Widgets Magazine


Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

I know that irony is one of the main privileges granted to college students, but even so, the bad vibes emanating from Wyndam Makowsky’s Feb. 1 article (“Why So serious, Stanford?”), disparaging Friday’s counter rally to the Westboro Baptist Church’s protest, shocked me. Makowsky bemoaned the fact that “instead of…a morning of creative responses, the lone recourse was a gathering in the name of “unity,” “tolerance” and “diversity,” and everyone had to play along.” He also charged that “it was only Westboro’s presence that prompted a gathering, and it was undertaken as a form of crowd control as much as anything else.” Finally, he attributes the slashed tires to the fact that “instead of showing the public our ingenuity, we bottled it up until someone broke in a criminal way.”  I’d like to answer these complaints in turn.

“Everyone had to play along.” At the rally, I felt an atmosphere of excitement and even joy that I’d never felt before at Stanford. Am I biased? Sure. But it seemed to me, at least, that the vast majority of people at the rally did not feel forced into anything. Makowsky compared our rally to one at the University of Chicago, where students mocked the WBC by staging an imitation protest against figs, based on the biblical passage where Jesus smites a fig tree. I agree that that was a creative and hilarious stunt. But did it have any impact on the WBC? The Chicago Maroon, in their article about the protest, quoted Shirley Phelps as saying, “I truly and dearly love [the counter protest]. It is so awesome when you juxtapose this little group of servants of God [The WBC] with this restless mob of humanity.” The point I’m trying to make is that nothing any counter-protest can do will change these people’s minds or message.

“It was only Westboro’s presence that prompted such a gathering.” Of course it was. When there’s no threat to members our community, why would we all gather in solidarity? Isn’t it worth celebrating that when the WBC targeted Hillel, and the LGBTQ community, the rest of Stanford came out to show support and love? And, in fact, student groups such as F.A.I.T.H. and the QSA have been quietly promoting interfaith and inter-sexuality action for some time. They do not need the WBC to spark their desire for pluralism and love.

“It was undertaken as a form of crowd control as much as anything else.” Guilty as charged. I was at the planning meeting for the rally, along with representatives from all of Stanford’s religious and ethnic communities and the police department. It was brought up that the church tries to provoke people to attack them so that they can sue for damages. We decided as a group to organize a peaceful, positive rally to prevent such an event from happening.

Finally, about the slashed tires. Is that really the most “ingenious” thing a repressed Stanford student could come up with?

Just as members of the various email discussions around campus considered ignoring the WBC, so as not to win them any media attention, I considered not responding to Wyndam’s article. For one thing, I knew how much social cachet I’d lose by being so self-righteous. But I have to believe that sometimes it is important to be earnest, and that facing the world with irony alone will do nothing to alleviate the serious problems on earth. So even if the counter-rally meant nothing to Wyndam or the Westboro Baptist Church, it meant something to me.


Nathaniel Eisen
Class of 2011

  • Mr. Self Righteous

    Why do people such as yourself continue to perpetuate the false dichotomy between passion and irony? Is it not possible to be passionately ironic, or ironically passionate? I would even go as far as to place Wyndham’s article in the former category, and your response in the latter.

    Your response makes two claims:
    1. That the WBC is encouraged by counter protests
    2. That our symbolic show of unity was effective for emphasizing group solidarity.

    The first claim is obvious. In fact, and I think you fail to acknowledge this, this is the primary motivation for the ironic counter-protest. We all know these people are media whores, and further, we all know that they have been deluded into believing that they’re some sort of oppressed minority.The question is, why should we care? Are there honestly idiots out there who, upon seeing these jerks on the news, would join the cause? Yes. But is it not also the case that the overwhelming majority of rational, thinking people disagree with them?

    If anything, these rubes are an extremely easy scapegoat. Because they are so over-the-top, we can feel self-righteous in the extreme in opposition to them. If anything, I think the WBC has made the most progress not on the “propagating of hate” front, but rather on the front lines of “Self-congratulatory bombast”–a necessary secondary byproduct of the response to their actions.

    In fact, your response, with its moralistic, bordering-on-martyr-status denunciation of the oppression of the ironic majority, would *ironically* feel right at home with the WBC’s self-righteous exclusionary self-back-patting.

    The fundamental difference between you, the “passionate defender of Unity” and me, “the flippant and ironic overprivileged college student” is that I realize that rational argument at this point is out the window. A revolution against the spectacle can only take the form of a spectacle.

    The dangers of becoming too serious in our opposition to this group are great: the creation of a false rallying-point around a universal scapegoat, the inflation of an ego already enlarged by a center-liberal “passionate” mentality, and the biggest danger of all: becoming what you hate.