Standards and Censorship

The recent discussion in the blog-o-sphere about Roland Boer’s controversial SBL paper title (see Deane Galbraith’s recent Bulletin post for the details) raises important questions about what sort of professional standards scholars should strive towards. Standards are both necessary and stifling: how can we draw lines (e.g., between scholarship and stand-up comedy or propaganda) without needlessly advancing centrism or arbitrary social codes?

The specific reason I ask myself this question requires me to tell the following story. When I read Roland’s post I laughed out loud and thought to myself: “Oh man, what a mess! I can’t believe the SBL is trying to push him around!” However, not 24 hours later Deane sent me an email notifying me that he had written up a post for the Bulletin about the topic (I have to approve posts and schedule them for release). In the post’s title Deane used a rather provocative (and crude!) euphemism for a penis. At that point I cringed and thought to myself: “Deane, you’re killing me! Why are you putting me in a situation where I have to be responsible for posting this?!”

Since I was busy, I put off responding until I could draft a carefully worded email suggesting he might change it. But later that day (or early the next), I got another email from Deane prompting me to check out his post. So I went back and pulled it up again, noticing that the colorful euphemism had been removed. Without me saying a word, Deane had censored himself, apparently in anticipation of my response. [Deane has since explained that he did not censor himself, but that upon rereading the piece he decided the subtler approach worked better.]

So would I have been right or wrong to refuse it? Sometimes genitalia-related jokes are patriarchal or sexist, but this one wasn’t—so I couldn’t have refused it on those grounds. To what standard would I have appealed other than my own discomfort, especially when my discomfort reflects my social class of origin more than it reflects any standards of scholarship? Should we have a policy of “anything goes”?

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3 Responses to Standards and Censorship

  1. erik davis says:

    An excellent discussion; the criteria for rejection do seem to be limited to vaguely-defined mores and customs, rather than clear standards. As you point out, the usage was hardly patriarchal (in fact, apparently quite the opposite, at least in referential intent). I have friends and deeply respected colleagues in the SBL, but this is the sort of thing that makes some AAR folks want to increase their distance.

  2. This is all too much — especially when the sausage was already out of the barn, i.e., the program book has been printed.

  3. John Thomas says:

    Ah, yes, the vague feeling that some content is inexplicably out of kilter with one’s academic habitus accompanied by the failure to offer any precise explanation for the phenomenon. I know the feeling all too well.

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