The Best My Butt Has Ever Looked In Print

I let my students use devices in my classes. I let them type, tweet, and text because I find that it often creates a meaningful (or at least amusing) backchannel that runs concurrent to the class meetings. Sometimes I’m in on the side discussions, sometimes I’m not, but I support it nonetheless.

Last month, I got a request from my university’s student magazine, The Garnet and Black, asking if they could take a picture of my class. They were planning a piece on social media, and one of the magazine’s photographers (the particularly talented Sarah Kobos (http://skobos.tumblr.com/ …very strong photography, Sarah, well done!) is in my class. I was led to believe that they were using a shot of my class because of my policy supporting the use of social media in the classroom! So I agreed, provided that they name me and the class.

As it turns out, the writers and editors already had a joke planned, and they just wanted any old classroom setting to let their little idea play out. I’m linking to these primarily because I like how my butt looks in the pictures. Here’s the online version of the piece: http://bit.ly/st_butt_1. Okay, not what I thought it’d be. Sort of a super-basic how-to for people who don’t need it. Whatever. But wait. Here’s what actually made it to print: http://bit.ly/st_butt_2

Turn to page 18. Yes, yes, I know. My butt looks even better in that one. This, I’m actually thrilled about. But look closer. They added thought bubbles. Not only did they add thought bubbles, they added not-very-funny thought bubbles.

But worst of all, the young lady in the middle of the photo using the iPad (which I loaned her for the shoot to make the class seem even more connected) is now thinking “In class. Bored.” And down in the lower right hand corner, in all caps: “SIMON TARR’S MEDIA ART 210 CLASS.”

After bursting a blood vessel, I called the editor to explain how angry and misled I feel, and also to mention that the woman featured in the center of the photo seemed mighty embarrassed as well. The response? “We really didn’t mean to say your class is boring,” and “sorry, but there’s nothing else we can do about it.”

Well, I teach media, too (but in the arts—I don’t think I have the temperament for journalism). The first thing I can tell you is that “meaning to say” something is only the first baby step toward actually saying something.

Luckily, I don’t have to wait for a slick quarterly to get out what I have to say, so I’m glad you’re here to see this blog post. But, I doubt my department chair, the Dean, the Provost, and the President—who glance at a million things a day— read my blog. So this glossy two-page insult is what they’ll see. I’ve got an internal course development grant proposal coming up this week, I hope that this isn’t fresh in the minds of the grant reviewers. Plus course registration is soon, and now prospective students that might have decided to take my course are getting the lovely subtext that my flagship class, a foundation to the media arts major, is some dull thing that people text through.

So thanks a bunch, Garnet and Black, for your well-considered decisions. You only had to worry about getting a slick issue out, but you don’t have to be bothered by the collateral damage of a regrettable breach of professionalism. I don’t really have any legal recourse, though I have this fantasy of being in front of a judge and shouting "THIS WHOLE COURT IS OUT OF ORDER," but that's not important here. In the end, these are students, and they need to learn. However, I’d prefer to not be professionally insulted in print for people to be able to learn their craft.

As for what else can be done about it? Well, that depends on what they really care about. The Garnet and Black could say “hey, we made an egregious ethical error, we misled a professor and defamed the character of his teaching and his course… but we have an opportunity to use our medium to make things right!”

I dunno, maybe a basic internet search on my name could have alerted them to my teaching awards based on these very types of courses? Maybe in between features on clothes and fun things to do this summer, they could mention something in about the things I travel the world doing to bring to my students? Or at the very least run something that doesn’t distract from the best my butt has ever looked in print.