Hot Air

God’s Blue Devils

Imagine what an uptight little shit you have to be if you’re one of those Duke University freshmen who refuses to read Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, Fun Home — even though you’ve been assigned it and, well, y’know, when the teach tells you to read a book, you read the book, no?

Fun Home Book Cover

No. Not if you’ve been brought up to believe your psyche, your emotions, your faith in god, perhaps even your very physical safety are threatened by the reading of a book. That the teacher has assigned, I might remind you.

Today’s screech follows seamlessly on the heels of yesterday’s, wherein I flogged the book, F*ck Feelings, a manifesto against the holy worship of people’s sensitivities these days. And nowhere are emotions more fragile than on college campuses in the year 2015. Many, many college and university instructors are feeling a chilling effect should they dare to bring up a topic in the classroom that may discomfit their snowflake students. Law school professors feel a pall in their classrooms when they tackle tough issues — for instance, teaching rape law may “traumatize” certain squeamish students. Hell, Northwestern University communications professor Laura Kipnis was brought up on Title IX discrimination charges because she wrote an opinion piece saying, essentially, college kids ought to stop seeing themselves as eternal victims.

The new campus rage is not drug- or sex- or fashion-related; it’s the notion of “trigger warnings.” One must alert anyone within earshot if one wishes to discuss a topic that just might cause the listener or eavesdropper a nightmare.

And the latest example of all this tsk-tsking is the Duke book controversy. Duke at the beginning of each school year assigns incoming freshmen a book to read before move-in day. The U. calls it one of the facets of its “Common Experience Program,” which is pedagoguese for Let’s make the kids do something uplifting in the summer before they come here for the twin purposes of drinking and fucking their brains out.

Duke selected Fun Home, Bechdel’s recollection of growing up lesbian with a closeted gay father and a distracted mother — which has won awards and been staged as a Broadway musical, fer chrissakes! — because it is:

[A] book like no other. The author uses the unique graphic medium to tell a story that sheds a lot of light on important and weighted issues like mental health, interpersonal relationships and human rights, all critical issues that students become acquainted with in college.



Except a bunch of Christianist students have refused to read the book because, as one said:

[I]t would be dishonoring to God [sic] for me to read it and view it.

It’s not known at this time whether the student quoted above would refuse to read, say, Mein Kampf or In Cold Blood should those volumes be assigned in class. Then again, neither mentions lesbianism so they must be okay — brutal murders and genocidal philosophies notwithstanding

A lot of this has to do with the disturbing new business model colleges and universities are adopting: Students are really “customers” now — and, business school teachers tell us, the customer’s always right.

Even if they’re uptight little shits.

Me? I’ve got both of Bechdel’s family memoirs in my core library (Are You My Mother? is the sequel to Fun Home). They’re brilliant. As a visual artist, Bechdel is superb. She’s an even better storyteller. To borrow a phrase from Dr. Seuss, Oh, the places you’ll go! when you leaf through A.B.’s pages. And isn’t that the point of going to college?

Duke officials are wringing their hands trying to figure out how to solve this “controversy.” I’ve got a simple solution for them: Flunk the little bastards.


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