The problem with satire and college

BY COLE WHITE | Opinion Editor | It’s been a few weeks since the University of Wisconsin Superior’s student-run newspaper, The Promethean, released their April Fools Day edition.

If you didn’t hear about it, then I’ll answer the question for you: No, it did not go over well.

I didn’t hear much about it until the Duluth News Tribune ran a surprisingly lengthy article about the backlash, followed by a front-page editorial on Sunday condemning it.

Now, I can’t offer much insight into how good or bad it was, or if the DNT’s response was disproportionate, since I’ve been unsuccessful in tracking down a copy—presumably because they’ve all been burned in effigy by this point.

I can speak to one thing, and that’s that it is in no way surprising it crashed and burned. Anyone in media will tell you that satire is really, really hard to do. And college campuses tend not to embrace it that well.

Even the Statesman ran a similar issue in 1996, retitled “The Stateschic,” that, according to legend, nearly killed the paper. Today people treat “Stateschic” like Voldemort: the paper that shall not be named.

The problem that plagues campus satire is that most steer away from the clever ideas and resort to just throwing out racial slurs and vulgarity, which isn’t inherently funny. You can’t just write inflammatory things and think that adding a satire tag will save it. A bad joke is still a bad joke.

Satire is hard, and people write bad jokes for years before they finally become good at it. The Promethean's crime, from what I can tell, isn’t that they did satire, but rather that they did it poorly, which from a group of people who haven’t been doing it for years, is to be expected.

The real problems that lie in cases like this is exemplified in the editorial The Promethean posted to Facebook on Thursday. The problem lies in the indignation of the staff, the idea that free speech makes it okay and the refusal to admit it didn’t work. Nobody likes admitting they’re wrong, but sometimes you have to own up to your mistakes and learn from them.

Satire is like any other craft. It needs to be honed. It needs to be mastered.  You’ll only get that through trial and error.

Satire can be incredibly powerful if you take the time to learn how to do it well. There’s a reason Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were among the most trusted news sources among younger viewers. There’s a reason people actually study the “John Oliver Effect.” Satire can do what other media can’t, which is to say what we all really know needs to be said, but it doesn’t work if the author is the only one that gets it.


No one is going to come off as Jonathan Swift out of the gate.  If you take time to listen to what your audience has to say about it instead of turning the situation into some constitutional standoff, some great work could come out of lessons like this someday.

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