Julie and Rules

The Daily Herald has lately been publishing nothing but stories about Julie Stoffer, the BYU student who appeared on MTV’s “The Real World” and subsequently got kicked out of school. This is part of our ongoing attempt to annoy our readers and get letters that say, “I thought the Daily Herald was a newspaper, but then I opened the paper this morning and saw another story about Julie, which makes me think I am reading the National Enquirer! I am 182 years old and would like to see more stories about puppies, please.”

In case you’ve been dead for a while, I’ll summarize what happened. MTV — which stands for “Music Television,” which is ironic, since the station no longer plays any music, so I’m going to call it “M”TV from now on — “M”TV has this show called “The Real World” — which is also ironic, because it involves impossibly self-centered college students living rent-free in mansions, so I’m going to call it “The ‘Real’ World” from now on — “M”TV — I’d better start over.

“M”TV’s “The ‘Real’ World” is a show in which seven strangers cohabitate for five months, their every action being filmed and condensed into dull, vaguely smutty half-hour packages to be aired later. BYU’s Honor Code specifically prohibits cohabitation, even when students are away from school. Julie Stoffer knew that the Honor Code prohibited cohabitation; she said as much before she went on the show. Then, after she cohabitated, she was tossed out of school for cohabitating. Apparently, this came as quite a shock to her and her parents, who evidently were unaware that cohabitating would be in violation of the Honor Code’s “no cohabitating” clause.

Normally, I would sympathize with Julie, and not just because she’s hot. I generally am not a fan of the Honor Code Office, where mere innocence does not necessarily protect you from being punished, and where the important thing is that someone has TOLD the Honor Code Office you’ve done something wrong. Whether or not you actually did it is irrelevant. The principle of “innocent until proven guilty” applies only in America, after all. (The same goes for the principle of “you have the right to face your accuser, or at least know who he or she is.”)

HONOR CODE OFFICE: A person whose name we’re not going to tell you has informed us that you were smoking crack on your apartment’s balcony.
STUDENT: My apartment doesn’t even HAVE a balcony!
HONOR CODE OFFICE: Oh, right, like we’re going to believe a crack-smoker. Where were you smoking the crack, then?
STUDENT: I’ve never smoked crack.
HONOR CODE OFFICE: Don’t play games with us. You’re obviously a crack-smoker. We can tell by the way you’re lying when you say you’re not a crack-smoker.

So while I support the Honor Code itself, the enforcement of it is often heavy-handed, failing to take the accused party’s word for it that they are telling the truth. (The office does have its softer side, though: A friend of mine was once falsely accused for 20 minutes of cheating in his American Heritage class, and after the Inquisition was over — this is absolutely true — the Honor Code Office man offered him a hug.)

But in this case, there is no question whether Julie is telling the truth. She did, in fact, live with guys for five months. Even if she wanted to deny that, she wouldn’t get very far, since it’s there on TV, watched nationwide by literally dozens of people every week. From the moment she unpacked her bags in that remodeled New Orleans whorehouse (every mansion in New Orleans was once a whorehouse), she was breaking the Honor Code.

Was she a good example of Mormon youth? Yeah, probably. I mean, she lived with six libidinous strangers for five months and apparently failed to have sex with any of them, so rah-rah for her. Maybe she can still get her Young Women’s medallion. It’s all beside the point. She broke the Honor Code, she got kicked out, now she’s a big “M”TV “celebrity,” and life will probably go on for her. As for me, I’m hoping for more Daily Herald stories telling me that it was really hot yesterday, because when it hits the upper 90s in a desert climate in August, well, THAT’S news.

Up to this point, this was probably the single topic that I received the most requests to write about. And I avoided it for a long time.

The general idea seemed to be that since someone from BYU was on "The Real World," and since I often write about BYU things, that I should therefore write about Julie. I begged to differ. Just because something happens doesn't necessarily mean I have something funny to say about it. And no matter how frequently (or infrequently) "Snide Remarks" has a point to it, the purpose of the column is always to be funny. Making a point is secondary, or thirdary, or non-existent altogether. And since I didn't really have anything funny to say about Julie on "The Real World," I didn't write about it.

I also kept reminding myself that I had already written about when MTV came to Provo looking for cast members, and had taken my digs at "The Real World" then. I didn't see any reason to make the same jokes all over again.

Then Julie got kicked out of BYU, and the requests to write about her REALLY came flooding in. By this time, I had already written a Garrens sketch about it (which was not performed, which is a separate, bitter issue altogether), and I still felt I had nothing funny to say about it in "Snide Remarks."

And then I remembered something. The comments in this column about the Honor Code Office: Look familiar to anyone? It's almost a verbatim quote from a column I wrote in 1999 that The Daily Universe refused to publish, which led to my refusing to continue writing "Snide Remarks" for The Daily Universe. In fact, it was this particular section of that column that made the Powers That Be refuse to publish it. Since then, it has been widely circulated on the Internet, and was included in my second book. But still, I'd always wanted to publish it in a newspaper column, just so I could say that "Snide Remarks" finally DID make those very pointed jokes about the Honor Code Office. Basically, I wanted closure, and I wanted to have the final word on whether I could say those things in a column.

And here was the perfect opportunity: A student is kicked out of school for high-profile Honor Code violations (which, if you read the original column, is how I got to the subject then, too). Now I had a reason to write about Julie, because I had some jokes to make on the subject, some jokes that meant a lot to me personally. I put the Honor Code Office dialogue as the centerpiece, and the rest of the column flowed naturally around it.

The Daily Herald really did get letters just about every day complaining that something we'd devoted space to was not "newsworthy" and was more befitting a tabloid than a legitimate newspaper. The average age of these letter-writers was at least 1,000.

The joke at the end of the column about weather stories was in reference to my daily complaint that the Daily Herald kept printing stories about the weather. To me, no matter how out of touch you are with what's going on in the world, the weather is the ONE thing you'll always be aware of, thus making it a waste of newspaper space to talk about it. My complaints fell on deaf ears at the news meetings, though, largely because I was merely a sandals-wearing Features Editor, and not some wing-tipped Managing Editor.

The incident with the Honor Code Office hug solicitation happened to my good friend Chris Clark, and was related to me by my "Snide Remarks" consultant/research assistant/fashion adviser, Josh. I confirmed the story with Chris, who clarified that he was interrogated for about 20 minutes (Josh had said 45, which makes me wonder if I did the right thing in hiring Josh as my consultant/research assistant/fashion adviser).