I’m sure I’m not alone in suspecting that, on occasion, those perfectly-overheard quotes reported in the “Verbatim” column of this paper are fabricated. It’s easy to imagine the editors sitting around a table, perhaps aided by humor-inducing beverages, cracking jokes until the quotes have written themselves. Whether or not that’s how the “Verbatim” is filled on a particularly slow week, the “sit around with beer and crack jokes” strategy for producing pithy humor was recently adopted by the Princeton Tory, with regards to their “Points and Punts” page.
This past issue featured a “Letter from the Publisher,” in which Joel Alicea, ’10, delineated a new attitude for the newspaper – one of healthily mocking, take-no-prisoners humor. Mr. Alicea hoped that it would help produce “a substantive campus conversation.” Judged solely for his intentions, Mr. Alicea merits nothing but praise. Much of the sentiment he expresses in his letter is dead-on: campus politics often focuses on the trivial or ideological, and a substantive conversation – in unabashedly normative language – should be our ultimate goal.
Such rhetoric first interested me in the Tory around this time last year. I have often found that sincere political debate is liveliest among conservative circles, so I attend a Tory meeting here and there to see what’s on the minds of Princeton’s most outspoken right wing representatives. I even wrote an article once last year, and have mysteriously been on the masthead ever since.
The meeting I attended for the writing of “Points and Punts” in the Tory’s April issue, then, was a sad surprise. I proposed using Burkean rhetoric altered to address the university’s new alcohol policy. I thought the Tory folks would like this – or at least catch on to the tradition which it echoed – but the only response it garnered was: “that’s pretty … intellectual … for a Point/Punt.” Well, all right, I clearly had the wrong idea – so I quieted down to listen to the better suggestions. They were none too pretty.
After my little gaffe, the discussion turned happily (and, soon, tipsily) to roam from one group that annoyed the Tories to another. Gays (or “homosexuals,” as Jacob Denz ’10, Pride Alliance President, wishes they wouldn’t be called) bore the brunt of the discussion. So long as mockery of the other was balanced by self-mockery, offensiveness was presumably kept to a minimum. Really, the worst of what was said didn’t make it into print – the editors knowing they couldn’t quite get away with that much. And though I do wish I’d spoken up against the “sodomite” line – rather than squirmed in my chair and apologized in my head to my gay friends – I’m afraid the Tory’s real offense, if it can even be called that, was nothing more than a failure at humor.
I was not participating so much in the cycle of “deride, laugh, repeat,” almost certain that most of the jokes wouldn’t be so funny in print or even spoken before consuming a few beers. Let’s look at some examples: “Francisco Nava – Anscombe initiations gone horribly wrong?” This line baffles more than it offends – if it can be called humor, it’s pretty bland. What’s the second script? Where’s the subtle irony? In the paragraph on Nader, the acronym “bff” appears one time too many (i.e. once). In response to the Prince calling Anne-Marie Slaughter’s donations to both democratic candidates “curious,” the Tory answers, profoundly, “Curious? We think not.” Again, not offensive; in fact, not much of anything. Steven Colbert may “get it,” but I don’t.
I’m being a bit unfair – some of the lines did cause a little smirk. And I wrote the two paragraphs on the alcohol policy, the second of which is certainly ridiculous without being very funny. But even the lines that do verge on the comedic seem to do so accidentally, or, at best, elicit a real laugh only after a few drinks. Quite simply, there’s a higher standard of humor to be met.
Perhaps a strict relativist might be more forgiving. After all, these jokes were funny to their creators, at the time. Who’s to say that sober humor is somehow more valuable than the opposite? But the cop-out of relativism is rarely the position of a conservative. And so, in the selfsame spirit of producing that ever-elusive substantial campus debate, I put a challenge to the Tory: your goal, sirs, is honorable. Now be funnier!