I have been in The Slant my entire Vanderbilt career, and it will be weird to leave it. On March 25, 2016, I became the Editor-in-Chief of The Slant. On March 22, 2017, I’ll be elected out of office and probably be replaced by someone who is more stylish and witty than me – so it goes. I’d like to go out the way any good leader leaves: with a slightly soap-boxy letter to the audience who has (hopefully? maybe? sort of?) been reading mine and my reporters’ words this whole time.
I’ve gotten to be Editor-in-Chief during the wildest election year I could have ever imagined (no, not the VSG election, the other one). How do you satirize politicians who become caricatures of themselves and their parties, especially if they are on both sides of the aisle? This was a question I found challenging to answer at times, and instead I looked to how my peers responded. What I found in my peers’ and others’ responses were two components: free speech and reactionary speech.
Both of these phenomena are known to satire writers: freedom of speech is a right that allows publications like The Slant to exist, and many of our pieces over the last year were reactions to current events and politics. I will not pretend to be an expert on freedom of speech. I’ll leave that to people who study constitutional law. I will, however, stake a claim as one who benefits from it greatly for many reasons, the least of which being as leader of a satire publication. I am thankful that it’s a right protected by our constitution. I am thankful for its place in academic institutions. I also believe that freedom of speech entails responsibility for that speech, regardless of where our political beliefs fall. We can say what we want, and others can call us out for it. It’s like that quote from Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.” We’re like superheroes, but with words: doesn’t mean we get to just put crazy strong spider webs all over the place and not offer to clean them up or think about where we put them.
Reactionary speech is an even wilder thing, and I would call it a mark of the American psyche. It comes from good intentions and passionate politics, and neither of those are bad in and of themselves. I have only one thing to say: fact-check. See a number that looks like something your five-year-old cousin made up on the spot? Find the data that provided it. Check a few sources, and if you can, take advantage of the fact that many government agencies post annual reports online. Most online news today is like Wikipedia: helpful in a pinch but maybe not in forming an in-depth, life changing opinion.
Becoming like Spiderman and reading a lot of boring newspapers may not be wise words of advice to you. They may not even be that particularly insightful. That is perfectly fine. I hope only to be another voice, just like yours, promoting conscious and consistent dialogue in a world that is far more stupid and wonderful than anyone could have imagined.
And, if you want to be a part of the greatest organization ever, join The Slant.