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Should there be regulations to draw the line between profanity and humor on posters?
[ Issue 128 Page 11 ] Friday, March 28, 2014, 15:43:59 Ah Hyun Kim, Jiwon Lee ahhyunk@hanmail.net, jiwonlee@kaist.ac.kr

Pro: Restrains on Profanity Help Make Better Posters

by Ah Hyun Kim

The beginning of a semester starts with endless promotion posters taped on every bulletin boards in the KAIST campus. No student club or school organization wants to miss this time of the year to recruit new club members or to gather participants for a certain program. Since the campus walls are covered completely by a variety of fancy posters, it is very important to make promotion posters that stand out among all the other ones to attract students’ attentions. As a result, there are many that parody popular movies or dramas, or big colorful posters that just cover an entire building - as if their strategy is to go for the quantity rather than quality of the poster. This fierce competitive atmosphere of trying to attract people’s interest can be one of the memorable spectacles at KAIST. However, this “poster war” will not always be recalled as a pleasant and humorous event as recently, problems arose due to inappropriate poster contents that included profanity and nasty jokes. Clubs and organizations have crossed the line out of the desire to make their posters stand out. There should be a set of boundaries in regulating the content of promotion posters in order to maintain a pleasant campus environment.
First, it is important to acknowledge the fact that promotion posters are posted in public areas. Just as public television shows have regulations for keeping language and topics appropriate, there should be certain guidelines or considerations put into the content of public materials. Avoiding profanity and other kinds of offensive contents should not be thought as merely nice manners but rather a social obligation. Though some people take profanity as a joke and view it lightly, there are others who take it seriously and get really offended by the inappropriate materials. It is best not to upset students when you want to make good impressions and attract the public. Furthermore, there should be regulations on the posters to prevent misleading information. Inappropriate materials tend to overly emphasize only one side of the content, and this emphasis is usually derived from exaggerations that can easily lead to presentation of false information to passersby. Misleading advertisement by a club can only be detrimental to the club itself, as the new recruits will be applying with false expectations only to be quickly disappointed. Thus, the original purpose of the posters, which is to deliver the essence of the club or organization, becomes overshadowed by the focus on provocative expressions, resulting in an outcome that is beneficial to neither the club nor the applicants.
Though quite obvious, the following iteration seems necessary on the account of this provocative poster war: profanity is not a good, healthy form of expression. We are university students who have received high quality education and have considerable refinement. Though it is hard to make an absolute borderline between humor and profanity, a reasonable guideline should be set for all to adhere to. The difference between humor and profanity lies in the reaction of the public. Humor does not offend or upset the public whereas profanities can, even if it is just a select group of people. “Witty” expressions that come in the form of profanity always end up sparking controversies and disputes. Controversies imply that these expressions are in fact inappropriate to use in public and are not considered as healthy humor. Good humor should not offend other people or lead to unnecessary controversies. It can sound a bit strict, but profanity should not be the pursued form of expression in attracting people’s interests and therefore, it needs to be restrained. There are better ways than the usage of profanity to make posters humorous and attractive. Regulations on posters to restrict profanity can in the end help students make posters with more brilliant ideas and healthy humor with just the essential and truthful information - a true poster war.
Con: A Bit of Healthy Controversy
by Jiwon Lee
Student clubs and organizations are a huge part of university life at KAIST. The beginning of the academic year marks the most important recruitment period for these various student groups as they try to catch the attention of the hundreds of freshmen who have yet to establish a niche within their new environment. The countless number of banners and posters that can be found on campus during this time boast of the diversity of interest groups that exists in the KAIST community. However, some of these advertisements often contain material that could be viewed as offensive or distasteful. Censorship seems to be nonexistent, and as long as nobody is bold enough to plaster a huge poster that glorifies a hate group or contains sexually explicit images, it is most likely to stay that way. And that is a good thing. It is unwise to restrict free speech, especially within a student community that is already so silent.
Considering the fact students are entitled to freedom of expression, it is actually quite surprising and, to be frank, a bit disappointing how little students have taken advantage of their liberties. Complete pandemonium could potentially be created with this carte blanche. Thankfully, there have not been any charismatic rabble-rousers who succeeded in doing so, but at the same time, there seems to be such a lack of bold activists and freethinkers on campus that the only “controversial” promotional materials to be found are silly recruitment posters made out of bad taste. Though some of the posters may cause a scowl, they are highly unlikely to incite rage in even the most sensitive of people. The mildly vulgar words featured on banners are now so commonly used that they hardly even have a negative connotation. The images depicted do not objectify women anywhere near the level that the Korean media does.
If the content of these promotional materials were to be regulated, some obvious issues associated with censorship would be raised (e.g., is it possible to cater to the sensibilities of all groups present on campus? Where do we draw the line between humor and insult? Who should decide what is acceptable to read or see?). But even worse, it would be discouraging students who are already reluctant to speak their mind in a public manner. If individuals find offense with images they feel are demeaning towards women, they should respond by putting up posters that outline the abysmal state of women’s rights in Korea. If students with a deep appreciation for the Korean language feel shocked by the base vocabulary used by their fellow students, they should start a movement encouraging people to use more civilized forms of speech. Individuals should find their own voice and question the thoughts and motives of the people who engage in activities they deem to be distasteful. The idea that an authority figure has to intervene in these matters is patronizing and implies that KAIST students do not have the maturity or the intellectual capacity to face such problems themselves.
Though some may find certain materials on campus a bit controversial, perhaps they are not controversial enough. Publicizing controversial viewpoints could enhance dialogue within the KAIST community, imbue everyday conversations with more substance, and help students to better express their own opinions. And the absence of censorship provides boundless opportunities for opinions to be expressed in a creative manner. The entire university campus is a blank bulletin board upon which students can pin up any issue that is of interest. They can protest against an unfair university policy, deplore the inhumane working conditions students are often subjected to in the laboratory, disseminate information about injustices practiced in modern society, or gather support for a worthy cause. Perhaps the reason why students have not been capitalizing on their free speech privileges is because there has not been a catalyst strong enough to provoke them…at least not in the past year.
So, stir up some controversy. Spark some debates. Start movements, and spread awareness. Encourage outspoken and creative individuals to emerge from the shadows and disseminate their strange and radical notions. When hundreds of people start signing petitions to censor promotional material that is distributed throughout our campus, and thousands more sign a counter-petition to fight against it, we will know that we have succeeded in transforming an institute resembling an extension of Korean high schools into a freethinking university…or at the very least, making it a much more interesting place to be. 



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