Wednesday, March 15, 2006

In The Halls of Higer [sic] Ed ...

Maybe it was a vain attempt to relive my university days, or maybe it was a vain attempt to relive my university days. Either way, I recently found myself with the student publications Catalyst, from RMIT and Farrago, from Melbourne University.
As everyone knows, university student publications are well known for their astounding creative capacity to use the word 'fuck' in many and varied contexts; for their amazing ability to offend groups in Australia that you'd never heard of, much less suspected had existed; and for their unerring instinct for missing deadlines.

How did Farrago and Catalyst live up to the standards of previous publications? I decided to score them on a number of criteria.

If there's one thing that student publications are known for, it's their ability to mispell words, misplace apostrophes, and generally miscommunicate.

Neither publication failed to disappoint. Page 61 of Farrago has a column on the 'blogsphere' (members of the actual blogosphere would be surprised at this) which gives a faulty blog address for popular blog (they give the address as, and mispell 'Pseudonymous kid', the name which the bitchphd blogger gives her child (their spelling is Psydenoymous Kid).
In page 50, the author of an article dealing with the Cronulla riots tries to use a swear word, but simply makes a fool of herself: 'bullocks'!
There is an even more blatant example of misediting on page 6, where an article on logging protests ends thusly:

The Central Highlands, particularly the Marysville area, is one of the last havens of the Leadbeaters possum: just 2,000 remain.elesent augiamcor ing elessis augait do dipisim in ut irillam acidunt ad min essed magna feugait laorem zzrit.


It's as if their printing press had been possessed by the spirit of Julius Caesar: either that, or they just put that in there to help with formatting, and forgot to take it out.

There are also numerous miseditings in Catalyst, including blatant misuse of the enter key on page 3, three times again on page 6, and a similar misuse of the 'justify' function on page 7. (I've noticed this happen time and time again in student publications: when you combine thin columns with text which has been spaced far apart, the results can be devastating.)
Misuse of the enter key again occurs on page 28 (the recipes page) where it's not entirely clear, on first reading, how many tablespoons of cheddar cheese we're supposed to use in the casserole recipe. (We'll get back to the recipes later, by the way.)
Catalyst scores double points for the hilarious mispelling in a title on page 19:


7 points (added points for the pile up of errors in the blogging article, and their little 'latin' moment on page 6)

7 points (added points for the pile up of errors on page 6, and the blatant mispelling in the title on page 19).

No student publication would be the same without the use of jargon which would be indistinguishable outside university.

Several academicisms appear in Farrago, including the rather attractive term 'Vice-Chancellorial', and (on page 13) the almost meaningless sentence, "Sedition used to be a relatively latent concept in Australian law."
Double points for the use of the term 'Bourgeoius construct of romantic love' on page 8. All I can say is, when it comes to architecture, I prefer bourgeoius constructs to socialist constructs anyday; but when it comes to the use of outdated communist jargon, I'm yours, baby!
Catalyst is disappointingly lucid. The term 'bourgeoius construct' doesn't appear once! However, the term 'bicylism' - appearing on page 15 - is verging on the academic.

4 points (added points for the term 'bourgeoius construct)

1 point. They must improve on this performance in future editions.

One of the main purposes of student publications is to publish whatever propaganda is submitted to them by the fanatics on campus. This propaganda can range from Young Liberal articles on the Howard Government to Communist Party of Australia articles advocating revolution.

Several examples in Farrago are worthy of note:

Page 18:
"2005 was an eventful year. We saw the biggest student demonstrations in about a decade against Howard's attacks on student unions. We saw millions of workers and students on the streets against the Liberals attempts to degrade workplace rights. Opposition to the war on Iraq remained steady, about 66% of people think we should never have gone to the war in the first place, and that troops should immediately be withdrawn.
So in 2006 we will have to work pretty hard to top the inspirational successes of 2005."

Some success. The troops remain in Iraq, and Howard's industrial relations and VSU legislation have both been passed through the senate.

Page 20:

"Heya Women! Jan and Khandis here , your 2006 Wome*ns Department Officers... The Wom*ns Department exists to celebrate women's diversity, to challenge sexist, racist, classist, heterosexist, ableist assumptions and stereotypes about women, and to have some feministy fun."

I wasn't sure at first whether this 'Wom*ns Department' missive should be classed under mispellings and miseditings or under propaganda. Either way, it's terrible writing.

Page 50.

"The Cronulla riots were racist in the extreme - they were for more oppression of the already oppressed - whilst the Lebanese riots were an outcry against oppression."

Translation: 'All violence is inexcusable except for the violence that I excuse.'

Catalyst has some fine examples as well, including VSU and You, on page 6; About your Student Union, on page 8; and RMIT Queer Department, on page 17. These articles combined only scored two points, because two of them were written by the same guy, and used many of the same phrases.
A fine example of double-speak occurs in the 'VSU and You' article, where the author writes:

Dr Nelson, you are wrong. VSU is about choice. It is not about freedom.'

Freedom is not about choice? Has this guy been studying under Stalin?

On page 18:

Planetshakers City Church states that their objective is to make music and deliver training to "empower a generation ...

It's not everyday you see Christian propaganda in a student magazine. Double points for originality.

3 points.

5 points.

In Farrago, mention is made of the WAC - the 'Women's Action Committee' - which may or may not prove that all feminists are WACkos.
Catalyst gives us the even more entertaining Student Union Committee, or the SUC. It comes complete with a SUC president, a SUC representative and even a SUC Womyn's Officer.
Does she really SUC? I guess you'll just have to go along to meetings to find out ...

1 point.

1 point.

Closing Comments:
5 points have been deducted from Farrago's final score for several readable articles, and an amusing format (parodying an official 'administrative' document).
Catalyst receive a bonus point for the recipes on page 28 ( 'Cheesy Beans on toast'? Reminds me of my own student days.) However, 7 points have been deducted from their total for amusing editorials, a well-written article about the Melbourne fashion festival, and for the hilarious 'pointers' on page 27 for students moving in to a sharehouse for the first time:

- Misconception: You can live off beer and/or two minute noodles.
- Fact: Heard of scurvy? It's a disease that you get from not eating enough food that is rich in vitamins and I've heard it can be pretty nasty. If you notice yourself/housemates loking kind of yellow, maybe it's time for some vegies.

Final Verdict
10 points

7 points

Both show dangerous moments of lucidity, however, I'm sure with a few missed deadlines, more propaganda, the addition of badly designed pages (courtesy of a resident fine arts student) and bad student poetry, these publications have the potential to be as horrible as the best of them.

(Cross posted here.)


At 7:47 PM, Blogger JPW said...

You're spot on there Mr T. Nice work.

To my unending embarrassment, I actually had a piece published in Farrago years ago (I was going through the Australian Writer’s Marketplace and submitting all sorts of shit to anything that sounded even remotely like they would take fiction – Togatus (UTAS) was loads better and they paid $50 an article to boot!). I had written this stupid story when I was about eighteen and goth, and it was about this disenchanted goth guy hanging out at this loud goth nightclub and, because he was so goth, there was a part in the story where he thinks to himself, and considers putting his cigarette (clove) out on some goth chick’s neck, because she elbowed in front of him at the bar and drank the last of the chartreuse or whatever. HOLY SHIT you should have seen the UPROAR from the Feminazis on campus! Literally the next three issues were packed with letters from hysterical Farrago readers, stopping just short of suggesting that I should be lynched.

At 7:48 PM, Blogger JPW said...

Postscript: It was fucking awesome.

At 8:32 PM, Blogger TimT said...

I quite enjoyed Catalyst in particular; the two editors there seem to be fairly capable (apart from the spelling mistakes, but that's only to be expected in student publications). They're producing a publication that actually has some interesting material, and not just linked to some political ideology.

Believe it or not, I found myself reading with some interest an article on Melbourne Fashion week in Catalyst - I think it was because the author actually liked the subject, and you could tell they were interested in it - whereas the hordes of ideologues who tend to use the student mags to publish their guff rarely show any signs of humanity or intelligence at all.

At 8:44 PM, Blogger TimT said...

I remember when I lived in Newcastle, there was an incident a little like the one you describe. The Newcastle Uni magazine (Opus) was run by a grumpy socialist ideologue; I won't name names other than to say she was called Vanessa Bowden.
One issue, V. happened to run a cover that featured caricatures of religious figures - there was one of Jesus, one of Buddha, and one of Mohammed (and at least one other, I forget who.)

When the next issue came out, a letter by a Muslim student was published, complaining at the depiction of Muhammad on the cover.
The apology from V. could not have been more exaggerated or sycophantic. She didn't have a problem with caricatures of Christianity, mind ... it was just caricatures of Islam that she was troubled by. It came back to that 'oppressed minority' issue - I've always hated that guff.
In the same issue, there was a back cover featuring the cast of 'Seventh Heaven' with a dartboard and the caption: 'These people propagate disgusting wholesome family values ... go for your life ...'
It's not the fact that they made fun of this sort of thing that I have a problem, it was just the glaring hypocrisy: it's alright to make fun of Christianity, but not of other religions.

*Exits muttering about stupid politically correct students*

At 8:46 PM, Blogger Tim said...

I have read exactly one issue of Farrago, about ten years ago. It was pretty much the same as you describe here. It seems not much changes in the world of the student magazines.

At 8:56 PM, Blogger TimT said...

I read them* obsessively. Some of the writing is good, some is terrible. I went to Sydney Uni - we had two main publications - Honi Soit and UR (Union Recorder). I had a few pieces published in UR, which was probably the better of the two (Honi Soit tended to attract the political freaks).
What was your uni paper? Did you have one?

*Student publications.

At 9:04 PM, Blogger Tim said...

My first (dramatically unsuccessful) stab at a tertiary education was in the mid-90s at La Trobe, where I believe Rabelais was/is the student magazine. I may have browsed through it a couple of times, but I was drunk nearly all of the time so I don't really remember. I'm presently studying off-campus, so things like student magazines - or, indeed, other students - don't really concern me. I'm still drunk nearly all of the time, though.

At 9:37 PM, Blogger Ben.H said...

The truly golden year for Farrago was about 1999, with its regular columns from the Student Union women's officer who thought The Onion was a genuine newspaper.

"How DARE they call an anorexic woman fat!? Don't they understand the emotional stress this women is suffering, in this day and age?"


At 9:43 PM, Blogger Ben.H said...

Oh, and nothing beats student papers from Queensland, where student union and government are controlled by the same political faction: "TROUBLEMAKERS PROTEST MUCH-NEEDED EDUCATION REFORMS".


At 10:57 AM, Blogger Beth said...

Nice analysis. I had a gig for a while at the ANU paper "Woroni" doing book reviews - which is to say, my friend, one of the editors, said "would you like some free books?" I think I scored a biography of Tom Jones, a foldout map of bush tucker, and the Booker shortlist of 1999. Gold gold gold.

At 12:07 PM, Blogger TimT said...

Tim - never seen Rabelais. I was talking to some La Trobe uni students the other night, and they seemed unaware that their uni had a paper. They did mention something called 'The Rat'. It sounded like an events calendar.

Ben - too funny! In my experience, student papers are usually run by extremists of run sort or the other, and there tend to be huge bitch fights at the end of each year to wrest control of the paper. The struggles are essentially between Trotskyists and Marxists, though, so ... no big difference in the end.

Beth - book reviewing gigs are sweeeet. I did the book reviews section for a Newcastle zine once. Made a few additions to my library that way.

Best part is, if the book is terrible, you can absolutely rip into them in the reviews section.

Ungrateful? Me? Well, yes ...

At 11:27 AM, Blogger JPW said...

I got a weird-assed email the other day from some promotions guy at Penguin in Noo Yark. He wanted to send me a copy of Breaking The Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel Dennett. I told him sure, but mentioned that I was in Melbourne and, as the book was hardcover, Penguin might not be too happy about covering the shipping cost. He said NO PROBS, I'LL SEND. This was a few weeks ago and I still haven't received it. A bit pissed about that because the book actually sounds pretty interesting and it was cool that he did a Technorati search on "atheism" and found my stupid blog and wanted to send me a book, but now my career as a literary reviewer is over before it even began. Boo.


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