Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

August 26, 2015

Go, Read: Fun Home Declining Duke Student Writes On Own Behalf

Here's a short essay by Brian Grasso, a Duke freshman who made news for refusing to read the suggested work Fun Home, as he believed some of its images will lead to immorality. It's worth reading.

I feel badly for this young man, and for people that think in terms of engaging with art on these really simplistic terms. I try not to do so simply by trumping the sanctimony already on display, although it's difficult. I know I sound like a dick here. I actually think there's something to be said for opting out of secular opportunities in service of faith. I have friends that have followed clergy and lay paths that involve significant withdrawal from society or elements thereof. No one's opting out of anything here except a suggested assignment. The perversity on display isn't the idea that reading some work is immoral, although one might note that the Bible passage cited is focused on how a work is processed rather than the work iself. What's concerning is a little bit that this particular work should be read that way, which seems capricious, and a whole lot that as a result of this person's stance the institution has to adjust ever so slightly to his conception of morality, including his feelings of entitlement in having these experiences anticipated by his school and being helped along with what he chooses to engage and with what he doesn't and how.

This is obviously untenable in the broader sense if applied over time; anyone can set these standards anywhere they like. That doesn't make anyone that does so a bad person, but it does make them a less than ideal student. The notion presented that he's having a real exchange of ideas via a trade of a few explanatory sentences about morality with another student whom he describes as some exotic other is so sad it makes my teeth ache. At best, that's 20 minutes of one pretty good night in a dormitory hallway -- in college you ideally grapple with all of history, all of art, all of culture, not to mention the entirety of messy humanity that your fellow students represent, and not in a way that adjusts itself to how you would like that presented to you. That's the best part about college, if you're a believer or if you're not. That and the opportunities to date.

I don't think this person is ready to be a student of much of anything except their own self-regard, and I say this as someone that comes from what sounds like a similar background. It hardly matters; these institutions are paid commercial enterprises and don't really take an idealized educational mission seriously enough to object, let alone take a stand. I'm sad in this case that Bechdel's work should be unfairly impugned by an offhand vision of it from someone that's not even engaged, sad that this student is indulged in a form of intellectual sloth by ultimately being supported in his views on how to proceed, and sad that the community misses out on his input to the broader conversation. I'd rather have a student that struggled to write the op-ed but struggled through the book.
posted 12:05 am PST | Permalink

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