[lit-ideas] Re: Research Down Under

  • From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx, David Ritchie <ritchierd@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 16 Jun 2007 12:31:21 -0700

David Ritchie writes

I would like to know more about how such a committee works.  We don't
have one.  Neither do we have a code that spells out what the
consequences might be if you choose to challenge the college's social
contract, or simply lose your temper repeatedly and in public.

The committee works (as do all committees) by the seat of its collective pants and by following a number of rules and guidelines which, although I was on it years ago, I can no longer remember. Most of the research in question was proposed by psychology students for thesis projects. It's conceivable that economics or biology might have run certain proposals by the committee.

What would happen if you threw a fit because you weren't allowed to go forward with your project? You'd be reasoned with, given a cookie and warm milk, and asked to lie down and listen to Delius' 'On hearing the first cuckoo in the
Spring,' until you agreed to submit another proposal and we unlocked the door.

How do you think the committee might have avoided some of the problems
in this mess.  Here's how I'm imagining the conversation.

The exact nature of the mess still isn't clear to me; as I said earlier, the actual aim of the project (or 'research') isn't set out in what I've read.

"Professor X your thesis student wants to make a movie that puts
mentally disabled people in situations that a reasonable person would
call demeaning.  Why should we allow this?"

"The project explores tensions in the area that lies on the border
between what is taboo and what is funny.  Like all good art, it takes
risks but the intent is to imitate Borat's strategy, embracing
prejudice in order to illuminate prejudice, to show what people really
think when their guard is down.  I can't guarantee that the student
will succeed or that the result will not be offensive to some or even
many people.  But in my judgment there is in this project value which
outweighs the potential for harm. "

Well, X, it's been known for a long time that some things once taboo are now the subject of comedy; as for appealing to Borat for justification, most of us know from our own lives how people behave when their guard is down, in many, many, different situations. We do not need this project to reinforce that historically well documented point. We have only, for example, to visit Joe's Bar, which is just around the corner, and eavesdrop. Art has no special priviledge when it comes to demeaning, mocking, ridiculing, and embarrassing the mentally disabled. Many of them live their lives being seen as The Other, and thereby as fair game for the jibes of fools. Examing their reactions to this would seem to be the province of psychology, not art

I'd remind you, because you may have mislaid your notes, that we do not sanction experiments which result in harm other persons, whether the harm is physical or mental, in the absence of their informed consent; and only then rarely. In this case, it would seem as clear as a mountain spring that your proposed subjects are not capable of giving informed to consent. We therefore do not approve your project.


I have just received a letter from one of your colleagues in the Literature department, who supports your project because it is 'transgressive.' Upon receiving it, my suspicion that this was one of them Po-Mo scams was confirmed, and your entire research group has been suspended for two months without the possibility of parole.

Cal Irvine
Chair, Committee on Research that Strikes us as Suspicious from the Git-Go
Mutton College

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