As virtual commencements wrap up the most abbreviated academic year ever, it makes a left-winger nostalgic for one’s college days. Perhaps that’s why a satirical work by illustrator Chelsea Saunders for the 2018 issue #16 of Current Affairs Magazine is suddenly making the rounds on Twitter, causing thousands of proud liberals to tag themselves in Saunder’s Where’s Waldo-esque crowd scene, titled “The Campus as it Exists in the Mind of a US Conservative.” However, its original intentions have been somewhat blurred after its title was cropped out, with leftists and conservatives offering their own interpretations.
“Although [the title] has been mysteriously photoshopped out,” said Saunders, in an email interview with Hyperallergic, “the editors [Nathan J. Robinson and Lyta Gold] wanted to comment on the conservative belief that college campuses are wild liberal playgrounds (which of course isn’t true).” Saunders credits most of the jokes as written by the editors — for example, Lyta Gold came up with the “Cuck Zone” bar — but was able to throw in her own ideas as well.
“As a leftist, most of my work is political satire anyway, so working with Current Affairs is a blast,” she said. “The editors definitely wanted to include specific terms used by the right-wing, in order to get the satire across.”
Truly, the image has something for everyone: an awards ceremony at the Oppression Olympics, a man being burned alive atop the Title IX building, a nursery-like Safe Space, an army of rats, a riot in progress destroying the Classics Department, and an idyllic Karl Marx fountain — just to name a few of the familiar sights that all of us liberals recall from our undergraduate and postgrad years around universities. Just make sure you steer clear of the Pronoun Police and the Cuck Zone … unless you’re into that kind of thing, because we obviously don’t kink-shame here. Whatever you’re into.
Although the jokes are based on exaggerations, Saunders says she channeled some of her own college experience while drawing.
“For example, my university had students from all over the world; it was a huge cultural exchange,” she said. “I tried to reflect that diversity by drawing people of different races and making the campus seal read ‘tolerantia’ (Latin for tolerance). Oh, and the vegan food at my university always tasted weird … hence my drawing of the ‘quinoa shake’ and ‘ancient grains’ in the cartoon dining hall.”
I’ll be honest — as a long-ago UCSC Banana Slug, this image is basically documental of my college experience. All that’s missing is our state-ranked Ultimate Frisbee Team (go Slugs!!) and the sole campus fraternity’s Teeter-Tot-a-Thon for rape prevention (seriously). So Saunders’s image is particularly nostalgic for me, but I think it can be enjoyed by anyone capable of getting the joke, as well as people who like to laugh at conservatives who are incapable of seeing this image in a satirical light. But it seems like, for the most part, “The Campus” is entertaining people on both sides of the culture wars.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive!” said Saunders. “I’ve gotten feedback from both conservatives and leftists praising the piece. The content resonates with both sides, be it ironically or unironically. In general, my goal is to spark discussion, so this was a success!” Saunders currently has a few pieces in the works, and does monthly political cartoons for the Nib.
“Given the state of the world today, I find political satire extremely therapeutic,” she said. “It provides an outlet for the frustrations I have with ineffective government, classism, racism, and the like.” To each their own, Chelsea — if you need me, I’ll be unwinding after a long day of Radical Feminist Praxis by dipping by the Free Weed kiosk and then settling back to watch White Tears Theater. Just like in my college days.