Do we Sneade to go this far?
Hugh Bassett muses on the severe consequences for Sneade and Stander.
Everyone loves a big, juicy scandal, don’t they? That’s why everyone got so excited when this whole Kirk Sneade thing came along. Well, maybe not excited entirely. It’s an affair that’s caused an awful lot of offense, but it does have all the hallmarks of something everyone can really sink their teeth into.
It’s got a figurehead to be vilified, Mr. Sneade himself. There are warring factions, light and dark. It touches on red-hot student political issues. It’s got twists and turns: he didn’t write the manifesto himself, he left the election, and on Monday The Tab reported that he is being banned from all UCLU areas and sports teams until the end of the year.
Even though the rest of the election is now over, and the twenty or so people who actually voted have recovered from the shock that everyone they expected to win did, the furore around the ruddy-faced natural scientist refuses to die down. In the eyes of many, Sneade and Stander deserve to have repercussions brought against them even after withdrawing from the race and giving out all-encompassing apologies. The debate forces us to ask whether or not it is ever truly right to destroy someone.
Now, please don’t get me wrong (but this will be published on the Internet, so it’s likely that you will. And then be super vocal about it), I am not defending Sneade or Stander’s actions. Indeed there is a lot to dislike about the poster boy for UCL misogyny. Recently, within about five minutes, a friend detailed an absolute smorgasbord of horrific tales of Kirk, ranging from trashing a nightclub for no good reason to pulling off a grim Van Wilder-inspired stunt on another student. For many people, he sums up the last group of people that you can openly pour hatred on without any fear of rebuke; white, middle class guys who drink too much and seem to only exist in order to fulfill grotesque caricatures of the modern ‘lad’.
The manifesto that Stander drew up, apparently without Sneade’s knowledge, begins with rather lazy jokes that were never going to score too many points for witticism, before descending into the realms of stuff that a female colleague described as ‘extremely uncomfortable’. Yet does the fallout really need to go to such extremes?
The continuation of the scandal has gone past the original outrage at a joke that went a bit too far, and has fallen into a situation that only serves the purpose of glorifying the people who are punishing the pair.
Obviously some form of punishment needs to occur, as there is an element of willingness to cause offence by writing and entering the manifesto (and not entirely distancing yourself from the campaign that bears your name too quickly), but hasn’t the public reaction been enough? Ask any random student what they think of Kirk Sneade and you’ll probably get an answer ranging from ‘bit of an idiot’, to ‘the cause of all suffering and pain since the dawn of time’. His name, both inside and outside the University, is currently muddier than Dennis Rodman’s after his jaunt to North Korea.
We will always need someone to vilify on occasion. Good cannot really exist without evil. But after the good have had their say, banned someone from Union buildings and sports teams or fined them, and made sure they continue to be figures of hate, they get to go home and get on with their lives. Sneade, and to a lesser extent Stander, have already had a considerable portion of their future ruined.
The real message of the whole debacle is that we all need to stop pretending we’re perfect. You could meditate your t*ts off for a thousand years and still be a little bit sexist, racist or homophobic. Unfortunately it’s how we’re built. Sure, we’re clever enough to realise that it’s not conducive to a happy, cohesive society, but there’s no use in trying to make out that you never make a snap judgement on someone or say something not entirely PC. Granted, there are some of us who are slightly less than willing to play down the rawer parts of our nature, the duo this article is concerned about for example, but they were never in a position to do any real harm. There is a huge, huge difference between a meat-headed joke and actually going out and abusing a woman.
There are many more constructive ways out of this situation. Force Sneade to join yoga society and give up booze for a year. Make him volunteer in an abused women’s centre and teach him something more than ‘pious people with important jobs hate you’. Or perhaps put all of this effort into doing something that actually helps the terrible problems that some women still have to suffer, even in developed countries and Universities. (And that doesn’t include ‘starting a feminist reading group’.)
We could make this big, juicy scandal into something positive for women. In the end, the real reason we all love a scandal so much is that somewhere along the line, we think we might learn from it.