Thanks to the crack journalism of Stuff.com, the world has been made aware of a dastardly scheme to deprive the young children of Queensland, Australia of the full use of their private parts. At the Baptist-affiliated Colloundra Christian College, a private K-12 school in Queensland, Australia, students will be exposed to the general silliness of a pamphlet entitled, “101 Things To Do Instead Of Doing It.” The pamphlet is rumored to encourage subversive activities such as blowing bubbles in the park, having a water fight, and having a burping contest in place of engaging in premarital sexual activity. Given the obvious international implications for such a riveting report, I am sure Stuff.com will keep us updated about new developments as they occur. I am also sure that this little bit of journalistic fluff has a bigger agenda than simply a nonsensical report about the status of Christian education in Australia.
In a vacuum, the inclusion of this throwaway piece in the “OddStuff” section of Stuff.com makes little sense. While the suggestions in the pamphlet seem fairly odd (i.e. “Acting like you are six years old,” for example, instead of having premarital sex is a juxtaposition that would never occur to me), there is hardly an objective reason why such a pamphlet should matter. The Baptist position on abstinence is well known. The fact that a Baptist school would distribute this pamphlet should surprise no one. However, in the context of the modern political climate, this inconsequential story vividly illustrates the undeniable power of ridicule as a political weapon.
Like no other rhetorical tool, ridicule offers an advocate the chance to demean an opposing speaker and his or her message with the advocate simply being humorous. By emphasizing the absurd aspects of the opponent’s argument, ridicule allows those aspects of the exchange to destroy any credibility the speaker or the message might have garnered. The result of such an exchange is an opponent attempting to defend a generally sound position against vague criticisms that question whether that opponent is actually believable.
In a few simple lines, Stuff.com employs ridicule to discredit conventional Christian beliefs on abstinence. To set the tone, the author places this story in the “OddStuff” section of the website. When placed on the shelf beside other stories that seem ridiculous, the audience is clued in that they should receive the article as a curiosity instead of an object of reasoned debate. The author’s first sentence attempts to highlight the degree to which the school seems “out of touch,” by noting that the pamphlet suggests blowing bubbles instead of having sex. We are never told that this sexual education curriculum is tailored to middle and early high school students. The author then provides various quotes from the principal of the school regarding abstinence juxtaposed against the comparably absurd suggestions from the brochure. For example, after noting that the CEO of the school said, “We tell the full story too — there are emotional dangers in committing yourself to a sexual relationship and the best way to protect yourself medically and emotionally is abstinence," the article proceeds to list suggestions of activities in lieu of sex from the brochure such as cleaning the house for your parents, fruit picking, and pretending you are six. Upon finishing the article, the casual reader is left with the suggestion that those who believe in abstinence education probably ascribe to the asinine notion that children need to pick fruit or visit the elderly when they experience sexual desires. Disagreement and derision is the only acceptable view of the school’s decisions.
While this article is only one of many examples of the media heaping ridicule on causes and individuals with which they disagree, it should serve as a vivid reminder that the media tells us “what to think” on a daily basis. With one piece, a formerly decent person can transform into a raving radical lunatic at the mercy of out-of-context quotes and unflattering pictures. In the article above, an Australian CEO finds himself equating blowing bubbles with sex in the international media. Somehow, I do not think that is the image he meant to portray.