An Open Letter to The Cavalier Daily
Dear Cav Daily,
The University of Virginia is an academic institution, and one in love with Tradition at that. In 1973, four Cavalier Daily writers said “fuck this” and founded a publication with a mission rooted in another kind of tradition: publish witty, biting social commentary that says no to the status quo. Publish satire.
Satire is a radical comedic tradition wherein the abuses of the overculture are deconstructed and critiqued. This comprehensive deconstruction is what makes stuff like The Colbert Show (sweet angel, rest in peace) and The Onion work where other attempts at satire fall flat—they make clear the issues that plague society-at-large.
This means that good satire at UVa should speak to the not-so-hidden truths that undercut student life: Greek culture’s gaping wound at UVa’s nucleus; the entitlement complex shared by a majority-white student body; the fetishistic hero-worship of Our Mr. Jefferson; the awkward, elephantine disparity between rich students and poor students; the racism, pervasive and terrifying, woven tightly into this school’s very fabric.
It seems so simple, really, a slice of Culture 101 you’d expect UVa students to have studied long before they entered the university: the “bad guys” look stupid because they are; readers and viewers laugh, duh, but they also question why those “bad guys” are in power in the first place!
As the student publication with the “richest history” and the most influence on grounds, the Cav Daily shouldn’t need this lesson, but when its annual “satirical issue” frames damaging racial stereotypes as funny and trivializes blatantly the marginalized groups satire is supposed to work for, not against, it makes two things clear: 1) UVa works for the overculture, “The Man,” the lived-in, overarching structure that tells you it’s okay to reframe acts of erasure and violence as comedy and call it a day, and 2) UVa is home to a cadre of students who are dumb as hell and didn’t do their homework for Intro to Comedy and Society: or, How to Be a Decent Human Being.
The Cavalier Daily and the Declaration should be sisters in arms, intelligent and fully aware that by attending a university like this we’re effectively doing our part to contribute to the success of a big corporation rooted in oppressive tradition and practice. As student writers with integrity, we should use our power (remember that one thing that dead white guy said about the pen being mightier than the sword?), to deconstruct systems of abuse from the inside-out, and we shouldn’t issue squeaky apologies that dance around the subject (“but that wasn’t our intention!”) when we fumble, because we do and will.
This isn’t, however, about inter-publication rivalry, nor is it about the virtues of so-called satire versus hard-core reporting. This is about Martese Johnson, publically brutalized in front of the corner’s most popular watering hole; this is about the hundreds of black students who suffer marginalization and erasure at the knotted, ancient hands of Mr. Jefferson’s School; this is about the Native American Student Union, which hosted a rich and vibrant powwow on grounds last week that the Cavalier Daily simply opted not to cover. Must we go on? Must we?
We go to a school wherein Greek houses hang confederate flags at their windows. Law-enforcement agents commandeer black bodies on the corner. A statue of a bigot and slave-owner stands at the school’s apex. A statue of Robert E. Lee glowers triumphantly at the center of Charlottesville’s downtown mall. A noose was found hanging on Duke university’s campus, one estimable as ours. The University of Virginia’s largest newspaper publishes articles that satirize, stereotype, and minimalize marginalized human bodies. It’s not fucking funny.