Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 20, No. 13. September 12, 1957
Dirty, or Just Dull?
Dirty, or Just Dull?
Mr F. A. de la Mare has written his annual letter to the daily Press (a little later than usual this scar) complaining about the standard and smuttiness of our Capping procession and magazine.
We have the deepest respect for Mr. de la Mare. He is in many ways one of Victoria's finest sons. He was a foundation student of the College, and as scholar, sportsman, and devotee of many extra-curricular cultural activities. "Frogsie" was well-known and liked in his student days, in the Gradutcs' Association he did much valuable work, and is especially to the esteemed for his stand on academic freedom in the early thirties when the principles mouthed by all academics were put to a real test and betrayed on all sides.
Mr. de la Mare's interest in the College is more than that of an old fogey with a sentimental regard for his Alma Mater. Victoria must mean to him as much as it, owes to him, and that is a great deal
Nevertheless. Mr. de la Mare's strictures upon the manner in which latter-day students celebrate Capping have tended to become tiresome by repetition. Many students are familiar with his name otherwise only in connection with the activities of the New Zealand Alliance, and write him off as an old wowser. The general theme of his yearly lament certainly helps foster this attitude by concentrating on the grossness of public over-indulgence of alcohol by students on Capping Day, and of the proportion of their gags devoted to the more elemental human functions like excretion and copulation.
Dr. John Beaglehole once remarked that "the most damaging charge against University students is not the moral one that their wit is indecent, but the intellectual one that it is so very dulf." if complaints about this year's Procesh and Cappicade were based on the more damaging charge, they would be closer to the truth, and more likely to help provoke an improvement next year.
It may be that the real dog biting Mr. de la Mare (and also "Sal", who wrote the guest editorial in "Salient" of 30th May, and others) is this terrible and unrelieved dullness. For the fact is that a venerable humanist tradition, which can claim such figures as Catullus. Chaucer, and Rabelais, secs the essence of humour in incongruousness—the juxtaposition of two thoughts in such a way as to make a normally serious one appear comical. For this purpose, the lavatory and the bedroom are much richer treasuries of imagery than the drawing-room. And the inspiration for the consequent wit is more likely to be Bacchae than born of the brand of exuberance distilled in tea pots.
But what our Capping jesters so often tail to realise (and signally failed to realise this year) is the necessity for, harnessing the inspiration, for applying the imagery, and producing the wit at the end of it. Excretion and copulation and the consumption of fermented liquor, by themselves, if they were funny when liist performed, have long since ceased to be so. But a Rabelaisian jab or broadside at persons and institutions that take themselves seriously can be the summation of humour.
It may be that, were our Capping Day humour to return to this standard, and fulfil what we believe to be its traditional and proper role of burlesque and irreverence, the voices of Mr. de la Mare and the rest might continue to be raised in protest. Well, that remains to be seen. We must make sure that next May the contributions to Cappicade and the floats in Procesh are funny (ha! ha!), full of rollicking disrespect and not just smeared with sniggering and pointless smut.
Then if the wailing continues at the wall of the daily papers' letter columns, we will know what the argument is about. Meanwhile we should give Mr. de la Mare the benefit of the doubt.