November 5, 2006

Posing with the suicide bomber.

People keep sending me this picture of University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann standing next to a student dressed as a suicide bomber at a Halloween party. (She's dressed as Glinda, the Good Witch.) As you know, I hold people to account for the way they pose at festive events. But I am not going to slam Gutmann for this. Her mistake, only really visible in retrospect, was giving a costume party for students. The lesson of this incident is utterly clear: University administrators must never, never, never have a costume party ever again.

Once students are there and in costume, how could she single out one student to snub? If she had had time to think about it -- and now she says she didn't -- she might have considered that the young man would turn out to be a naive foreign student who meant well and was trying to get in the spirit of America's Halloween. Aren't you supposed to dress as someone evil?

By the way, it is exactly this sort of tolerance and unwillingness to offend a foreigner that Sasha Baron Cohen exploits in the big new hit comedy movie "Borat," which is apparently the funniest movie ever made or the greatest comedy of all time or something.

Bonus discussion question: How will "Borat" affect the election?

ADDED: Eugene Volokh defends Gutmann. (Evil characters for Halloween are the norm!) Glenn Reynolds responds. (Bet she wouldn't have posed with someone dressed as a Klansman!) Eugene responds to Glenn. Glenn "remain[s] skeptical." This interchange, which I read after I posted my observations, brings up the question whether university administrators are politically slanted in their tolerance. More important, I think if a student had arrived dressed as a Klansman, many guests at the party would have reacted vociferously. That student would never have reached the point where he could pose with the president. So what is notable in the Gutmann incident is not so much that she posed with the student, but that other party-goers accepted him into the group without protest. That says something about the political climate at the university.

41 comments:

George said...

"University administrators must never, never, never have a costume party ever again."

Similarly, we must never, never, never allow pools to have diving boards or allow children to play tag or dodge-ball at recess.

"How could she single out one student to snub?"

Easily.

She could have said, "I'm sorry, young man, but I don't like your costume. I find it offensive for X reasons, and I'm not going to pose with you. Excuse me. Next, please!"

Why is that so difficult?

Ann Althouse said...

And she would have been pilloried for doing that.

CB said...

...the question whether university administrators are politically slanted in their tolerance.

Is there really any question about that?

Gahrie said...

Ann:

Some things are worth being pilloried for....

John Borell, Jr. said...

Oh, Borat is one of the funniest movies of all time. I don't make those kind of statements lightly. I laughed longer, harder and more often than I did at any movie I've seen.

I don't know if it would hold up to multiple viewings, but Friday night I was in tears.

Edward said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Edward said...

It was a costume party, for goodness sake. It was a time for lighthearted entertainment and merrymaking.

Priggish PC attitudes, whether on the right or the left, are inappropriate at a time like that.

I do think, however, that other students at the party should have casually snubbed the fake suicide bomber, just like they would have certainly snubbed someone dressed as a Klansman.

University PC does tend to be of the lefty variety, but I think the pendulum is gradually swinging back a bit on that issue.

What I want to know is why the university president took the safe route and dressed as a good witch. She should have taken more risk and dressed as a bad witch.

Even by the way she dressed, Amy Gutmann was not truly in the spirit of the evening she herself was hosting.

George said...

What you appear to advocate, Professor, (unless, as I suspect, you are having a jolly time throwing bombs on a bright Sunday morning) is surrendering the public square to its most extreme anarchistic and terroristic elements.

No one can have a party because one person in authority shirks her responsibility in responding to one person who has acted badly? Madness.

As for 'Borat,' both New York and The New Yorker magazines make clear how vile the film is.

To be clear, I've not seen it and won't after having read in the NY Times Friday that it contains scenes of masturbation in front of a Victoria's Secret and defecation at a Trump building, not to mention drinking from a toilet, and a mock kidnapping.

The film is "depressing," says New York magazine's David Edelstein. "[I felt] I was watching bearbating or pigsticking....[Cohen's comedy] bleeds into horror."

'Borat' has for its supporting cast "victims," according to The New Yorker. "It is as if [Cohen] were outraged by the business of our being human. " Cohen is amazed that our civilization "seems to believe, against the run of history, in legislating our lower more brutish instincts out of existence."

The terrorists are well-educated. They are financed by shadowy international groups. Their bombs keep the populace fearful and arguing among itself. Worse, some members of the populace either knowingly or unwittingly support the terrorists with financial donations. They admire the terrorists' confrontational stance and courage without realizing that the terrorists want to replace our civil society of citizens with a seething mob of victims.

The joke is on us.

The terrorists are Sasha Cohen, Roseanne Barr, and their ilk.

Dave said...

What glue has George been sniffing?

Bissage said...

Jewish university presidents whose fathers fled Nazi Germany with their families in 1934 must pose for photos with costume terrorists or else the terrorists will have won.

Um, . . ., something like that.

downtownlad said...

I think a Klansman would make a great costume.

Same with dressing up as Adolph Hitler or Osama Bin Laden.

Geez - people need to get a sense of humour.

Bissage said...

By the way, I guess some see no problem because the Penn student is named Saad Saadi and appears to be of Middle Eastern descent. He has comedic license.

How about me? I’m of mostly German descent and I look it. My wife is Jewish of Eastern European descent and she looks it. She has a sister who could easily pass for her twin.

How about I dress up as Joseph Mengele and they can both tag along dressed as my bloody, vivisected victims?

That would make quite a photo op for Dr. Gutmann and the University of Pennsylvania she represents.

No?

Ann Althouse said...

Look, faculty are conditioned to be polite and tolerant to students. You don't make a snap judgment to confront a student or to discriminate against a student. Everyone but you can have a picture with me. It takes a lot to push a faculty member into that position.

Joan said...

I saw Borat last night and parts of it were hysterically funny. Other scenes, particularly a short series with some drunk fraternity boys, were disturbing. The scenes at the Pentecostal revival bothered me the most, since the effect was to mock not just the methods of preaching but the participants' faith itself.

If a teenage trick-or-treater (we get plenty, believe me) came to my door in that costume, I'd send him packing. The rules of Halloween costumes, while unwritten, are quite clear: you don't dress up as a real murderer or other horrific figure, even a generic version thereof: so, no Klansmen, no Nazis, and no terrorists. It's OK to be a movie monster because they're fictional.

I'm not as aghast at the administrator as I am at the students who posed as victims. What the hell is wrong with them?

Fenrisulven said...

A Dem lawyer did the same thing and was stopped by police. At least they checked to be sure his accessories were part of the costume :) Took balls on his part, because it was along the open road - lucky a passing motorist didn't take matters into his own hands.

I wonder how the University admin would have responded to a Prophet with Bomb as Turban costume [per the cartoon].

The Drill SGT said...

Fen beat me to it.

I suspect that somebody coming as a Danish cartoon would be shunned.

Ann Althouse said...
You don't make a snap judgment to confront a student or to discriminate against a student.


Except if you are a Duke LAX player or a white male applicant or a freshman in PC correctness orientation or a Veteran or an ROTC student.

Edward said...

I am firmly of the conviction that if Ann ever became president of a university, she would have the good sense to dress as a bad witch, rather than as some sappy good witch.

Anyone here agree with me?

Fenrisulven said...

If you don't have the courage to wear what you want -

Courage? Everyone has gobs of it, until its Islam's turn to be mocked, then all the avant-garde types are cowering under a desk. To think of all the time I spent peacefully protesting the MSM when all I really need was a few molotov cocktails...

Internet Ronin said...

I basically agree with Eugene Volokh, and have a hard time getting exercised over what anyone wears to a Halloween Party. Dress as a Klansman, a Nazi, Roseanne Barr, or Madonna. I don't really care.

Ann's point about Gutman's dilemmna is well-taken. Gutman's subsequent statement was pretty straight-forward, I thought, as was the statement the student's Israeli roommate felt compelled to post after this gained notoriety.

Much of this minor tempest strikes me as bearing a passing resemblance to the continuing "problem" of "political correctness for thee but not for me."

Internet Ronin said...

Oops. Gutmann, not Gutman.

Ann Althouse said...

Anyone who thinks I argued for cancelling Halloween generally is not a very good reader. Or is deliberately distorting... Shape up.

peter hoh said...

What is a pirate but a terrorist of a bygone era?

And what was Billy the Kid if not a mass murderer? Time heals all wounds, and reduces all (or most) evil characters into cartoons. There was, in the not so recent past, a line of children's clothes that bore the name of Billy the Kid.

Ann Althouse said...

"I am firmly of the conviction that if Ann ever became president of a university, she would have the good sense to dress as a bad witch, rather than as some sappy good witch."

People who are interested in their own self-expression sacrifice a lot taking a position like that. Taking the job represents a commitment to behave in a certain benevolent way toward students. That's not PC or cowardly. It's a sense of duty.

AllenS said...

If someone went dressed like a Klansman, and that person was black, maybe that would be funny. Or, maybe they would just get an underlaugh.

Edward said...

Oh, come on, Ann. I’m disappointed in your last post.

Are you actually saying that a sense of humor is so off-limits to university presidents that they can’t even allow themselves to dress as a generic wicked witch on Halloween night?

I feel sorry for university presidents, and even more so for American universities, if that’s the case.

Since you use the somewhat antiquated term “benevolence” and praise what it is supposed to represent as a cardinal virtue of all university presidents, then I have a suggestion for you.

Amy Gutmann should wear her Glenda the Good Witch costume every single day of the year, so that the students at her Ivy League institution will have absolutely no doubt whatsoever about her “benevolence” toward them.

She could also carry around a little wand to tap them on the head when she feels especially overcome with feelings of benevolence.

What do you think of that?

dick said...

And yet these are the same people who went ballistic when Prince Harry went to a costume party dressed as a Nazi. And think it is fine to portray a candidate for senator in black face.

Regardless, it is entirely possible for the president of the university to mention to the guy in the terrorist costume that while she admired his costume it would not be appropriate for her to be photographed with him and for him to enjoy himself. That way she would be covered and he would be mollified.

NSC said...

I don't know the lady, but anyone want to bet on the chances that she would have posed with a student who showed up in an USMC uniform and toy gun? My bet is no she would not, and not only that the student would have been called a war-monger and kicked out of the party.

Edward said...

I don’t understand how Ann Althouse cannot see that her absolutism on the issue of costume parties is a total capitulation to the most extreme form of political correctness.

I thought Ann was moderate to conservative on these types of issues.

I also thought she was opposed to political correctness, especially in its most extreme forms.

Why has she lost her spine when the question involves a university president?

Fenrisulven said...

Huh?

Joe Baby said...

The problem is not that university presidents are inept in dealing with loutish behavior at costume parties...

...but that they fail to show true leadership when students take over public events or act like drunken barbarians.

There's a general impression that prez's have turned into CEO's who are unwilling to offend any customer/potential customer, but this offense seems to be pretty low on the scale.

Richardson said...

I wasn't that offended by the picture of that jerk with President Gutmann, although we all know there are other costumes that would not have been tolerated at that party. Far more disturbing was the fact that other students were willing to pose as fake hostages, on their knees, waiting to be fake executed. And yes, I know the jerk had a plastic gun and wasn't really going to execute them. But I could only think of the women executed with real AKs in the Afghan soccer stadiums, and the thousands of police, lawyers, judges, etc. executed, for real, in Iraq. The jerk was free to wear whatever he wanted, but what sort of spineless weasel goes along with such a vicious joke?

Zeb Quinn said...

To me it's all somehow reminiscent of the late 1960's when it was all the rage amongst the New York elite cocktail set to include Black Panthers, in full Panther regalia. Radical Chic is what Tom Wolfe called it.

David said...

The problem isn't that people dress like suicide bombers or klansmen or Nazis; the problem is that they think like them. Prohibiting the costume -- driving all the symptoms underground, like campus speech codes do -- just makes the problem worse.

Cedarford said...

Bissage - Jewish university presidents whose fathers fled Nazi Germany with their families in 1934 must pose for photos with costume terrorists or else the terrorists will have won.

Um, . . ., something like that.


Now THAT was as funny as Borat!

Guttman said she didn't realize the student was dressed as a suicide bomber in the intitial photo and refused his other photo requests. I take her at her word. She doesn't exactly get a detained list of who would be wearing what and milling about at a large costume party. Kudos though to Guttman for choosing an adorable, cute outfit for herself.

As to the Muslim student, Saad Saadi, WTF were you thinking!!! Would German exchange students in Nazi gear been PC? It would have served the Muslim right if some zealous cop had flipped the panic switch on seeing him on campus moving to a crowded building. The best he could then hope for would be peeing in his pants on his knees as a dozen cops with sidearms and shotguns pointed at him barked commands and said one false move and he would be wasted. The worst would be if he did make a false move. Cops are already "spooked" on Halloween. Bad things happen, as this year illustrated by the mass shooting at a Halloween party in San Francisco. Robberies, masked gunman, the prediciction lately in cities like Detroit to burn a few buildings and cars to celebrate.

Jimmy said...

The Ivy League students I deal with tend to have a triple/quadruple sense of sarcasm. Often they yell out racist/sexist things and its hard to figure out if they're mocking the racists/sexists or mocking the politically corect crowd.

For all we know this student was mocking suicide bombers.

I bet it would have been a hoot watching him drinking, flirting and dancing while he had those fake explosives on him. It serves as a foil to the real uptight anal suicide bombers.

"As to the Muslim student, Saad Saadi, WTF were you thinking!!! Would German exchange students in Nazi gear been PC?"

Is the student Muslim? Is he a foreigner? How do you know he isn't a secular student born and raised in Long Island? I went to a SUNY school and all my Muslim friends were secular surburban kids.

Jennifer said...

I suppose its the immediacy that is so offputting...? If someone were to dress as Jack the Ripper and pose in pictures pretend-strangling a grinning party goer, who would complain? I can't deny that the idea of posing as hostages with a pretend suicide bomber DOES bother me.

I guess its rather like Bill Maher's tasteless Steve Irwin with embedded stingray barb costume was disgusting while Roseanne Barr's (10 points for the tie in!) Marie Antoinette with head in hand costume was brilliant.

The Exalted said...

i dont know why you immediately assume the kid is a "naive foreign exchange student"

i think he is actually the opposite, i'm pretty sure he's a born and raised american.

he wasn't naive, he made an ill-advised decision to wear a scandalous outfit to a party with administrators to get a rise out of them. when you're in college you tend to make a lot of bad decisions like this.

what i find funny is that even the smallest of non-events are raised to the level of national news/discussion.

i wish university administrators could have some balls and say, "sure, his costume was inappropriate. so what, he's a college student. next question."

btw, i took ann's call to cancel costume parties as sarcasm.

Ann Althouse said...

"i dont know why you immediately assume the kid is a "naive foreign exchange student""

I didn't. I guessed at the mental state of the University president. I think she had to worry that she'd look bad if he turned out to be sympathetic.

And I'm not kidding that this story teaches university administrators to stay out of this predicament in the future. Note how the story teaches any opponents of the administration to show up at future costume parties wearing something that would prove embarrassing in a photograph. Video for YouTube would be even better. It would be naive not to realize that now.

Mortimer Brezny said...

So what is notable in the Gutmann incident is not so much that she posed with the student, but that other party-goers accepted him into the group without protest. That says something about the political climate at the university.

I agree. That other students participated in mock abductions and executions is what shocks. It could be amusing. At first. But in an elite academic environment, I would imagine such joking is less a sign of tolerance and more a sign of indifference to a certain kind of politics. If the kid wore the costume in a "meta"-we-are-publishing-these-cartoons-even-if-you-burn-down-all-our-publishing-houses-and-embassies way, that would be one thing. But I suspect the "humor" arises from the inability to take seriously jihadist terrorism. To many of the students there, jihadist terrorism is a joke. American concern with jihadist terrorism is an overreaction serving the politics of the right.

Fenrisulven said...

To many of the students there, jihadist terrorism is a joke. American concern with jihadist terrorism is an overreaction serving the politics of the right.

Perhaps thats why I'm not too concerned with a Democrat sweep at midterms. I expect the jihidi's will strongly remind the Left that we are war. America may have to lose a city before we pull our head out. But that seems to be the historical pattern.

Derve said...

lol @"America may have to lose a city" to remind the Dems that we are at war.

And they say the Democrats are content to lose this thing.
You're not for real, Fen.