26 April 2007

Playboy, Darfur, and the School Paper

UGA's student newspaper, the Red and Black, is the butt of many student jokes. Independent of the University since 1980, the paper deals primarily with the superficial "needs" of students - dating, fashion, music, movies, and sports. The opinion page is devoted mostly to the mockery of the student government and university administration. Every so often, a student on one of the far sides of the political spectrum will send in a letter concerning national politics - every so often.

A few weeks ago, I was more than a little shocked to see the front page headline "Reporter Bares All for Playboy". I'll say this again, just so it can set in - FRONT PAGE. This special interest piece was deemed so important that it took the main page of the paper. In other news that day, the Speaker of the House was in Syria, the Israeli Prime Minister rejected the Speaker of the House's peace plan for Israel/Palestine, and the Iranian President announced the release of fifteen British sailors and marines. But Playboy made the front page. The reason why is obvious - on a college campus with a student body that's 40% male, you're guaranteed at least 39% readership running an article like that. The article concluded with the author stating that every girl deserves to feel beautiful and posing for Playboy helped her with that (on a related note, how pitiful a job the men - I mean boys - of my generation are doing!)

Three days later, in a short article on the back page, the paper reported on the local Amnesty International chapter's attempts at raising awareness of the Sudanese genocide. This article was about the same size as the picture that accompanied the Playboy piece. The article included quotes from eight students, asking if they thought students could bring an end to the bloodshed. Most confessed to not knowing much about the crisis, while others said that students are unable to make a difference.

I can't help but wonder what's wrong with my generation. Why are we so apathetic about anything and everything off campus? There are a few notable exceptions - the Roosevelt Institution, Liberty in North Korea, Students Helping Orphans Worldwide, and UGA for Fair trade - but they are far and few between and attract little attention (though the local Habitat for Humanity group built a cardboard city in the courtyard by our student center to raise awareness for poverty in Clarke County - try ignoring that!). But outside of these wonderful groups (I have a suspicion that most active members in one are members in most), my campus is dominated by Greek life, a beast of a football program, and parties. This is the general trend in our culture - MTV, BET, VH1, UGA . The superficial and unimportant before the urgent. I'll never understand it.