If you really wanted to torture me effectively, here’s what you’d do: strap me to a chair and read me my student magazine pieces. I sprayed my arrogance and five buck words for about 3 years for Grok magazine, proud rag of my alma mater Curtin University.
Man, they were awful. I crowbarred every half-digested cultural theory in there. I had a terrible grasp of so many theories—Foucault, Barthes, Stuart Hall, etc.—and I was just itching to demonstrate my superiority.
Ugh. It’s hard to think about. All of it. That I took that bloody theory so seriously, solemnly reiterating it in poorly researched polemics. Or the sickly glow of conspiracy theories that hung around so many of them. Or how about the pseudonyms I used when I had to write half of the magazine? I used “Sebastian Melmoth”—the name Oscar Wilde adopted during his Parisian exile—and so many others I’d really rather not name. The fact that I wrote polemics and reviews more than journalism and substantive features is testament to how far my head was up my arse.
But: I was writing. There was a fierce urgency to do so. I loved working in that office, crudely applying my trade and eventually becoming deputy-editor.
Yesterday a story that ran on p. 27 of student rag Farrago went meteoric. Like a meteor, the heat will quickly fade and be forgotten, but its prominence—and the reaction it’s inspired—has surprised me. Like most things, our responses have told folks far more about ourselves than the thing that piqued us.
I won’t rehash the article—click on the link above if you haven’t read it—other than to say a journalism student interned at the Herald Sun had an unlovely time and passionately recorded her findings in her uni’s ‘paper. But y’all know this.
The article annoyed me, but I quickly realised why: I had written in a similar vein when I was an under-grad journalism student. While declaring the moral bankruptcy of the newspaper, the article did a shabby job of upholding any rigour or grace—it was anonymous, there was no right of reply, the arguments of institutionalised bullying and bigotry were thin and decontextualized and everywhere you could feel the warm breath of a student having her mind blown by French theorists. She was upset because some guy let her out of the elevator first? Jesus.
A lot of the responses have bugged me too, both supportive and critical. For starters, so many were willing to take her examples of prehistoric vulgarity that I say to you: lighten up. So bent are you on detecting bigotry and outrage that you risk approaching something as loose and idiosyncratic as office relations with a sterility and portentousness.
And don’t get crazy: I’m not defending bigotry or bastardry or bullying—I’m the first to stand up to pricks and I have the scars to prove it—but I have a problem with people assuming it exists when it might not. I have a problem with myopic righteousness. If you think that it’s very easy to parse out the institutionalised bigotry claimed by the writer from excusable, harmless back-and-forth of an office then you’re more insightful than me. Maybe it exists, but this article ain’t your smoking gun.
But look, here’s my big point: so fucking what? Our young scribe has copped a lot of abuse, and I’m puzzled about why. The description “glass jaw” springs to mind. Why has a Farrago piece put so many senior noses out of joint? Our wannabe journo does not have a monopoly on preciousness here. And, as I think back on my student mag days, I’d be a hypocrite to criticise her.
Thing is: this isn’t a story. Well, more accurately, it shouldn’t have been one. None of it. And the venomous response of Vex News—and others—is darkly risible. Let’s back off and take a breather, eh? This is a student we’re talking about.
One last point: Environment editor at the SMH, Ben Cubby, yesterday tweeted that he thought the young lady’s article demonstrated some of the qualities he liked to see in aspiring journos—doggedness and chutzpah, to paraphrase. I’d have to agree.
And it was Ben’s point that got me thinking about my days at Grok, and all the unnecessarily big words, and the broken deadlines and the bull sessions at the tavern, and I thought that at least you write through that. Your chutzpah and your doggedness and your arrogance makes for some ugly company and inelegant writing, but you get older and you mature and these qualities have time to become quieter but stronger.
So, while I don’t think we’d agree on much, I say to our intern: don’t listen to the bastards and don’t give up.