Student Provacateur Max Karson Strikes Again

University of Colorado student and past Westword profile subject Max Karson is an accomplished button-pusher, and this week, his school and the media reacted as anticipated to his latest provocation -- an opinion column for CU's online Campus Press entitled "If It's War the Asians Want..."

Only someone who's had his sense of irony surgically removed could fail to recognize the piece as satire: After deciding that Asians at the university look upon white enrollees as "walnut-brained business majors and skiers," Karson proposes evening the score with "a 100-round beer pong tournament" during which the non-Caucasians will be made to listen to repeated plays of "It's a Small World." Yet officials and the press went into politically correct overdrive anyway, undoubtedly to Karson's delight.

The ball got rolling with a February 20 piece in the Boulder Daily Camera by staffer Heath Urie. The article had a few flaws: As noted in a subsequent correction, Urie inproperly identified the column as an editorial representing the opinion of the Campus Press as a whole and misstated the tenure of past Press editor Stephanie Clary, who remarked negatively about Karson's attempt at generating yuks. Nonetheless, the report was quickly picked up by other media outlets -- among them the Denver Post, Channel 4, the Rocky Mountain News, and even

Of course, Karson has been down this road before. As noted in the aforementioned Westword column, published in November 2006, Karson first made headlines for his snarky prose over five years ago, as a high school student in Amherst, Massachusetts. He was suspended for a week for writing that he'd dated a male principal who'd previously resigned after being accused of making inappropriate comments to another student -- but the punishment was stricken from his record with a little help from an area branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. Then, at CU, he stirred ire with a self-published salvo about "the myth of the female orgasm" that some felt made light of rape. And following last April's massacre at Virginia Tech, he was arrested after reportedly claiming that he could understand why someone might kill 32 people given how angry he was about things like fluorescent light bulbs and unpainted walls.

This More Messages blog provides more details about the last incident, while an August 2007 followup item notes that a Boulder judge promised to drop charges against Karson if he managed to go twelve months without another offense. Problem is, offending is his specialty -- a connection made by Channel 7, which included his mug shot in connection with its coverage of the Asian-essay brouhaha.

The fallout from the latest controversy continues. A February 21 Daily Camera article comes complete with a finger-wagging statement from CU chancellor Bud Peterson, critical comments from journalism department dean Paul Voakes, who plans to meet with Karson and some of his colleagues shortly, and clarifying remarks from Campus Press editors apologetic about "any ambiguity of the satire that may have been misconstrued."

Even for Karson, that's a good day's work. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts