The Daily Universe, student newspaper at good ol’ Brigham Young University, ran a letter to the editor on Feb. 9 that read as follows:
Bad moon pricing
Recently, there was an article about a man selling an acre on the moon for $20. I must say, I am opposed to buying a plot of land on the moon for such a price. Don’t get me wrong, I love the moon, but I just don’t think $20 for land is viable for a college student these days. The main reason: opportunity cost.
With $20, you could supply yourself with food for an entire week, unless you’re a freshman with dining plus, in which case it is only two days. You may say, “but the moon is made out of cheese, and that’s way more food.”
However, I’ve learned through some secret sources, that it is primarily made out of oxygen, silicon and iron, which have nothing to do with cheese.
With $20, you can support a homeless child for months. As advertised on TV, it costs only 39 cents per day to help Pablo have shoes on his feet and corn in his mouth. You could help him for 51 days.
Finally with $20, you can find out whether someone likes you. Simply hand them $20 and ask “Do you like me?” If they say yes, you win. If they say no, you’ll actually save money by avoiding the costs of taking them out on dates. Combine that with all the time you’ll save, and you’ll notice $20 is too much to give up.
A few readers brought this letter to my attention because of the remarkable similarity between the final paragraph and the closing paragraphs of this old “Snide Remarks” column.
Obviously Jon Harmon was familiar with the column and appropriated it for use in his I’m-trying-to-be-funny letter. I was flattered, bemused, and a little annoyed, but not much. And before I could decide what kind of response, if any, I should give, someone else wrote to The Daily Universe complaining about Jon’s letter, only for different reasons. It was published on Feb. 12:
In the recent letter, “Bad moon pricing,” (Feb. 9) the author steps outside the bounds of humor and into the realm of offensiveness. He turned the ads that run on TV asking for our help in fighting poverty by providing needy people with the basic necessities of life into a joke by stereotypically giving the name Pablo to all who suffer in such a way and minimizing the relief such organizations bring. In an effort to be comical, he has offended countless readers who don’t think it’s funny to make fun of the terrible living conditions of some of our less fortunate brothers and sisters.
It’s just inherently wrong to take the pleas for help that bring sorrow to our hearts and turn them into a quick laugh. Stereotyping is one of the great ills that plague our society, and it shames me to see that it is still very much alive.
What is one to think after seeing such an outrageous letter in the readers’ forum? I might begin to wonder if BYU really is the kind of place where I would want my children to study, after seeing the way that some people make such discriminating jokes at the expense of others’ suffering. As we “Enter to Learn” I certainly hope this mentality does not reflect the manner in which we will “Go Forth to Serve.” The author owes us all an apology, and I’ll be waiting for it.
Now, I didn’t think Jon Harmon’s letter was funny, either (though not for lack of good material to steal from!), but Hyrum Hemingway’s response was so … well, typical. Read any day’s letters in The Daily Universe and you’ll see at least one like that.
So at last I wrote a response and submitted it as a letter to the editor. Alas, several issues of the paper have been published since then, and my letter has not seen the light of day, so I am forced to conclude they won’t be printing it. So here it is for you:
Two recent letters in The Daily Universe caused me great alarm. First, “Narrow-minded moon” (Feb. 12) criticized a previous letter-writer (“Bad moon pricing,” Feb. 9) for making light of a serious situation: He had joked about the TV ads in which viewers are encouraged to donate money to help starving children.
Now, the writer of “Narrow-minded moon” makes a good point, and he doesn’t seem at all sanctimonious or humorless, nor does he make me roll my eyes. But he missed the REALLY offensive thing about the “Bad moon pricing” letter: The part about giving a potential date $20 to find out in advance whether she likes you was blatantly ripped off from an old “Snide Remarks” column published ON THESE VERY PAGES in November 1997!
What’s that, writer of “Bad moon pricing”? You figured there was no one left at BYU who remembered “Snide Remarks,” or who bought the “Snide Remarks” book in which that column was reprinted, or who had browsed at www.ericdsnider.com/snide/how-to-do-stuff-better and read that column? Figure again, my friend! You’re busted. I might begin to wonder if BYU really is the kind of place where I would want my children to study, after seeing the way that some people at BYU steal other people’s jokes. For shame, sir. FOR SHAME.
Eric D. Snider
The fact that Jon Harmon is from Portland and I now live in Portland is probably a coincidence. Jon Harmon, are you reading this? (I assume Hyrum Hemingway isn’t.)