RPI Controversy Continues Following Cancellation of Artist's Video Game Exhibit

March 10, 2008 -

Last week GamePolitics tracked the story of Wafaa Bilal, an artist whose Virtual Jihadi exhibit at Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute was cut short following protests from some students and alumni, as well as a visit from the FBI.

In the wake of the campus flap, Inside Higher Ed reports that some RPI faculty members were outraged by school president Shirley Jackson's decision to abruptly cancel Bilal's visit. Art professor Branda Miller, from whose classroom Bilal was pulled by college officials, said: 
 

This isn’t just shutting down an exhibit. This is an assault on my classroom, an assault on academic freedom and freedom of expression.

I thought, ‘this must be what it feels like to be in Iraq.’ A moment of compassion crossed my mind. I was imagining professors attempting to teach their students in countries where academic freedom does not exist, where even their lives are at risk.

I think this is a very complex discussion.He’s an artist. He’s very intelligent, very serious, very kind. He is trying to make a point. My students play these games. Some of these games are embedded with violence and racism and the ability to dislocate your sense of self when you kill someone. [Bilal was trying] to get people to think about the games.

 


Comments

@Neeneko

"Incorrect. This is no more the ‘point’ of terrorism then shooting point is the ‘point’ of invading a country. Terrorism is a weapon, but it’s a weapon to use towards actual goals. The leadership really doesn’t, in the end, care how we feel or our society operates or our ‘way of life’ as long as they get the things they are asking for…."

Yes, terrorism is a weapon, but the way that weapon works is to undermine a group by provoking fear. The point of 9/11 was to destroy what Bin Ladin saw as the capitol of the western world. The point of terrorism in Iraq is to make the Coalition troops and public feel like it is not worth it to be there. In most cases, people are making changes and compromising on something to try and prevent more terrorist attacks. In the case of the US homeland, we are eroding our founding rights like freedom of speech.

"The various organizations like alkida have very specific things they want out of the US and the US has not budged on a single one of them."

I think compromising multiple rights is one hell of a budge. What Bin Ladin wants, and has said several time, is the fall of western civilization. We are doing the US is doing a hell of a job undoing all the advancements we have made as a western country in the name of protecting ourselves. PATRIOT Act, illegal wiretapping, torture, and jailing whistle blowers are steps back for this country.

@ jkdjr25 "He may have the right to speak but the college has the right to shut down an exhibit on their property that they feel is disruptive and the republican club also has every right to make their displeasure at this display known. People spoke out and the college decided to pull the plug on it.

There’s no great conspiracy here, its just how the system works. Just because you have the right to say a thing doesn’t mean that people are forced to give you a forum to do so. "

As I said earlier, "I am not arguing that the university doesn’t have the right to pull the exhibition, but I do believe that doing so is detrimental to the learning environment more so than any controversy that may arise for it. Controversy creates conversation and debate, and through that learning and understanding. By canceling this exhibition, the school is effectively saying that an opinion or idea that pisses people off is less valuable than one that doesn’t."

In short, the university has every right to pull the event, but I personally believe that doing so is a bad thing for their students and the country in general. I also agree that the CRs had the right to protest, but I think it would have been far more productive to bring on a counterpoint artist to show as well. They could even ask for a show of student and community art that is critical of the exhibit. There are so many options, but I am disappointed that they picked the one that involved the breakdown in communication.

The university has every legal right to shut down the exhibit, but they also have every moral and academic right to support it to the end.

If we can't have a piece of art that stirs up controversy and initiates debate with a fresh perspective on an existing subject in a UNIVERSITY, then where can we? Are these not centers of learning, of knowledge, of understanding? Is not the reason for academia to open our eyes to the world around us?

Those of you who agree with the exhibit being shut down because of the 'controversy' it would have caused, I have news for you: you are not free. You live in a suit made of bubble wrap with green-tinted sunglasses and think the world is little more than cheerful sitcoms and margarita nights at TGI Fridays. Whenever something evenly remotely sharp enough to burst those bubbles comes along, you turn your head and cry bloody murder until some caped hero swoops in to smash it with a hammer.

Wake up, folks. I would think that people who read GamePolitics - a website that reports on political stories involving video games and the free speech they deserve - would be more than a bit miffed at stories such as this.

...something even* remotely...
Typing too fast.

Hmmm... Much I want to say but I'll let a far better man than I say it for me:

"All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent. - Thomas Jefferson"

"All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. - Thomas Jefferson"

"Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny. - Thomas Jefferson"

"I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them. - Thomas Jefferson"

"Our country is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation of power first, and then corruption, its necessary consequence. - Thomas Jefferson"

"When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty. - Thomas Jefferson"

There are more but I think the point has been painfully made.

I've said everything I've wanted to say on this story in the previous articles from last week, but I found one quote a little... pathetic. When Branda Miller says:

"this must be what it feels like to be in Iraq"

I cannot help but balk at her audacity. Seriously? A private institution chose not to show something, and that makes her feel like she's in a war-torn country where people are dying daily and speaking out paints a bullseye on your back? Personally, it is comments like this that show that she (and others like her) do NOT have any reak appreciation for what's going on over there, and her supposed empathy for the Iraqis is mostly just rhetoric.

Why do smart people say stupid things?

@ Are'el:
That quote is out of context. She was speaking about the officials who walked into her classroom where Bilal was a guest and took him away without any explanation to her or her class. She speaks of the college officials intervening in the teaching of her students.

"and that makes her feel like she’s in a war-torn country where people are dying daily and speaking out paints a bullseye on your back?"

Bilal spoke out in his way and now there's a bullseye on his back, in a manner of speaking. I'd say it's a fair analogy.
 
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