Skoog: UNCENSORED: Evaluating the College Republicans’ aesthetic

If you turn on Dark Side of the Moon right at the moment that the College Republicans begin painting their bridge panel, the album aligns with the mural’s defacement to the exact second. Freaky.

Caroline Skoog

It’s that time of year again: pumpkin spice, bonfires, Gopher tailgates, the College Republican bridge panel getting vandalized. This September marked the fourth consecutive year in which the College Republicans’ bridge panel was defaced⁠ — it’s kind of a tradition at this point. Albeit, not a great one.

Before the mural’s redecoration, it portrayed a quasi-Pink Floyd album cover reading “Donald Trump The Wall,” with each brick representing one of the president’s achievements, according to the artist. 

Oh, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Beside imagery of a plane flying into two towers was a quote from Ilhan Omar. I’m pretty sure that that part of the mural wasn’t a Pink Floyd album, but I’m not big on psychedelic rock. 

In an email to the Minnesota Daily, the College Republicans representative from the Minnesota Student Association noted that the group brainstorms marketing ideas by focusing on issues they see as important and timely. And in this case, 9/11 felt like one of them. 

The Minnesota College Republicans are a state federation, linking 16 campus chapters across the state and affiliating them with their local Republican Party. The 16 chapters operate beneath the College Republican National Committee, an Independent 527 Political Action Committee with over 250,000 members. 

Last week, the College Republicans at the UMN-Morris campus faced criticism regarding a promotional poster for the group. The poster depicted three half-filled glasses: the first read “optimist” and “the glass is half full”; the second, “pessimist” and “the glass is half empty”; the third said “feminist” and “the glass is being raped.” 

Putting the offensive material aside for a moment, if you’re going to make a joke — especially regarding assault — it should at the very least be funny. It’s not clever, doesn’t align the group with any real policy matter, and it just implies that the group is … pro-rape? 

In their defense, the Morris College Republicans’ President, Tayler Lehmann, denies that the group had anything to do with the poster. Well, it sidestepped the group’s policy of authorizing materials through a voting process. Maybe that’s why the material, as inflammatory as it is, isn’t surprising at all with “College Republicans” tacked on top of it. The aesthetic is pretty consistent with their other material. 

The Star Tribune reported that in a similar announcement, Lehmann expressed that free speech is “being attacked” on college campuses. The brave free speech warriors that the College Republicans are, their battle against “gender hysteria and oversensitive triggers that shut down discussion and critical analysis of opposing viewpoints,” continues. But you can’t advocate for free speech if you only have a very specific type of speech in mind. 

In a separate account to Campus Reform, Lehman asserted that “The University of Minnesota Morris College Republicans have never and will never be intimidated by anybody.” Do you know how easy it is to say you won’t be intimidated when your views literally reflect that of the current administration? When you position yourself in alignment with the status quo?

Nathan Harman, chairman of the University of Minnesota College Republicans and soldier in the war on free speech, articulated similar opinions in a piece for The Minnesota Republic: 

“Censorship is a powerful thing. We hear about it in statist nations like China and Russia … We read about it in our history books when studying nations like Nazi Germany and the U.S.S.R. And now, we’ve seen it yet again on our own campus on Friday with the vandalism of the College Republicans panel on the Washington Avenue bridge.”

Now sounds like a good time to mention that censorship, the right to free speech, is a right granted by the government. The police didn’t pull them off the bridge, kicking and screaming. The College Republicans weren’t arrested for their words, which actually endorsed state powers, and Lenny Bruce didn’t rise from the dead to salute their valor. Rather, some students painted over it. Not receiving 100 percent positive feedback doesn’t mean it’s censorship. 

I don’t believe 100 percent positive feedback was their objective, either. Despite starving for inclusive political discussion, the College Republicans’ marketing tactics effectively alienate and dismiss entire demographics right off the bat. How, then, can they expect to engage in open political discourse if they themselves reject not just the views but the existence of populations, for example trans individuals, before the conversation starts? 

It seems like a bit of a game on their end. Scribble a vicious slogan into a public space as a means of asserting dominance, then once it inevitably gets vandalized they can play the censored victim card. It’s as if they’re projecting their own anxieties about what they’re doing onto their materials, like a self-fulfilled prophecy. Yet either way it’s a win for them. 

I don’t agree or disagree with people’s choices to deface the mural. It bugs me that the group got the rise it was seeking though. If the group desires critical analysis of ideologies it would be cool to employ art on the mural — stickers, or something not permanent — that starts a dialogue with their ideology, not taking down the entire piece but taking on the message. For instance, speaking hypothetically here, if someone stuck one of the many unruly Trump quotes over the Ilhan Omar quote beside the 9/11 painting. In that sense, the vandals wouldn’t be imposing free speech but entering free speech. If the College Republicans are playing a game with their own rules, then challenging that message requires thinking three steps ahead.