A response from Dustin Palmer

Dustin Palmer

Let’s set aside whether Bristol Palin is being paid by our tuition or activities fees; I promise the distinction isn’t as important as you think.

Let’s set aside the obvious critiques of the SU Treasury. That a body in charge of allocating almost $2.5 million, yet is continually beset by vacant seats, will elicit and usually warrant strident critiques of its efficacy and judgment seems axiomatic. (My favorite SU experience occurred while debating whether to fund a Paul Krugman speech. One precocious and yet perplexed Treasurer, in her “nay” vote, asked, “What could he talk about?”)

Let’s even set aside the cost of her appearance; I can assure you that her speaking fee rests well within the relative bounds of fees commanded by comparably popular speakers on the circuit. Do you know why we always fail at getting Jon Stewart to visit campus? His fee is over $200,000—double the entire Assembly Series amount in the 2009 SU general budget. (Yes, SHAC used the “appeals process.” The total amount in this fund, which incorporated the previous Assembly Series budget and is not confined to campus speakers, is $300,000.) The point is that speakers are expensive.

Let’s instead talk, for a moment, about popularity and qualifications, about judgment and value. According to a treasurer in the original article, Palin will “fill Graham Chapel” which is “value in itself.” I bet I could fill Graham Chapel with thousands of balloons—they’d have more substance (and at a lower price) than I expect the 25-minute soliloquy leading the panel discussion will. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A whole host of analogies to the “popularity” justification come to mind. Think of the thousands of chagrined faces that followed Keith Olberman’s last show. People watch Fox News, people even read People. Our distinguished guest almost won “Dancing With The Stars,” despite making my two left feet look like Janelle Monae’s tightropin’. But I’m okay with her near victory on a reality television show—we all know that its metrics only peripherally concern “dancing” (and for that matter, “reality”).

Still, the central insight in our judgment of (and indulging in) these types of events is that popularity is not a proxy for value.

I’m not claiming that People or Fox or Olberman are somehow vulgar or lesser or lowbrow. They fill niches; they satisfy desires; they give us what we want. I don’t think, however, that anyone would uphold them as singular paradigms of serious, constructive socio-cultural exchange on vital issues. They traffic in hyperbole and sensationalism and turn public forums into duplicitous and simplistic arenas of gamesmanship. Still, watch them if you’d like. I don’t deny that they satisfy and I promise that deep down, I’m not judging you.

Enter Palin, who just months ago proffered nuggets of her crucial voice with statements like “You’re running your mouth to talk shit” on Facebook, that venerable platform of public discourse.

Mr. Elman, SHAC President, plaintively entreats, “We really just want to start a dialogue.” I suppose bringing somebody who did not go to college and did not practice abstinence to talk about abstinence in a college setting will achieve that.

But is it too much to ask for a bit more? To hear from a single mother with some sort of formal training in sex education? Or, perhaps one with a more compelling, applicable and triumphant story than being the daughter of a virulently pro-abstinence Mama Grizzly? To confidently anticipate a civil, intelligent and constructive exchange of ideas and perspectives in order to initiate introspection and progress?

I suspect that Mr. Elman and the SU Treasury would say that nobody would attend that talk.

I thought about staging a protest, framing this event as a parable for the crumbling pillars of our culture, and thus society. Medical school monkeys and “see no, hear no, speak no evil” type stuff. They said the duct tape would be against IRB policy.

Instead, I’m going to pop some popcorn and hunker down in a pew for some entertainment that night. I promise to attend a sexual health class that week though, as penitence for my mindless gratification. Will you join me?

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