Max Karson, an envelope-pushing CU-Boulder student profiled in this Message column from last November, loves making news. But he may have gotten more attention than he bargained for on April 17, when he was arrested as a result of remarks he offered in class. According to information contained in this Associated Press article, students were discussing the April 16 slayings on the Virginia Tech campus when Karson "made comments about understanding how someone could kill 32 people." Witnesses reportedly told investigators that Karson said he was "angry about all kinds of things, from fluorescent light bulbs to the unpainted walls, and it made him angry enough to kill people."
Even in this context, these cracks seem intended as satire. However, a mere day after the worst killing spree in United States history, those present apparently weren't able to appreciate Karson's sense of humor -- and there are precedents for such disconnects. The November Message points out that Karson was suspended as an Amherst, Massachusetts, high school student after circulating a newsletter claiming that he'd been romantically involved with a principal accused of making sexually inappropriate comments to a male pupil. Then, at CU, he published a supposedly comic essay in The Yeti about "the myth of the female orgasm." As noted in the piece, Karson "argued that the clitoris is functionless ('like an appendix'), breasts have no nerves and can therefore be squeezed as hard as possible, and the sex act should proceed without lubrication, 'so they can really feel it.'"
Complaints from readers who felt this description made light of rape soon reached CU vice chancellor of student affairs Ron Stump, who called Karson into his office and gave him a lecture. Later, Stump suggested in an interview with the Boulder Daily Camera that the university was looking at legal options regarding the incident, which didn't go over too well with Boulder's branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. Shortly thereafter, CU was forced to publicly affirm Karson's First Amendment rights, much to his delight. "As far as any personal pleasure in making the administration look stupid, that wasn't high on my list of priorities," he insisted. "But it was amusing."
Karson's latest brush with notoriety is likely to evolve into a free-speech and satire argument, too, and if it does, he'll probably wind up winning the day. In the meantime, though, betcha he's not laughing. -- Michael Roberts
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