Joe’s Finger Censored

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Review’s View

Washburn University | The Review
Issue date: 5/5/08 Section: Opinion

We on the Washburn Review staff do a lot with the other publications produced by students. The support system allows Review students to get experience with different types of writing and designing.

The completed Kaw yearbook was delivered about a week ago and its editor-in-chief opened it to find an unpleasant surprise. The feature story about Joe Raiola, an editor at MAD magazine, featured a picture with Raiola showing the audience his middle finger. His speech and his gesture tried to communicate the importance of free speech and to avoid censorship. In the finished yearbook, someone at Herff-Jones airbrushed out the middle finger of Raiola.


Let’s recap: a story about fighting censorship being censored.

Now, the yearbook company is not a governmental entity and therefore not bound to a pure definition of free speech and free press, but one would think that a company that produces a form of press would be more adherent to the rule. According to the editor and the advisor, someone from the company called and asked if they wanted the figure brushed out. This also jumps off the logic train at high speeds not only because they are dealing with a college yearbook, but also because if the staff or the advisor did not want a picture of someone flipping the bird in the yearbook, why would they put it there in the first place. If the yearbook staff really wanted to use that picture but did not want to use the middle finger, a majority of the staff is probably talented enough with Photoshop to airbrush out the offending figure in-house.

The notion of a story about upholding free speech being censored is hilariously ironic – almost sadly so. More important than hilarity is the over arching offense of free speech. The yearbook is a student publication that deserves the right of free speech just as much as any student publication. Why the company felt the need to airbrush out a middle finger is beyond us. Perhaps it was because the company is used to dealing with high school yearbooks, but those are more closely watched by adults who would take out the finger if need be. By the time the pages reach the printer there should be no tweaking done other than to fix minor details that will aid in the printing. The yearbook staff wanted the finger because it added to the story. It wasn’t a gratuitous use of nudity or offensive material – it was the point of Raiola’s speech.

Herff-Jones should think seriously about what it is doing and why it is doing it. If it is trying to be paternalistic about yearbooks, then it should just start a service that goes around to high school and college campuses and makes a clean, neat, pretty and unrealistic version of college life. Until then, leave the finger alone.

Offensive finger censored by WU yearbook publisher, Kaw yearbook was censored by
Herff Jones

By Barbara Hollingsworth

The Topeka Capital-Journal | JC Online
Published Thursday, May 08, 2008

For a story about a speaker who made frequent use of four-letter words and other blush-worthy speech, a picture of a middle finger extended toward his audience seemed to make the right point.

But when Washburn University’s yearbook editor cracked open the new Kaw yearbook in recent weeks and flipped to pages 32 and 33, the bird wasn’t there. No question about it, the middle digit belonging to MAD Magazine senior editor Joe Raiola’s right hand was gone, air-brushed away.

“I can’t really say what I actually said,” recalled Kaw editor Melissa Treolo. “Like the minute I saw it, I was like what the … “

Months back, Washburn’s student publications director Regina Cassell had received an e-mail from the yearbook’s Edwardsville publishing company Herff Jones. Workers at the plant spotted the offending finger and offered to air-brush it into oblivion. Not the best lesson in journalistic integrity, but Cassell understands the pressures a yearbook company that primarily works with high school books can face. Some high school advisers, she said, might appreciate the offer.

Cassell said she e-mailed back.

“I said it like three different ways: Do not change the photo,” she said.

From what she’s been told in recent weeks, the company didn’t think it got a reply quickly enough and performed the digital finger amputation. The accompanying text, which included Raiola’s colorful language, remained unchanged next to his post-operative hand.

“I’m still confused about why they would take it upon themselves to make that decision,” said Melissa Treolo, who freelances for The Topeka Capital-Journal.

Herff plant manager John McNown declined to comment Wednesday afternoon, referring any questions to Cassell.

Of the 500 yearbooks printed, Cassell said the company will replace the pages in 50 with the unchanged photo. Those books will be used for contest entries and given to the six staff members who put together the 244-page book.

What’s really strange, Cassell said, is the speaker was railing against censorship and how things get changed.

“We’re going to send him a copy of our yearbook,” said Cassell, who also has freelanced for The Capital-Journal. “He’ll think it’s just hysterical.”

Having a photo generate heat isn’t anything new for the yearbook staff. Last year, a picture of an underage student downing brew from a beer bong during a tailgate party on campus wasn’t embraced by some. As far as Cassell is concerned, it isn’t the yearbook staff’s duty to put out a picture-perfect image of Washburn.

Reporting to a college campus audience, she said, should allow them to be a little edgy — not that she expected that finger to be such an issue.

“It’s the finger for heaven’s sakes,” Cassell said.

Story by Barbara Hollingsworth: (785) 295-1285 or barbara.hollingsworth@cjonline.com.

Anderson: MAD editor flips over censorship

By Ric Anderson

The Topeka Capital-Journal | JC Online
Sunday, May 18. 2008

You don’t become a senior editor for MAD Magazine without having a nose for absurdity.

Or, in Joe Raiola’s case, a finger or two.

If you read this page regularly, you already know Raiola. He’s the person pictured May 8 holding up his right fist in a photo taken last November at Washburn University, where Raiola gave a speech on First Amendment issues.

There was only one problem with the picture. In reality, Raiola wasn’t making a fist. He was holding up his middle finger when the image was captured, but the publishers of the yearbook opted to retouch the picture — over the orders of the yearbook staff.

In other words, Raiola was censored in a story about his speech on censorship.

“When I saw it, I just started laughing,” he said during a telephone interview. “I mean, the context of this is unbelievable.”

Raiola said he’s had a finger censored before — not the flipping finger, but his ring finger. The censorship stemmed from the poster for his one-man show, “Almost Obscene,” which deals partly with free speech issues.

In the poster, Raiola holds up his ring finger to project what he calls a “visual pun” on the show’s title. But the poster has been banned in some places, he said, over concerns it’s too suggestive of the obscene gesture involving the middle finger.

At Washburn, where Raiola presented a speech titled “The Joy of Censorship,” he was making a point about his ring finger when he held up his middle finger.

“What I was saying was, ‘If I can’t do this (holding up the ring finger) because it’s too suggestive of this (holding up the middle finger), then it means I can’t hold up my index finger, either,” he said.

Raiola said he was not insulting the crowd with the gesture.

“There is not a thing I do in my show, not a single thing, that I would consider in bad taste or offensive,” he said. “That’s not to say I don’t use real language, but it’s all in context.”

The point of his speech is to spur discussion on free speech issues by pointing out the dangers of censorship, lampooning political correctness and pointing out what he sees as absurdity in how society grapples with obscenity issues.

For example, Raiola said banning racial epithets “will have about as much impact on racism as banning the word ‘bomb’ will on stopping war.”

Now that Raiola has had not one but two fingers censored, he can add some material to his speech.

“I was flattered,” he said. “Anybody who’s anybody has got to be controversial in Kansas, right?”

Ric Anderson, who, you’re right, probably shouldn’t kiss his momma with that mouth of his, can be reached at (785) 295-1282 or ric.anderson@cjonline.com

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