Editor's note: Kit-Bacon Gressitt's commentary appears on her blog Excuse Me, I'm Writing and is republished by SDGLN, The Ocean Beach Rag and The Progressive Post. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize while working for the North County Times.
Last Thursday, I visited a professor in her temporary office. She was perched at an oddly placed desk amid unpacked boxes, all under a light patina of dust and the discomfort of passing disorder.
She apologized when I arrived — an unnecessary courtesy, albeit a noted one, but I didn’t care. She was doing me the favor of providing guidance on an analysis of The Koala, a tabloid publication that started at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) in 1982, spread to San Diego State University (SDSU) in 2004, and mutated into an edition at Cal State University San Marcos (CSUSM) this January.
The common theme of all three editions of The Koala is the preponderance of content written for white, heterosexual, able-bodied male readers — and those who hover around them seeking their approval even if it means being victimized by them.
This white, heterosexual, able-bodied male voice possesses the privilege of attacking every other demographic with abandon — and with the specter of hate and violence, evinced in the many rape and pedophilia scenarios; degrading language reflecting ability, gender, race and sexual orientation; and sexual and scatological references to religious figures.
The intensity of the Koalans’ disaffection with everyone else is startling, and their expression of it ranges from adolescent tripe to profoundly disturbing hate language, despite the tabloid’s being marketed to advertisers as “satirical comedy.”
Interestingly, Koala owner George Lee Liddle III refers to people who criticize his tabloids as “haters,” his one minimally successful attempt at satire, however unintentional.
But The Koala is not considered funny, trenchant or satirical by most people who are not affiliated with it or by those business operators who have withdrawn their ads. And a review of the internal communication between Liddle and the CSUSM students reinforces its comedic failure. Many of their exchanges, to which I was privy for a few weeks, revealed anger, hatred and, on the students’ part, fear of repercussion, which suggested they had not fully embraced Liddle’s arrogance of purpose or his directive to ignore the haters.
Koalan and CSUSM student Aaron Jaffe wrote: I am all for putting out our papers with the standard content, but what I am not for is having a bunch of us being retarded and running around talking about stupid shit in the wrong places. If some of you guys cannot straighten yourselves out and just keep on the level with that aspect then I'll have to take a bow and exit. I do not care about what we print but I do care when my name gets associated with someone being an idiot.
So why do they do it?
The professor and I sat there together, stumped by the elusive motivation for being involved with a company publishing such hateful fare, “standard content,” according to Jaffe.
For Liddle, greed might explain it all. But for the students, receiving the rather substantial gift of a college education, it is unclear why they would devote their time to The Koala. And much else about the company is unclear, because the students are trained to demand alcohol in exchange for interviews, which for many of them is illegal, given their ages.
But I reviewed what I’ve managed to learn about them since January.
– As previously reported, The Koala is no longer a student organization, not as they are commonly understood. Rather, it was redefined as a business in 2005 — a for-profit general partnership that, until Feb. 25, was owned by two former UCSD students, Liddle and Sammy Elhag.
– On Feb. 25, Elhag filed a Partnership Withdrawal form with San Diego County, thereby exiting as a partner and leaving the reins to Liddle.
The timing is significant because on Feb. 14, the UCSD Koala released an issue with a piece by 26-year-old student editor Kris Gregorian. Gregorian attacked an associated student councilmember by name in an obscenely manipulated photograph that rumor suggests might lead to a lawsuit.
It would be nice to think that Elhag was fed up with the tabloid’s hateful content, but it is just as likely that he withdrew in an attempt to protect his assets from a suit.
– In a possibly related move, Gregorian has abandoned his previously stated aspiration to be a perpetual student: He has departed the university for reasons unknown but not unfathomable.
If it wasn’t pressure from the university, certainly few parents would choose to fund an education in hate. One look at what their kiddos are doing on their parents’ dimes might be enough to yank at least a few of the Koalans home for a permanent spring break.
Gregorian, however, might not have departed The Koala along with his education. Given that Liddle is acting as interim editor of the CSUSM edition, it’s certainly possible Gregorian could stay on as editor at UCSD.
– In the meantime, Channel 10 News reported that The Koala has received $28,892.52 from UCSD since 2005, when Liddle and Elhag first filed a Fictitious Business Name Statement with the County, declaring The Koala to be a privately held, for-profit business. In addition, the company has been given on-campus office space.
While it’s possible the university system was previously unaware of the business’ existence and nonstudent ownership, it knows now, so wouldn’t it be appropriate for UCSD or the UC Regents to pursue return of the public funds from Liddle and Elhag. If the university doesn’t, the taxpayers — or their elected representatives — certainly should.
There is one more thing that has become evident since January, and it is that many people who have commented on The Koala — too many people — do not understand the constitutional right to freedom of speech. They think that to criticize The Koala or to ask advertisers to withdraw their support equates to violating Liddle’s right to publish the tabloid.
But they are wrong.
Yes, Liddle and the students can publish whatever they want — and suffer the consequences if they venture into libel or obscenity.
Of course, those of us who find their speech hateful also have the right to free speech. We have the right to freely criticize The Koala, and we have the right to ask businesses to withdraw their advertising from the tabloid — because the Koalans’ right to free speech does not bear with it a right to advertisers. That they must earn with the perceived value of their content.
My professor is much younger than I, but after perusing a recent Koala, we shared a little weariness with the damn annoying volume of injustice and hate and violence in the world: the anti-working class legislation in Wisconsin and Ohio, the racist strife in Arizona, the waste of students who choose The Koala’s hate over doing some good with their lives. And then we were silent.
I thought of the tattered and torn piece of paper in my office. I can always count on Frederick Douglass for a reminder that our freedoms cannot be passively enjoyed — and for a good kick to keep up the battle.
“If there is no struggle,” Douglass wrote, “there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning.”
I’m rather fond of thunder and lightning — and agitation against hate is invigorating.
Call to action
Call The Koala advertisers to ask them to withdraw their support of the tabloid’s homophobic, misogynistic, pedophilic, racist and sexist content.
Cana Care Consultants: (760) 429-7498
Cheba Hut, Scott Jennings, president and CEO
Cheba Hut UCSD, Matt Trethewey, COO: (480) 773-0644
The Dank Bank: (619) 589-0117
Elite Medical Collective: (619) 255-9768
The General Store Coop: (858) 450-3080 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Goldfingers Gentlemen’s Club, owner Aaron Goldberg: (858) 530-0766
Insomniac Events, Pasquale Rotella, founder: (323) 874-7020
PB Entertainment, owners Mike Ettenberg and Jason Sampas: (858) 598-7759
Porter’s Pub & Grill: (858) 587-4828
Spirits of St. Germaine: (858) 455-1414
Therapeutic Healing Cooperative: (619) 717-8060 or (866) 378-1726