Editor’s note: The following article is part of an ongoing investigation. Readers should expect to see further coverage of the “Camel Chat” case in coming issues of The College Voice.
Over the recent winter break Jonathan Brown ‘19 came up with an idea. Inspired by sitcoms such as The Office and Parks and Recreation– two “mockumentaries” that focus on characters’ lives and workplace bonds and feuds at a paper supply company and a small city government, respectively– Brown chose to interpret the genre by bringing it home to Conn.
The creators of The Office and Parks and Recreation managed to produce wildly funny content even in the most mundane of settings through their expert use of satire. Their characters were just that: characters, individually modeled and in no way meant to represent the greater population of workers in either industry. The characters’ actions and behaviors were over-the-top and exaggerated, true to the comedy form.
Brown, a Film Studies major from Los Angeles, wanted to emulate these shows when he began production of his web series, called “Camel Chat,” at the beginning of this semester. He wanted to follow a large cast of characters involved in fictional but relatable storylines, satirizing the student experience and mundanity of day-to-day life at Conn.
“I wanted to give the community something unique and specific to bond over,” he told me. “We ended up creating two episodes, and it was in the middle of production for episode three that we found out we were being put on ‘hiatus’.”
“What do you mean you were ‘being put’ on hiatus?” I asked, confused.
“Well, from what I understand, a student brought the show to the REAL Office’s attention. I’m not sure if it was in a good way or bad way, but once they saw that one of their floor governors was an active member of the show, that’s when things went bad. Interestingly enough, they interrogated him about the show and made it clear that his job was in jeopardy as long as the episodes were online. After receiving a few panicky text messages from the floor governor, he informed me of the situation we were in. Ultimately, I had to take the episodes down in an effort to preserve his job as a floor governor. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way,” he explained.
“He still got fired?” I asked.
“Yes,” Brown replied. Despite the removal of the videos and a positive recommendation from his housefellow, Alex Medzorian ‘19 was not renewed for a REAL position in the 2017-18 year. I was perplexed, as this series simply resulted from a personal passion for filmmaking and drive to create, not as a commissioned project for the College’s marketing team, giving the College no pretense to dictate its content.
Never did Brown think that his series was controversial, and, according to him, “Students loved it, and I was shocked with how well-received it was. People would come up to me and ask if they could make an appearance or help out with the next episode. I would always say yes because I would like to emphasize that I made the show for the students, and what made ‘Camel Chat’ special is that it showed off an entertaining side of student life that is not always visible here at Conn.”
He continued explaining what the REAL Office found unsettling about the series, saying, “Apparently, they believed that the fact that Alex was referred to by his real name and as a floor governor was potentially an “image problem” for them, meaning that they feared the possibility of anyone outside of the school seeing the show and viewing Alex’s role as a representation of the REAL Office. It’s strange because we never said anything bad about the REAL staff themselves.”
“This sounds a lot like censorship,” I commented.
“This is the epitome of censorship,” he replied without hesitation. He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts, then continued, “For an institution that claims to be a place that cultivates creativity, it sure as hell doesn’t feel like that is in any way true anymore. When the whole situation came to reality, me and plenty of other people felt discouraged for the longest time because we felt our creative voices were being silenced based on a ‘potential view’ that only the REAL Office saw but no one else even thought of. It sucks plain and simple. And now, me and a bunch of people are somewhat cautious as to what to create next because we’re not sure what we can or cannot film since we don’t see things the same way the REAL Office or Connecticut College sees things.The last thing an artist wants is for people to be punished because they wanted to help make a vision based on good intentions become a reality.”
I couldn’t help sympathizing with Brown, as he was visibly disheartened and disappointed. To me, this is a disturbingly clear-cut example of institutional censorship of freedom of expression and creation. The reasons behind the censorship are even more dubious; they strip away the façade that Connecticut College creates for itself– one of being a benevolent environment fostering the exploration of personal passions, creativity and freedom of expression across a ‘diverse’ student body. As this façade cracks, one begins to see the institution for what it really is: a business looking to preserve its image for potential investors.