I once wiped my arse with a copy of Varsity.
It was not, as you may assume, an act of defiance or ridicule, the Tab finally shits on established student press, but rather one of necessity: I was caught short and the brown bare roll on the loo paper holder mocked me with defiance. It could have been any student newspaper and I had to make the choice between my hand or those ink stained pages.
Well I didn’t take a gap year for a reason and was not going to enter the world of bare hand cleaning yet, so the paper it was. Picking it up, I was left with a dilemma: which pages to choose.
This was tricky. I could have chosen the news section. For all student press it is generally boring, consisting of stories we already know, or FOI requests that didn’t find out anything new, but somehow it didn’t feel right having a picture of five students protesting for the living wage, slipped neatly between my buttocks. I was tempted to pick the sport’s pages with their self congratulatory and frankly dull reports, but that week I think we beat Oxford at something and I was not going rubbish our achievement. The culture and features section was a promising option too, though I quite like the fashion pages, which allow me to fantasise about what it would be like to go out with one of the models, or get with them on a night out (I am a creep at heart). Therefore, after this process of elimination, I hit upon Comment.
Comment, the section that makes a newspaper unique, gives us the pulse of opinion, challenges our point of view and opens our eyes to interesting discussion, or so it should do. However does it, and more to the point, do student newspapers?
Very often we read papers and articles that conform to our preconceived opinions. Why else do you think my upper-middleclass parents read the Telegraph and nothing else (the Guardian is a naughty word)? It feels good to be safe and validated in what you believe in; you are not alone and there is someone, far more coherent than you, who can sum up how you feel on an issue. However, I believe, just as how comfort food is damaging in the long run, comfort reading, getting that warm chocolatey feeling inside, can also be dangerous to your health. It narrows your view, stops you from questioning and prevents you from seeing the other side. You may feel all liberal reading the Guardian or the Independent, but I bet you rarely dip your toe into the right wing press. Half the electorate are right wing, surely their opinions mean something? A true liberal (not that I necessarily am one) should read both sides.
This is why I try to consume my news from multiple channels. Whenever I have a spare second I flick to my FT, BBC, Telegraph or Guardian app to get clever and current opinions from all angles. I get a view of the parochial (Telegraph), global (BBC), radical (Guardian) and rational (FT). A balanced diet of news, not binge eating on what I like (to be honest the Guardian is like greens sometimes: hard to swallow), keeps me mentally and morally healthy.
Back in the lavatory, I needed to decide where the Comment section sat in my meat and two veg diet. As I can recall, written in their neat columns was something I agreed with on feminism, an article about disability that was hard to say anything bad about and a kind of non-article using Cambridge as an adjective in the title. It was all bland mush: no radical opinions, nothing to make me jump off the white plastic seat in rage or delight. Where was the fire? As students I believe our opinions should be un-sculpted, raw and roughly hewn. This was too smooth, lacking in fibre, a poor imitation of the professionals rather than something novel and had no real place in my consumption: we should be the mustard rather than the potato.
I understand that it is difficult to write about something in a new light without being one sided, radical and a little offensive, but by God try. Yes feminism is right, but so what. Yes disability is an issue, but so what. Yes there is great architecture here, but so what. Challenge me. Make me feel uncomfortable. We are not here to be reasonable, let the adults do that for us, shock and insult, form an off the wall point of view and who cares if it is wrong, at least it wasn’t PC pseudo-plagiarism. Do this and our moribund student press might change a little.
If it had happened in the pages of Varsity, perhaps I would have flushed the latest stats on college spending down the U bend that day, rather than our opinions.