The University of Manitoba’s equity services office is investigating the Engineering Society’s annual spoof magazine, Red Loin, to determine whether it is offensive. Naturally, the ruckus is over more than just nipples; this year’s Red Loin is full of explicit dating advice, sexy horoscopes, and dozens of sexual references to things not normally associated with sex.
According to an article in the Winnipeg Free Press, some UManitoba professors are concerned that the magazine creates a hostile atmosphere for engineering students who are not heterosexual males. Not content to take their opinion on the matter, Maclean’s OnCampus asked me to review the magazine.
I’m a poor judge of whether other people would find something offensive, (I’ve been known to tell jokes that would make a pimp blush) but a thorough review of Red Loin left me truly disturbed. It wasn’t the sexual content that shook me; I’ve seen more sexually explicit things written on the walls of church bathroom stalls. My reading experience left me grappling with the fear that Canadian undergraduate students are incapable of producing sexual innuendo above a fifth-grade level.
I broke out in a sweat. My old Cold War fears revisited me; surely the Soviets are gaining an advantage on us in this area. We’ve all heard the reports of a Bulgarian seventh-grader who produced a dirty joke so powerful it offended a person hundreds of kilometers away who didn’t even speak Bulgarian. Meanwhile, our university students are making lame analogies between cross-country skiing and the missionary position in a sexy Winter Olympics article?
Red Loin is packed with lists of tired, unoriginal jokes, such as their list of “funny” porn movie titles, including such topical pop-culture references as “Forrest Hump” (a riff on Forrest Gump, 1994) and “Full Latex Jacket” (Full Metal Jacket, 1987). It is littered with reprinted copyrighted comic strips, and includes a sexy horoscope section, which the magazine unabashedly admits was stolen from the internet.
Much of the original content of the magazine is poorly written, virtually unpunctuated nonsense, informed by shallow stereotypes and juvenile sexuality.. Perhaps the worst example is “Oh-Oh-Olympics,” a barely literate screed making an utterly unsuccessful attempt to relate Winter Olympic sports to sex, which by the third paragraph had already broken down to this level:
“Some of the sports I found to be a bit of a stretch converting them. For example snowboarding and some of the skiing events. I like the back and forth motion of alpine skiing. Swish, swish, swish really rhythmic. But the closest thing I could come up with was ski jumping, free style skiing and snowboarding is like spontaneous sex.”
The only concession I’m prepared to make to Red Loin is that the article “How Not 2 Pick Up Girls” is reasonably well-written, original and funny, and contains jokes about social situations, rather than focusing solely on the plumbing-related aspects of sex. Unfortunately, the article is so riddled with parenthetical asides (like this one) that the writer actually employs two different styles of parentheses so he can make parenthetical asides within his parenthetical asides. One would have to be a math major to follow the order of operations and solve the sentences.
It would be easy to blame the parents, to say that in our fast-paced modern world few people take the time to sit down with their children and teach them the difference between a genuinely clever suggestive remark and idiotically giggling at the utterance of the word “pianist”. Ultimately, universities must accept part of the blame.
Our post-secondary institutions must be prepared to handle students who have fallen through the cracks in their early education and reached the university level incapable of making a coherent sexual pun or writing a dirty limerick. When bad humour is published, it reflects badly on the entire institution.
Maclean’s OnCampus is throwing down the gauntlet. Are you ready to stand up for the reputation of your university, of your country? Student editors and writers, send us your humour articles, your satire issues, your spoofs, your (original) comic strips, your hilarious illustrations, and prove that humour is not dead on Canadian campuses.
The funniest, wittiest, and cleverest articles we receive will be appreciated, laughed at, mentioned in a future column on this website and possibly linked to or reprinted here — I haven’t quite worked this out with my editor yet. I’m not sure what we’re going to do, but I assure you, it will be spectacular.
It will be spectacular.
Email your hyperlinks, scanned documents and .pdf files to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are not capable of producing an electronic version of your publication, simply go to your local post office and mail your paper copy to 1992, where I’m sure someone will be happy to receive it.
If you have a spoof issue that you think might be funny, but you’re worried about being exposed to my scathing critique, please refer to the suggestions on the next page and re-evaluate your work.
Some suggestions for writing better spoof issues
1. Sexual content isn’t enough
Contrary from what you may have learned from watching your grandfather’s Benny Hill VHS tapes, a reference to sex isn’t a joke in itself. In my limited experience, I’ve found that the sexual act is virtually always hilarious, containing myriad opportunities for fumbles, equipment malfunctions, comic pratfalls, displays of anatomical ignorance, hysterical physical inadequacies, inexplicable crying, and grossly inappropriate remarks. However, merely referring to a sex act isn’t funny, particularly if you’re over twelve years of age and no longer a virgin.
In order for it to be a joke, you have to say something funny about sex, or there has to be something about the context that makes the inclusion of a sexual reference funny. Since about 1972, most university newspapers in Canada have been 20% sexual by word count, so you can’t count on pulling anything off though shock value alone. This is going to require actual cleverness.
2. Sexual humour doesn’t need to be exclusive
Believe it or not, it is possible to make a sex joke that doesn’t involve highlighting the differences between heterosexual men and heterosexual women, or other themes that rely heavily on stereotypes. We’re all human beings and while we experience sex in very different ways, some aspects of sex must be nearly universal, such as the fear of inadequacy, or, for example, losing oneself in the moment, forgetting where you are and shouting instructions in German. That happens to everyone now and then, right?
3. Humour doesn’t actually need to be sexual
Surprisingly, humour that appeals to 20-somethings doesn’t necessarily have to include references to sex. There are plenty of things on your campus that are worthy of being lampooned, and jokes about popular culture (I’m told) are very hip with the kids these days. In fact, the more non-sexual humour you include in a spoof issue, the more the sex humour will stand out and the more likely people will find it funny.
Let’s be honest with ourselves; too much sex humour is like too much porn. Sooner or later the effect wears off and you find yourself paying attention to the plot, which never reflects well on the porn or sex humour.
4. Even humour writers need editing
It’s easy to get lost in your own head while you’re imagining the funniest thing in the world, but it’s important to remember that your readers won’t be able to hear the inflection of the voice in your head, and they won’t necessarily make the same mental associations that you do. Get someone else — preferably someone you don’t know very well — to read everything you write before it goes to print, to make sure that it’s funny to people other than you and your close friends.
Editors: they’re the best!
(Right Carson? Can I have my cheque now?)