Snide Farewells

This is the last edition of “Snide Remarks.” Festivities will commence in the BYU administrative offices within the hour.

Believe it or not, some people have not found the column very funny. I don’t deny them this right; in fact, many of the things these people write do not amuse me, either. But some of these people don’t just find the column unfunny; they find it downright offensive, so offensive that they make sure to read it every week so they can continue being offended. (You think I’m kidding about that, but I’m not.)

And often, these people write letters. Of the 67 columns I’ve written for The Daily Universe, approximately one-third have inspired angry letters, many of which appear to have been written by monkeys whacking randomly on computer keyboards. Here is some of the most pleasant and delightful hate-mail I’ve received recently.

Back in September, I told incoming freshmen that they could ignore that signs that say “Construction area; Do not enter; $300 fine.” I also mentioned that all the construction workers smoke, and that the freshmen shouldn’t be alarmed by this.

Somehow, a construction worker managed to read this column, or have it read to him, and I received an e-mail with the subject line “Don’t you have anything better to write about? You Weenie!” The e-mail read, in part:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but if someone wants to smoke it’s their own business…. We would appreciate a public apology for the remarks made in your column pertaining to the construction workers here on campus.

OK, I apologize. I’m sorry we have construction workers here on campus.

In October, I wrote my fourth semi-annual first-hand report on general conference. In this column, I gave my thoughts as I sat in the Tabernacle, watching one session. I did not make fun of general conference, nor did I make fun of any general authorities. There are people who will tell you otherwise, but trust me: I, Eric D. Snider, am the No. 1 authority on what I, Eric D. Snider, am making fun of, and I can assure you I was NOT making fun of church leaders or conference. (I will probably get even more letters now, from people who will still insist that I DID make fun of those things. I have no more patience for these people.)

Anyway, all the column was meant to show was that sometimes I, as an imperfect person, allow my mind to wander when I’m trying to pay attention to something important. But I got this e-mail, from a woman who read the column on a “Mormon humor” mailing list:

Nope, not funny. [She means the column wasn’t funny, not conference. Well, she probably didn’t think conference was funny, either.] Sounds like conference was a bore. It was inspirational for me…. I’m sorry it was only funny, or a bore for you.

I asked this woman why she was on a “Mormon humor” mailing list if she doesn’t like humor regarding Mormons, but I got no response. Her letter was typical of several I got, each more self-righteous than the last, from people who were shocked and appalled that anyone could find something so ungodly and evil as HUMOR in general conference. If only there were a way of convincing people that humor is sometimes OK, even in a religious setting! If only President Hinckley would occasionally say something funny…!

Nearly two weeks after the general conference column was published — long after the statute of limitations on getting offended had expired — the letters-to-the-editor people received an e-mail from someone who described me as “childish and apostate.” Evidently, this man has some kind of special insight into the souls of people he has not met. I am envious of this gift (but he probably already knew that).

Next: In a column about freakish roommates, I warned against people who think that having served their missions in “some exotic, backward country like Zimbabwe or Alaska” means they should force their roommates to try some of the native cuisine, even if this includes bugs. This statement upset someone from Zimbabwe, which turns out to be a real place. She wrote:

You referred to my country as backward. Maybe you thought you could get away with such a comment because you didn’t think there were any students from Zimbabwe at BYU. [Yeah, the same way I figured there wouldn’t be any students from Alaska, either.] You don’t know jack about my country so don’t call it backward and don’t insult our food.

I hope she doesn’t mean to suggest that they DON’T eat bugs in Zimbabwe, because they do. I had a roommate who served his mission there, and he was always trying to get us to eat these huge bugs, just like they did over there. I’m not saying that’s ALL they eat; I’m just saying they do occasionally eat them, perhaps only on special occasions, such as when they are starving to death. Admittedly, that’s all I know about Zimbabwe, besides that it’s in South America. If that one tidbit of information doesn’t equal jack, then I guess she’s right in her assessment that I do not know jack. Perhaps she could teach jack to me.

The next week, I mentioned how if you’re from Hawaii, you’re supposed to begin your sacrament meeting talks by saying, “Back in Hawaii, we always say, ‘Alooooooo-ha,'” and then you make the congregation scream “Aloha.” This led me to mention things that people traditionally say at the start of their talks in other places, such as South-Central Los Angeles (“Yo, yo, homeys, whassup?”). This time, the girl from Zimbabwe wrote a letter to the editor in which she went on and on about something else and then said:

I also found part of his article about sacrament talks very tasteless. Making people from Hawaii, South Central LA and Payson look stupid isn’t funny. [Counterpoint: Yes it is.] Students at BYU come from different backgrounds and cultures. We should be embracing our differences, not allowing them to be mocked by ignorant people like Eric Snider.

If I can make Hawaiians look stupid merely by suggesting that saying “Aloha” in church is silly, then I am apparently more powerful than I thought. Bow down to my awesome might!

And so I guess that’s it. Overall, writing the column has been very enjoyable, and I appreciate everyone who has read it and managed to find something amusing in it. I also appreciate the people who wouldn’t recognize “amusing” if it bit them in the butt. So much of the world is serious and dramatic; let’s not forget to notice the funny things, too, and appreciate them for the spice they add to this big pot of stew we call life.

To Eric Snyder: I love stew. How dare you make fun of it?

This column -- the final "Snide Remarks" column ever published in The Daily Universe -- almost was not published.

The saga up to this point: I wrote a column in which I made fun of BYU's Honor Code Office; the communications department chair (who is also, technically, the publisher of The Daily Universe) decided not to run the column for fear joking about the issue would make subsequent journalistic investigations into the matter impossible; I strongly disagreed and decided, out of protest, not to write "Snide Remarks" anymore; the chair, Dr. Laurie Wilson, persuaded me to publish the last few I had saved up and to write a "farewell" column.

Well. When the Honor Code Office column went unpublished in the paper, I e-mailed it to the folks on my mailing list and posted it on my Web site. I included a lengthy description of the entire process so that readers would know why "Snide Remarks" was ending. I figured they deserved to know the story. I didn't mention Dr. Wilson's name, mainly because I didn't want people to think my argument was with her personally. My argument was with the department chair. I liked her as a person; I even mostly liked her as a department chair. I just felt she made the wrong decision in not running the Honor Code Office column. Disagreeing, I think, is not a major act of treason.

The aforementioned e-mail was forwarded all over the place, and when it fell into her hands, she was furious. I don't know if she was mad that I sent it out, or if she was mad about my commentary afterwards. When I called to make an appointment to see her, so I could find out what, specifically, she was mad at -- and so I could explain myself and apologize if necessary -- I was told by her secretary that she would not speak with me or see me. Period. From what I'm told, she decided she had spent enough time on "Snide Remarks" and would not spend another minute on it. (I know the feeling.)

She did, however, take a few moments to screw around with this final column. In her anger, she had declared that it would not run at all. Someone got her to recant that decree, but on one condition: I had to change one specific part that she had already said she didn't like; and any other changes she made, WE HAD TO PRINT THEM THAT WAY, with no further questions or discussion. I had no choice but to change the one part and hope she didn't find anything else to dislike.

But she did. The part she had already wanted me to change was the part about President Hinckley (that would be President Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the LDS Church, for the uninitiated). The joke there, of course, is that President Hinckley is quite well known for having a terrific sense of humor, and for saying many, many humorous things in general conference. It is part of what makes him so well-loved by the church members. But from what I'm told -- as I recall, Dr. Wilson and I never spoke directly to each other ever again -- she feared the joke would be missed by many of the readers, who would instead think I was criticizing President Hinckley for not being funny enough!

Now, I don't doubt that many of our readers are stupid enough to miss the point; indeed, Missing the Point is a time-honored tradition at BYU. But I didn't see why that meant I should change it. Since when are we so concerned over whether someone gets a joke or not? I tried to alter it so that it was even more obvious that I was kidding, but to no avail. She wanted the President Hinckley reference removed altogether. So I changed that part to read: "...shocked and appalled that anyone could find something so ungodly and evil as HUMOR in general conference. (If you can imagine.)" I'm not as pleased with this as I was with the original, but it's OK.

So that's the part she had wanted changed anyway. Three other things, she deleted despite never having mentioned being bothered by them before. (Could her anger have caused her to delete things arbitrarily, out of simple immaturity and spite? I don't know -- I wasn't allowed to ask questions, remember?) These things were as follows:

At the end of the eighth paragraph, where I'm talking about my general conference column, she deleted the line "I have no more patience for these people." I cannot even guess what her problem was with this line.

A few paragraphs later, she removed the phrase "each more self-righteous than the last." Again, I have no idea.

Finally, each column always ended with a tag at the end mentioning the book that's for sale and giving my Web site and e-mail addresses. She removed the entire tag. I can only assume this was a punitive action, done solely because she was mad at me. (She also briefly tried to stop distribution of the current "Snide Remarks" book and publication of the upcoming Volume II -- the former because she had written the introduction and no longer endorsed it, and the latter because as publisher of The Daily Universe she had the right not to grant permission for me to reprint the old columns.)

If life had gone according to plan, "Snide Remarks" would have ended its two-year run much more pleasantly than this. Still, though, I'm not bitter about it. Given the chance, I would write every column all over again -- and I doubt I'd change very much of what I wrote.

After a mere six months, "Snide Remarks" turned up again, this time in The Daily Herald, the Provo newspaper I was then working for. So this "final" column was really just a temporary adieu, although of course I didn't know it at the time.

(And by the way: Counting the columns I had written for the Lake Elsinore News, the Californian and The Daily Herald [years earlier], this was my 199th humor column. What a milestone.)