Students tired of heading to Detroit or Auburn Hills for big-name concerts will be pleased this fall when Michigan Student Assembly teams up with other student organizations to bring an A-list entertainer to campus. The two major candidates are hip-hop artist Kanye West and rapper Ludacris, and the final selection will be made soon. A performance by either entertainer would be sure to please student fans, but Ludacris, with his recent involvement with the NAACP and role in the movie “Crash,” may be better able to bring issues of racial and ethnic identities to the forefront. West, currently preferred by members of the University Activities Center who are working with MSA on the event, seems to have less to say outside. As MSA considers whether to spend its student fees on West or Ludacris and plans future events for the coming school year, it should base its decisions on what potential performers can bring in terms of the ideas they could bring up and discussion they could foster.
Although thousands of students enjoyed rocking the suburbs with Ben Folds two winter semesters ago, the concert served primarily to entertain students. Given the money and effort needed to organize the event, it is unfortunate that the performance was unable to reach beyond the students in attendance. Michael Moore’s appearance last fall, however, sparked controversy that fueled meaningful political discourse across campus both before and after his performance. Jon Stewart of The Daily Show has been discussed as a future MSA-sponsored performer, and he would be an ideal mix of substance and entertainment. Striking a balance between fun and intellect is critical to ensuring that each performance generates excitement among students and that its impact on campus outlives the few hours of the show.
Even those who lack popular appeal to the masses can still draw massive crowds on campus — over 600 students packed the School of Education’s Schorling Auditorium and the adjacent hallway during Paul Krugman’s 2003 visit. In addition to bringing well-known performers annually, MSA should look into smaller-scale events that may require a less significant investment of time and money, but could be equally effective in encouraging an exchange of ideas on campus. Speakers from either end of the political spectrum — like David Horowitz, Christopher Hitchens or Al Franken — might anger a good proportion of the student body, but their presence would encourage the verbal sparring that makes the college experience so very special. And political thinkers and writers, many of whom — like Moore, who approached student government officials last year offering to speak for only a few thousand dollars — would likely be eager to come to campus at a fraction of the cost of a performer like Ludacris, allowing MSA to recoup its costs while charging only a few dollars for tickets.
This year and in later events, the selection of a performer should not be solely a popularity contest; as a representative of student interests, MSA should look beyond the publicity factor and consider the role an entertainer or speaker could play in facilitating meaningful dialogue among students.