Red, White, and Gray: Why The Commentator is Fundamentally Boring
Anything worth hating is also worth loving. Alessia Cara subtly proposes this principle in her hit song “Here” when she describes a female partygoer “talking ‘bout her haters” but quickly rejoins—“she ain’t got none.” Snide indeed, but Cara’s censure of her fellow fridge-congregant implies more than mere malice. Even as she broodingly denounces the scrofulous tactic of lying in the interest of self-aggrandizement, her harsh criticism suggests familiarity with a paradoxical truth about human nature: that people enjoy being hated.
Popularity, agreeability, charm—these are, of course, widely considered to be desirable characteristics. But when a girl boasts about her haters at a party, this maneuver is easily recognizable by the socially astute as an indirect boast. To be hated, she must be significant enough to appear on people’s emotional radar. Notoriety is a special luxury, reserved for a fortunate few.
Nobody hates a dishrag. We all know people who are staunchly noncommittal, who see infinite nuance in everything to the point that they reflexively advocate for blind moderation to mask their crippling indecision. Conciliatory to a fault, they manage to avoid all conflict by never asserting anything, preferring to lay out the options without ever actually choosing one.
Not so with celebrities and heroes, with intellectual luminaries and timeless men. The people we venerate and adore, whose specters lurk eternally in humanity’s collective memory, always project clear and unmistakable visions of perfection, whether ideological, artistic, athletic, religious, or otherwise. They are people of assertion, people of belief. We can only truly love that which we can dislike.
A similar phenomenon can be observed of colors. White, considered by many a bland and uninspiring color, is seldom loved but seldom hated. Nobody wrinkles their nose at a white-painted ceiling, but neither does anyone lay supine on the floor and gaze up at it in awe. When the YU library was refurbished last year, many marveled at its multicolored carpets and couches, but nobody waxed poetic about its white pillars. Red, on the other hand, the color of strawberries and roses and Elmo and blood, is downright polarizing: it represents sin in the bible and is typically featured in illustrations of demons and devils, but also symbolizes love and vitality, and, among all colors, features most prominently on national flags.
As the vehicles of sometimes-incendiary ideas, media outlets are often the subjects of passionate reactions from across the spectrum of emotions visible to the human heart. This election cycle has highlighted the ideological tilt of many media outlets, causing an upsurge in both their popularity and notoriety. CNN’s online readership has spiked due to the election, but the right-wing press has repeatedly condemned their biased coverage. With its endorsement of Trump, Breitbart branded itself the liberal media’s public enemy number one, but its popularity has skyrocketed alongside its infamy.
Humorously, each political camp sees its media outlets as objective and untainted by ideology; nobody seems willing or aware enough to acknowledge media bias as absolutely pervasive and, as long as there are enough shades of it, probably desirable to most readers. Accusing a news source of bias is often just a thinly veiled disagreement with its ideology, a preference for the equally pronounced bias of the opposing camp. In reality, it is possible to not compromise on one's principles but to simultaneously recognize the primacy of dogma, and to realize that a vilified news source probably has something ideologically foundational, even if incorrect, to say. To be so hated, it must be consistently disseminating something significant, something probably worth reading.
Of course, pursuing controversy for controversy’s sake is no virtue. But the strategy of appeasing everyone by having no substantive beliefs is foolish. Ideas are inherently controversial; most things worth thinking about are worth disagreeing with, and if you have said nothing that can be argued with then you probably have said nothing at all. So instead of hurling accusations of bias back and forth, we are probably better off locating the crux of the issue and then consulting our basic beliefs in order to make an informed decision rather than endlessly debating who took whose statement out of context.
This issue weighs heavily on my mind at the moment because of the way I was treated as a writer for The Commentator some years ago by certain editors intolerant of disagreement with their progressive perspective. Not content with publishing their opinions in their own names and recruiting similar-minded writers, they actively worked to exclude opinions held by students whose beliefs they had no respect for. I personally wrote two articles which they repeatedly rebuffed because they disagreed with my message; they only eventually capitulated because I wouldn’t back down. But I realize now that what appeared to me then as ideology ingrained in our university’s newspaper was as short lived as the tenure of the editors who enforced it. The paper is defined entirely by the students who get involved.
Because at its core, The Commentator is as boring as a white ceiling. It has no set ideology other than the content that its editors solicit and its writers submit, no defining spirit other than the fire that we breathe into it. It is a blank white sheet for us to write on and its editors are mere stewards of a fundamentally unmarked space.
You cannot hate or love The Commentator because of what it publishes. Sure, you can hate or love its writers or editors (or, perhaps more appropriately, the ideas that they advocate), but you cannot dislike the forum – you are as capable as anyone of joining our staff and contributing to the conversation, and our content is shaped equally by those who write for us as by those who don’t. We publish what the students are willing to write (given basic standards of writing, journalism, and decency), no more and no less.
So I treat the variety of attitudes towards our official student newspaper with limited tolerance. Many people anticipate, read, and enjoy The Commentator. That’s wonderful. Many people simply don’t care about our staff writers’ opinions and cultural commentary and have little interest in keeping abreast of events happening on campus. That’s understandable. But there’s one attitude towards the paper for which I have no patience, only contempt. Don’t ever complain to me that your perspective is not represented on our pages. Because the pages themselves are a drab gray, the color of cinderblocks and smog, the most dreary of hues. And if the ink that decorates them doesn’t form sentences that represent your viewpoint, then the onus is on you to pick up your pen and write.
On these pages, there are no hidden agendas. I personally hold some strong opinions, and I will publish them freely. And if you disagree with me, I invite you to fire back and show no mercy. All you need is love, but I wouldn’t mind a hater or two.