This past week Willamette University has been taken by storm by a Facebook page known as Willamette University Confession. The page offers a space for Willamette students to post their deepest, darkest, “please take me to the grave” secrets in a public forum with complete anonymity. As one could imagine, what has ensued is a steaming vat of sometimes humorous, but often deeply disturbing word vomit from the WU populace. There are so many aspects of the Confessions page that could be analyzed, but for the purposes of this post I will look at one actor, a Facebook page known as Willamette Justice for all People, and what is revealed about the construction of online identity, a concept taken from Queer Latinidad, and the complexities of language and translating, a recurring theme in class.
A bit of background information: On February 19th around 12pm a post on the Willamette Confessions page read,
“#54 I’m going to dress semi-offensively to the Jungle Dance just to piss off the over-sensitive ‘Justice Squad’ members.”
“Justice Squad” is a term that was coined approximately two weeks ago to refer to students at Willamette who have visibly committed themselves to social justice through association with the American Ethnic Studies department, the Injustice Anywhere column of the Collegian, or any of a number of student organizations, activities, and friend circles that engage in conversations about equity and such. The term is meant to be derogatory (although I must say “Justice Squad” sounds pretty awesome).
Approximately 2 hours after this post was made, a Facebook page was created called Willamette League of Justice for All People, which I will refer to as WLJ. WLJ commented on the post saying,
“WHOA WHOA WHOA Guys. And equal women. Lets keep all the costumes for this “Humid Boscage Party” Unoffensive and Non Opressive. AND no fur or faux fur.”
WLJ has since commented on nearly every post on the Confessions page with messages of a similar thread. It has sparked a great deal of confusion and controversy among those who would consider themselves “Justice Squad” members, those antagonistic to social justice, and everyone in between. Is this person trolling or is this serious?
As Rodriguez mentions in her chapter on the discursive arena of cyberspace in Queer Latinidad, the absence of a physical body in online forums makes it all the more present in our minds. The Confessions page sparks an obsession with the physical body. There is a desire to know the speaker, to identify the words with an individual. The nature of the page insists that we envision or speculate on the physical identity of the speaker. The identity of the WLJ is difficult to envision, making it both frustrating and intriguing. There is a desire, perhaps even a necessity, to align this person either with the “Justice Squad” or the “Antagonizers”, friend or foe so to speak.
Nominally, the Willamette League of Justice for All has associated itself with justice, and some of its posts have addressed the problematic nature of the confession. The page has chosen to present itself as an ally to the “Justice Squad.” However, the overzealous and often misguided nature of the responses, as well as the interesting choice of Che Guevara as the profile picture (which could spark a whole other discussion), has led to speculation that this page is rooted in sarcasm. The one sentence in the WLJ About page can be read numerous ways. It says that the page is dedicated to “Letting people know when they are being insensitive to oppressed people everywhere.” This could be a legitimate attempt to highlight the truly horrendous and derogatory posts made by Willamette students on the Confessions page, or it could be poking fun at all of the “overly sensitive” people who care about oppression, privilege, and equity. Since there is no physical being, no name, and no history in the physical world attached to the author of the WLJ, it is extremely difficult to determine the positionality and intent of the speaker and place him/her/ze within the Justice Squad/Justice Antagonizers paradigm.
Because I am obsessed with the article “Tradductora, Traditora” by Norma Alarcon, I am going to throw in some musings on authenticity and language. Alarcon notes that the process of translating wrecks havoc on notions of authenticity. Perhaps I am stretching here, but at times I think of writing as a process of translating. Writing is an attempt to take thoughts or spoken ideas and force them to conform to a rigid written format. As Rodriguez notes, in the process things will get lost. Tone will not be conveyed, phrases will be misinterpreted; the text is susceptible to the intentions of the intentions of others. The WLJ has been deemed inauthentic by both the Justice Squad and the Antogonizers. Perhaps the WLJ intends to troll, but has been shunned by the Antagonizers for not clearly exuding a sarcastic tone. Perhaps it is seriously committed to justice, but has been deemed inauthentic for misconstruing the intentions of the “Justice Squad”. Maybe it’s just some kid who wanted in on the chaos of the Willamette Confessions page. The world may never know.
I really, really encourage you all to comment on this post. I have barely scrapped the surface of this phenomenon. There is so much going on at Willamette involving the public revealing of private matters, trolling, and the shield of anonymity (Think of the “Hey You” as well.) Look forward to reading comments!