On Campus

Ann Coulter and student reactionaries

She's relevant because we are making her relevant

Until this week I knew very little about Ann Coulter and I liked it that way. I was vaguely aware of her as a deliberately provocative, talking-head right-winger. I had the sense that she was good at antagonizing people. That was about it. I had about as much interest in following her “work” as I do in Rush Limbauch’s oeuvre.

This week I can’t hide from her. She’s everywhere. Elections just ended at U of T with the usual accusations and counter-accusations, students at UTSC just approved an unprecedented and massive levy to fund a world-class athletics facility for use in the 2015 Pan-Am Games, wrestling continues unabated over the fate and status of First Nations University of Canada, and all I can bloody well hear about is this screwball American provocateur who has just about nothing relevant to say to Canadians and nothing informed to say to anyone. Someone please tell me why I’m supposed to care?

The freedom of expression angle I get. It’s important to pause once in a while to reflect on the importance of free speech and also on the occasional limits necessarily imposed on it. But honestly, can’t we have that debate in context of someone who is at least relevant? Ezra Levant is a home-grown topic of debate, speaking to and about Canadian issues. Ann Coulter is just a traveling gong show promoting nothing other than her own celebrity. And we let her! We even help her! Every line I’m writing this very moment gives her more of the commodity she’s so successfully selling — her own profile. She doesn’t care if we like her or what we say about her just as long as we keep listening and paying attention. And we sure are doing that.

The fact that this is playing out on our university campuses is no coincidence. Students make fantastic reactionaries. There’s a whole lot of good intentions there but not a lot of direction. So with very little of their own to say, student activists simply argue about what someone else is saying. Coulter opens her mouth and gets the whole thing rolling for us. She says something outrageous, some students argue she shouldn’t be allowed to say it, others defend her right to say it, and all of a sudden that’s the whole debate. Students aren’t saying anything at all–or at least nothing of their own. They’re just arguing over what Coulter said. And that’s just sad.

Maybe I’m bitter because the spat of Ann Coulter articles here are the biggest thing for On Campus in ages. Even the strike at York didn’t attract this much attention or this many comments. Students do have a lot of power and can set the agenda for discussion of post-secondary issues if they want to. But taking on real and complex topics is difficult. Getting all outraged about Coulter–or alternatively, getting all outraged over the suppression of Coulter–is easy. And as long as we keep getting distracted by every circus sideshow that comes to campus, it’s going to remain that much harder to bring attention to the real issues affecting post-secondary students in Canada today.

But hey, in the spirit of giving everyone what they want, here’s a video of Coulter saying outrageous things. Enjoy.


Questions are welcome at jeff.rybak@utoronto.ca. You can also follow me on Twitter.

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