Monday, September 20, 1999

He’s Baaaack...!; Being “controversial” and just being Steve--by Red Emma

[From Dissent 30, 9/20/99]

Steven Frogue would—if he imagined it might make him a player, part of a community, a person of some social stature—eat a bug, much as attention-craving playmates of mine did on a dare in grade school days. Oh, the respect and esteem those little boys secured upon downing that little critter. Unfortunately for the rest of us, Frogue has done more than swallow insects. He has voted to attack student liberties, shared governance and, well, you know the rest.

Yet these accomplishments are not his real area of, if you will, expertise. These are small projects easily enough realized by his less complicated colleagues on the board. Where Steven J. Frogue really shines is in the realm of controversy or again, what passes for controversy in our sensation-driven postpolitical environment. He likes to play with Nazis, pretend to be an intellectual bad boy, defend populist-seeming causes, and generally do what will draw attention to, who else?—himself.

Frogue did this most recently last week, attending Club Day at IVC, an event held, ironically, in an on-campus location it had taken a judge to protect (with an injunction) from the board majority to which Frogue belongs.

The former Board president arrived early afternoon with flowers for the MEChA co-advisor, an outspoken Frogue opponent whose editorials in the LA Times have assailed his policies. After spookily asking after her, he sidled over to the Student Liberties Club table and inquired about the next meeting. Why the sudden interest in student organizing? Why the creepy interest in one specific female Mexican-American professor? Why focus on these two student organizations?

First, because he (correctly) surmises that these groups oppose him, and second, because that’s where the action is. That’s where the excitement of civic participation, political engagement, and, yes, controversy occurs just now (not that Frogue could articulate the real issues informing those controversies: shared governance, academic integrity, racism, anti-Semitism...).

“Controversial,” I should note, has become the singular defining watchword of IVC administration. Stacy Pniewski, Director of Student Affairs, unable or unwilling herself to make a decision on official approval of a recently submitted Student Liberties Club informational flier, passed this grave stamping decision to Vice President of Student Services Armando Ruiz, who, based solely on his judgement of its content, refused approval. The reason for Pniewski’s timorous, confused reneging of responsibility to her erstwhile boss? As explained to SLC President Deb Burbridge, the flier was “controversial.”

Harassment

At Club Day, Pniewski approached Red Emma, who was gregariously handing out copies of the recent LA Times article (unstamped, unapproved and, I guess, “controversial”) on the current student lawsuit and his latest political screed (also controversial), suggesting that Red’s actions were prohibited because they might be interpreted as “harassment” of innocent passersby.

Red Emma quickly identified himself as an instructor, presented his hand in introduction, and unshyly offered Ms. P. that walking up to people on a college campus, or anywhere in the U.S. of A, and offering them a flier was a Constitutionally protected political act and that he would not be retreating to the confines of his cozy table anytime soon. At this, Ms. P. turned ashen, scurrying away to huddle with Armando, the two of them standing there seeming to admire his shiny dead reptile boots.

All of the above schweinerei is behavior caused, of course, directly and indirectly, by Mr. Frogue and his relation to controversy; directly because he voted to support Draconian restrictions on expression and indirectly because the SOCCCD board maintains that it is passing these laws to protect itself from—vocabulary quiz here—controversial actions. One notes that these have, thus far, been limited to actions of Holocaust deniers, race-haters, and homophobes, i.e., that group I call Friends of the Board.

If, by the way, you look up the word “controversy,” you’ll be reminded that it means: “a dispute, especially a public one, between sides holding opposing views.”

If you look up the word “irony” in the dictionary it now reads: “See SOCCCD.”

Love/hate relationship

The day after Club Day, Frogue did indeed attend the SLC meeting and Ice Cream Social, introducing himself proudly as a “long-time civil libertarian,” offering a few lame jokes, awkward chuckles, and eating plenty of free ice cream. Imagine this: a board member attends a student group meeting formed, in large part, because of his tenure as the Constitution-loving/hating leader of the board majority which appointed President Mathur, wrote a speech policy, and attacked one of its advisors for publishing an underground newsletter that combines I.F. Stone’ s Weekly and Mad magazine.

It wasn’t until the end of the SLC meeting that Frogue made his characteristic and awkwardly corny play for controversy. —Not for content. --Not for political meaning. For spectacle. For Steve. “Wouldn’t it be neat,” offered Frogue, “to have an SLC fundraiser where, like Timothy Leary and G. Gordon Liddy, Roy Bauer and I had a debate?”

This ironic and unhelpful proposal was met with silence by students, but received reasoned and calm explanation from Roy, who reminded Frogue patiently of UCI Professor Jon Wiener’s excellent IVC talk on the difference between protected free political speech and speech offered in academic settings, a talk which Frogue heard. The Froguester didn’t get it—or didn’t want to. He was there to play, after all. He was there to turn the meeting into a Steven Frogue Club Meeting. And his attempt almost worked, except that we adjourned and Frogue was left to try to insinuate himself into individual conversations amid the melting ice cream.

Asshole

Later, co-advisor Wendy P. pithily explained Frogue to me. After all the confusion about this man’s “politics” (he has none), his pathetic ambitions, his strangely warped understanding of political expression, Wendy’s characterization seems apt: “He’s the kind of person,” she says, “who would let you call him an ‘asshole’ for an hour just so you’d hang out with him.”

Bug Swallowing

And, yes, Frogue’s been out of the news for awhile. No seminars. No high school detention duty. No recall. No goofy theories, not lately anyway. So? Craving attention, he uses his official position as an elected official to (1) re-enter the “controversy” and (2) intimidate students. By intimidate I do not mean that Frogue was trying to hurt or threaten students. I mean, rather, that he was flexing his power, being creepy, abusing his position as an elected official; spraying on us, as it were, like the neighborhood tomcat. I can do this, Frogue seems to say. I am in charge. I am important. You will pay attention to me, whether I am talking Kennedy-killing Jews or swallowing bugs.

Of course, Frogue is not, technically, even permitted to attend club meetings, not according to official IVC Inter Club Council school rules. He knows that. But Frogue imagined that he’d get a rise out of SLC members, that we’d disallow his attendance or wouldn’t let him speak. He spoke. About himself. He proposed a potentially controversial event.

Frogue attempts to insinuate himself into every situation, including, now, student politics. He has, it’s important to note, yet to use his right to speak against George Kadar (producer of the enchanting film “Wetbacks”) and his “Friends of Steven Frogue,” the Institute for Historical Review, the Spotlight and its reporter Michael Collins Piper, or the board majority. Why not? Because, for Steven Frogue, even bad press is good press. There are no consequences, only more press conferences.

Yes, soon we’ll have what passes, unconvincingly, for a board election. I propose now that, in a coordinated effort of community concern, we save everybody the pain of another run by the controversial candidate. I propose we provide Frogue a way to secure the attention he so needs and deserves, an action of potential controversy and outrage so compelling and satisfying that he’ll abandon education politics and usher himself into retirement. We have an obligation to Frogue, and to ourselves. To that end, Red Emma announces a citizen-action campaign combining vector control and, well, vector control. As you walk the lovely IVC grounds, take a moment to pick up a bug. Collect a few. Place them carefully in an envelope and mail them to Steven Frogue, Trustee. —RE

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