Burning Bosom

Theology, History, Culture, Politics & Life from a LDS (Mormon) Perspective

Dilbert, Jesus & Censorship At The Lord’s University

Posted by Shawn L on March 25, 2008

dilbert.gif

As a Christian, does this comic offend you?  Does it cross the oh-so-fine line between humor and sacrilege?  For the staff at BYU’s Daily Universe, the answer to both questions was a very definite “yes.” 

The March 10-14, 2008 Dilbert strips dealt with the exploits of a new cubicle dweller named Jesus, pronounced “Hay-Soos.”  (You can find all of the strips here.)  Over the short course of his career, Jesus gains a following among the staff and proclaims himself the “saver of databases.”  Eventually, management (after being tipped off by Dilbert in exchange for 40 shares of company stock) fires Jesus out of fear that he is bucking for the CEO’s job, only to find that he has returned several days later. 

Both generally and in these specific strips, Dilbert does not aspire to especially high-brow or edgy humor.  Nevertheless, the Universe Editorial Staff found the cartoons so offensive that they switched them out for old, presumably less-charged, strips (I bet they all had something to do with that weird talking dog thing that works in the office).  As is the case with virtually every decision made at BYU, student reaction — as reflected in the subsequent Letters to the Editor — was mixed, with supporters thanking the Universe for being a watchman on the tower against sacrilege, and detractors calling the paper “a biased, pro-censorship media outlet.”

Days later, in a rather terse editorial entitled “No Apologies For Replacing Offending Dilbert Cartoons, the Universe staff stood its ground, justifying their stance with the following analysis:

“While it may seem blasphemous to some modernists, the unrestrained flow of information (even with something as non-consequential as a cartoon) is not our highest aim at The Daily Universe, nor is it at any reputable news organization. Journalists have a responsibility to their community – not only to provide it with the best possible information that informs and engages its readership, but also to think of the overall good of itself and of the community. News organizations must constantly calculate what is to be gained and lost with what is sent to the press. In this case, the decision was an easy one.”

Given the context, I find their use of the word “blasphemous” to be a bit confrontational.  Moreover, I recognize Dilbert is not high art, but I’m not sure cartoons are so “non-consequential” that they may be dismissed out of hand as a somehow lesser form of journalism.  (Don’t think cartoons can convey a powerful message?  Try telling that to Benjamin Franklin, Richard Nixon or even Mitt Romney.) 

The bigger issues raised, however, are (i) the role of the Universe as the arbiter of information at BYU, and (ii) the appropriate use of religious imagery.  As to the first point, I certainly agree (and so will any other former Zoobie) that “the unrestrained flow of information” is not the “highest aim at The Daily Universe.”  I also agree that journalists “have a responsibility”; I just happen to believe that that responsibility requires an honest and open exchange of ideas.   Regardless of their spin, the Editorial Staff did not act here to censor a objectively-identifiable obscenity or falsehood.  Rather, they used a narrow, lowest-common-denominator approach to Christianity, denying their readers an opportunity to make up their own minds as to the appropriateness of the cartoon at issue.  That, my friends, is censorship.   I can’t see how the “overall good” of the BYU community was served by this knee-jerk decision.  As to the second point, if this cartoon is considered too offensive to print, can there ever be a printable discussion of Christ or sacred Mormon issues in a context outside worship?  Humor definitely can go too far, but are we so thin-skinned that we can’t handle a comic strip like this?  What’s next?  Should we look askance at the Family Circus the next time Jeffy cracks wise about Christmas?  

Personally, I’ve never liked Dilbert, so I find these strips just as offensive as every other Dilbert on the sole ground that they’re just not funny.  But I recognize that reasonable minds may differ.  Let’s hear what you have to say.

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14 Responses to “Dilbert, Jesus & Censorship At The Lord’s University”

  1. Brian Essing said

    Well, at least nobody’s rioting about it…

  2. WillF said

    After reading Scott Adam’s opinion of Mormons on his blog a few years ago, were I an editor at BYU, I would cancel Dilbert entirely.

  3. Shawn L said

    #2 — that’s news to me. What did he have to say?

  4. Andrew said

    While I personally am not offended by the cartoon above, I think it is safe to assume many students, faculty, and administrators at BYU may have been. Personally I think people should lighten up and not take offense when none is intended, but at the same time, I understand and respect their motivation of zealously guarding Jesus’ name.

    If I were an editor at the Daily Universe, I would consider my personal opinion about the offensiveness of the cartoon to be completely irrelevant. Rather, I would have to consider the sensibilities of my audience, no matter if I disagreed with them.

    I also believe in BYU and what it stands for, which is to create, promote, and protect an environment of scholarship from a faithful perspective. I don’t think BYU has any obligation to allow anything and everything to infiltrate its campus or to be printed in its papers. BYU has a mission, and it has every right to be selective about what does and does not promote that mission. Call it “censorship” if you like, but it is inevitable with any organization or publication. Any time you are making decisions and selections, you are “excluding” what you don’t select. You can call it “censorship,” but I think that makes the word lose any real meaning.

    Back to the cartoon, if BYU wants to create an atmosphere where Jesus’ name and identity are reverenced and protected from anything remotely resembling mockery, that’s BYU’s prerogative. Again, it doesn’t offend me, but I support BYU’s right 100% to be sensitive to what might be inconsistent with its mission and the people it serves.

  5. WillF said

    Unfortunately I can’t find the post that got me riled up — Inexplicably, Adams only keeps the last year of blog postings up on his website.

    Maybe it was just his general irreverance:

    http://web.archive.org/web/20070403235420/http://dilbertblog.typepad.com/the_dilbert_blog/2006/04/respecting_the_.html

  6. ditchu said

    offended? Me? Yes!… At the very least it was done in very poor taste. Also I usually find Dilbert funny this is ranges from plane stupid to offending a people’s faith. There would be mass outrage if He did the same with “Moe Hommid.”

  7. JB said

    Ditchu, if he did a “Moe Hommid,” outrage would only be the start. There would be threats on his life.

    But to another point, I used to write for the Daily Universe as a student and worked on the staff for a while when I was in college. The editorial board is made up of students with a faculty adviser. If they make mistakes about what to include, its usually done with good intentions (yes, I know what is said about “good intentions”) as they are young and trying their best to do what’s right for the paper, the school and the church… and yes there is a very fine line that is occasionally illustrated through visits from the administrators of the school.

    My point, I’m cutting them a break on this one even if they didn’t need to stand on that side of the moral line with this one. With that particular strip, they were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t. I could see someone saying, “How could BYU let this fly in their newspaper!” And the message conveyed by leaving that comic strip in the paper could be taken the wrong way by many more potential converts, then handling the situation the way they did.

  8. Shawn L said

    WillF — very interesting. I had no idea that Scott Adams, who I always just assumed to be a computer geek made good, was a Mormon baiter. Seriously, anytime a writer refers to “magic underwear,” that’s all he/she is in my book. I have to say, this gives me a bit a different view of the cartoon and its motives. Thanks for the heads-up.

    Andrew/John — stemming the flow of ideas in any context is, by its very nature, censorhip, period. The question is, has it gone overboard here? You both make good points about the need to keep sacred things sacred. My only question is, does the rule seemingly laid down here forbid any discussion of religious issues in a light-hearted or satirical manner. I’m not suggesting they show “Life of Brian” at the Varisty Theatre, but I also don’t think a hard and fast “no kidding aroud” rule fits either. BYU has a mission; but shouldn’t that mission include letting students decide for themselves how far to push the envelope?

    Jon/ditchu — you’re probably right that a “Moe Hamid” cartoon would be met with outrage. But, doesn’t the argument that this cartoon is too sacriligious for print put us in the same camp as the fanatics?

  9. JB said

    Shawn, I disagree. They didn’t burn the cartoon in effigy and protest every other paper out there that did run the cartoon. Nor did they encourage anyone else to do it. They simply chose not to run it. The same way anyone who operates a blog choses to take down offensive comments.

    Yes, it could be argued that it was censorship. But is censorship always bad? I don’t think so. Do you?

  10. ditchu said

    Shawn L. – in answer to your question: “doesn’t the argument that this cartoon is too sacriligious for print put us in the same camp as the fanatics?” No. The difference is just as JB illustrated. I did not riot, I did not turn to destructive means to share my offense. I just stated that I do find it offensive and I will use my consumer power to effect the change in the media using sacrilegious materials, or printing things that are offensive to me. I will not be so hasty to read the paper or tune in to the broadcasters that utilize these rude materials to get their point across.

    I do think it is stupid to publish something that has the potential of offending the 3 most prolific religions on the planet. One should expect readership of Dilbert to drop by a quarter.

  11. Stan Way said

    Wow…great discussion…

    First off, was I offended? No. Come on folks, don’t we remember Elder Bednar’s talk?…This seems rather petty for me to CHOOSE to be offended by it.

    Second: I can see why it offends so many Mormons, or even Christians. Kudos to the Universe for playing it safe.

    Thirdly: I’m glad to learn that Scott Adams is a “Mormon Baiter” as said above. Knowing that lets me know how useless Dilbet really is.

    And lastly: Had Moe Hammid shown up in the cubicles of the cartoon and started talking to an angel on top of the building and recieving inspired software codes there would no doubt be riots worldwide and death threats to good ole’ Mr. Adams…*sigh*…Perhaps it’s sad that we Christians don’t do the same…

  12. I thought the cartoon was very funny, and was not the least bit offended. It makes me glad I didn’t go to BYU. BYU’s environment is just too “Big Brother” for me.

  13. Becky said

    I am a christian (post bretheren) and only 14.
    This did not offend me in the slightest and mayyyy even have put a smile on my facce, for bringing to mind an old joke.
    I like to sing songs such as ‘argos reigns(meant to be, our god reigns’ and ‘my chains fell off i grazed my knee (instead of my chains fell off, i’ve been set free)’.

    Lots of ‘oldies’ in my church do not like this, not because they are stubborn and unsubbcetible to change, because they like to concentrate and focus on worshiping god and when they sing, what is to them a holy song, its harder, when they have a joke going through their head.
    Many think that this would soil something holy, but I although in thinking this, find it easy to concentrate.
    =)

  14. An attention-grabbing discussion is price comment.
    I believe that you need to write extra on this topic, it won’t be a taboo topic but typically persons are not enough to talk on such topics. To the next. Cheers

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