if he did.” However, Wisconsin State Journal photos taken late in the third quarter of Saturday’s game show the duo walking around Camp Randall Stadium with one of them once again wearing the noose and a mask of Clinton…Chancellor Rebecca Blank wrote in a statement that “once the noose was removed, the decision was made that the remainder of the costume fell within the stadium’s costume policies.” Blank and campus officials have said the fans who wore the costume were not ejected because their display was protected by the First Amendment.“The costume, while repugnant and counter to the values of the university and athletic department, was an exercise of the individual’s right to free speech,” read a UW-Madison statement Saturday night.
The response was an ethical one. What was alarming was the attitude of some critics, such as Professor Christy Clark-Pujara, who teaches about the history of lynching in the UW-Madison African-American studies department, who said…
“It’s kind of boilerplate: ‘This is awful, this is not who we are.’”
Why is someone who can make a statement like that permitted to teach anything at an American university?
So it’s “awful”—the First Amendment protects awful, and universities are supposed to debate awful, not censor it based on a biased definition of what “awful” is. I think the costume is saying that Trump, Clinton and Obama are awful. (I agree with that, by the way.) The double costume is a live political cartoon, as about as inept as most political cartoons, but a political statement nonetheless.
By what authority is it “boilerplate” that any expression that someone finds “awful” should be suppressed? Only according to the restrictive and increasingly totalitarian sensibilities of the far Left is this considered a valid assumption, and it is an anti-democratic assumption. Who is this professor to declare that “This is not who we are”? She is endorsing conformity of ideas and opinions, and groupthink, enforced by state power. That is not what the United States is, though she is free to argue otherwise. She can even wear a costume about it.
For once, a university handles an incident rationally and without political bias, and it is rewarded by the Left attacking it for not restricting opinions that it finds “awful.”
Pointer: Multiple Ethics Alarms readers