From Padre: I’m a Boston College grad and my alma is obviously the rival of Notre Dame. But one of my closest friends is named Shane who graduated ND just before I graduated BC in 2000. Below is his witty reply to an initial reply regarding his concern about the upcoming Drag Queen show at ND. Shane allows for much more leeway on academic freedom than I would, but his reply also has the bite of a Neil McCaffrey Sr. from the 1980s:
[Dear ND Lady,]
Actually, that’s funny because when Billy Joel was banned from performing [at Notre Dame], I believe he was later brought in to perform in a “seminar” Ah ha! It became educational! Many souls were saved! We laughed at the sophistry of it. But we mostly laughed because 8000 bodies full of hormones were not going to be saved or lost due to Billy Joel.
I often wonder about the difficulty of your position. Do you get alerts from ND about hot topics that grumpy donors are going to hit you with? (heads up: “We are going to have President Obama again. release standard answer about the importance of dialogue!”)
It can’t be easy. I believe that the trans performance last year was actually a talk? I might be wrong. And I am 100% for ND having atheist, pro-choice, socialist etc. speakers! Because we must encounter the truths and debates of the world. If we believe that we hold a truth, that truth should be able to be mocked and ridiculed. The sacred, if it is sacred at all, can stand to be mocked.
However, I do think even the most slow-witted Freshman in Alumni Hall would see through the canard of not policing of “Academic Freedom.” The reductio ad absurdum of pornography in class rooms etc. is… pretty easy. When the Land-O-Lakes deal was happening, I’m fairly certain (though no one knows with Father Ted) that Father Hesburgh had Copernicus, Kepler, and the boys in mind for academic freedom. Surely we all recognize that Copernicus, the Index, Damien Hirst, and Drag shows are all ontologically different and deserving of different scrutiny. Whether the line is drawn at drag, Billy Joel, or performing abortions in class (“We won’t police academic freedom, so lets do it!”) surely there is some line, somewhere, that one may not cross. Perhaps there is a flow chart somewhere with the importance of the subject on an X-Axis and the moral bounds it threatens on an Y-Axis. “It scored high enough, lets allow it”
At any rate, the class sounds interesting. If I were Notre Dame [admin], I would have taken more of an anthropological position for the allowance. I would have argued that drag shows (like jazz in its early years) have critical subcultures, patterns, expressions etc. that are worth studying. I would argue that it is not unlike having a Zuni pueblo dance (with their non-Christian gods!) on-campus. But still, there are things we ought not to tinker with. We cannot encounter art without being immersed in its philosophy and cultures. And the culture of these shows is, in my humble opinion, not for the faint of heart. I know of some great streets in Chicago where students can learn and experience the real drag shows, but I’m sure your professors do as well. But there is great baggage there.
But you didn’t make the decision. You heard my concern. I hope you passed it up. That’s all I could ask.
I appreciate it,
PS: When I was in sculpture class, maybe my Sophomore year, some Riley professors were trying to get an artist who defecated onstage (that was the whole act) to come. I’m not sure where it went. I think it didn’t score highly enough on the above mentioned x-axis. They were doing so in the name of academic and artistic freedom. This isn’t a new debate, of course, but I do wish that if students are given this experience, they would do so at a real show, to learn its reality, and away from the grounds that I love. Perhaps they are. If they do, they will need some protection. Here there be dragons.