Opinions on Opinions

“Do not treat prophecies with contempt.” 1 Thess 5:20

Far be it from me to scoff at oracles; after Gustave Coolwhip, prophet of Mapco fried chicken, delivered his strong injunction not to resist the neon-green siren and her greasy aphrodisiac, I stopped at the corner of Holtzclaw and E 3rd. The atmosphere intoxicates passersby within a mile radius, drawing them toward the hidden treasure. As I was handed an extra barbecue sauce over the counter, I found myself asking, “Wait—how did an anonymously-written Windbag article make its way into the Bagpipe?”

The Bagpipe does not publish anonymous articles, a fact I became well aware of when I made submissions during my sophomore year. And the regular Bagpipe is not known for publishing articles of the genre in which Coolwhip’s “The Land of Milk and Honey” resides—that is left for the domain of the Windbag and independent publications. For the record, and for those unacquainted with the various publications at Covenant College, the Windbag is an annually-anticipated compilation of well-crafted and provocative satire.

The Bagpipe is not the Windbag.

So I am curious about the inclusion of an anonymous article, one that supports a relatively low-stakes and uncontroversial opinion—yea, the fame of Mapco chicken is great. What does this article suggest about the Bagpipe or about the student body? The Bagpipe has undergone some significant changes this school year, and is moving in a direction that is beneficial to its body of readers, providing students with more news that connects them to current events on campus, in Chattanooga, and the world. Improvements have been made in both the print and online layouts, making the Bagpipe more accessible to the Covenant community. I am not sure last issue’s article makes a contribution to these improvements, although a delight to read (Coolwhip possesses a deft hand). Anonymous articles too much resemble platforms like Yik Yak; while students are able to exercise their freedom, discernment, and voice namelessly on private social media applications, the Bagpipe is a collective project of our community, funded by Student Senate and contributed to by students and faculty. An article about local fare is hardly harmful, but the desire for the radical freedom to act in anonymity without responsibility is the force behind the innocuous and the toxic alike. Christiana Fitzpatrick reminded students of the abuse of the freedom Yik Yak provides when she spoke in chapel last year.

There is another attitude, however, that puts this article beyond what I had perceived to be the scope of the Bagpipe. The opinions section of the Bagpipe is undoubtedly one of the more popular sections of the paper, or at least more sensational, the buzz of campus conversation for a week or two. I’ve seen some classic articles in my time—the landmark “Leggings Are Not Pants” stands out most starkly, together with issues-long dialogues on the Christian ethics of tattoos, marijuana, alcohol, dating, etc. Opinions are, by nature, polarizing, and in our individual experiences, we find articles too agreeable to mention, articles too far removed from ourselves to grapple with, and articles that incite formative conversations. But the boundaries around these categories are never the same for all members of the community. Printed alongside relevant and equally-influential news pieces, the opinions articles have formed an important part of the Bagpipe.

So the Bagpipe’s call in the first issue of its sixty-second volume for ridiculous, outrageous, and annoying articles is disconcerting. Certainly I have just admitted that we, perhaps, find various opinions to be loud or irritating; but to make a public call for these—is it honesty or cynicism? Apparently it hasn’t barred all opinions (we’re several issues into the school year); but what articles have stumbled over this call for student voices overlaid with preemptive laughter? And what potential writers review the last pages of the paper only to find the likes of Mr. Coolwhip? We should not be afraid to be vulnerable, or imagine that beyond our mountaintop publication is a world of amicable readers and editors whose smiling faces would never critique, mock, or slander. But we should be able to say, “I’m going to take your opinion as seriously as you make it, treat you with respect as a dignified human created by God, and make this a place where you can be heard when you need to be, or where you can excellently craft humor in a way that does not drown out other voices.”