05 Mar 2011

Yale Pundits Make the News

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Typical Yale secret society initiation (clothed phase) (click on image for larger version.)

This year’s February 19th Pundits’ initiation party apparently featured slightly heavier drinking than usual. A student informant (who knows if he was telling the truth?) told the Yale Daily News that five attendees wound up at Yale-New Haven Hospital and six others at Yale’s Department of University Health.

11 out 50 attendees rendered so hors de combat by drinking that they had to seek medical attention? Not just impressive, Homeric really. Vital positions have been taken in military engagements whose memories echo through history with lower percentage casualties.

The same person (who could possibly be just a little prone to exaggeration) also told the YDN that he saw “a member of the Pundits forcing attendees to kiss each other and that a Pundit forced a male friend’s face onto another’s penis.”

Three Dog Night clearly composed this little number after one of the Pundits’ parties.

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This year’s Pundits initiation party rapidly achieved national news coverage.

IvyGate coverage

CBS tell all

New York Post story

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Some helpful (inside Yale) background.

A pundit is an expert, a vendor of influential, nay, determinative opinions. According to Wikipedia, it even seems most probable that the common vernacular use of the term pundit has “its origins in a Yale University society known as “The Pundits” which, founded in 1884, developed a reputation for including among its members the school’s most incisive and humorous critics of contemporary society. … Several members of the society have also gone on to become leading political pundits, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author and energy expert Daniel Yergin. Other notable Yale Pundits include A. Whitney Griswold, Lewis H. Lapham and Joe Lieberman.”

The founder of the Pundits, as an undergraduate at Yale, was the illustrious William Lyon Phelps (1865-1943), who went on to become essentially the leading Humanities scholar in the United States in his day, and a long-time, enormously admired professor at Yale. Billy Phelps was, in fact, the original prototype of the star professor, whose lectures were so witty, so brilliant, and entertaining, that attendance at his course became known as a not-to-be-missed feature of the Yale undergraduate experience. Phelps was in the first half of the last century what Vincent Scully was when I was an undergraduate.

The Pundits (founded in 1884) doubtless did not originally hold naked parties, but contented themselves with assembling the wittiest and most brilliant members of the Senior Class for a weekly dinner at Mory’s, and participating in a series of elaborate pranks and lampoons intended to deflate pomposity and pretension.

When I was an undergraduate, late 1960s-early 1970s, the Pundits had become moribund and inactive. They seem to have been revived in the late 1970s, during a period in which a reaction to all the leftwing piety and politically correct cant of the Vietnam era set in and Yale undergraduates began once again reveling in undergraduate life, throwing parties, and reviving fraternities and other social organizations.

My Yale informants tell me that it was Yale’s oldest a capella singing group, the Society of Orpheus and Bacchus, founded in 1938 and usually referred to as “The SOBs,” which began throwing regular naked parties during the late 1980s. The Pundits, known earlier for lobster-and-champagne lunches on the steps of Sterling Memorial Library, had some kind of ties to the SOBs and, from them, acquired the custom of the naked party.

I found, via the Yale Daily News, a Hustler article published in 2007, by a-then-sophomore describing the Pundits taking advantage of Ivy League naked parties hitting the national media to spoof the New York Times.

[W]hen the New York Times called, the Pundits weren’t about to cooperate. One of the nation’s most prestigious newspapers wanted to do a story about them, but the tricksters just did what they do best—they fucked with someone’s mind. Assigned to get a firsthand account of a naked party at Yale, Times reporter Rachel Aviv contacted the Pundits. They would later bring her to a real one, but not before throwing a special shindig on her behalf. Mr. E’s eyes light up recounting the story: “Instead of a lot of people drinking and mingling in a dark, well-decorated room, we brought her to a brightly lit library in which just a couple dozen of us were sitting around and playing board games.

After the Taboo, Uno, Scrabble, etc. were concluded, we did some naked charades and then, to top it off, some naked trust falls off a table.” Likewise, Ms. Aviv’s story on the seedy underbelly of an Ivy League school was collapsing faster than Judy Miller could say, “WMDs.” The Times reporter had to be freaking out, but maybe she was just confounded by the intensity of naked charades. The evening’s coup de grâce came when the revelers gathered into groups of three to eight, distributed condoms and left. The bewildered journalist could do nothing but struggle to jot down a few notes and then slide her pants back on. The Pundits, explains one tall and impeccably dressed member, “make sure there’s never a moment when everything’s okay.”

The resulting Rachel Aviv story.

If the Pundits were fucking with the media’s mind back in 2007 on the naked-parties-at-Ivy-League-schools meme, why, I wonder, do not reporters this year worry that those mischievous Pundits may be playing mind games with them again?

Undergraduate binge-drinking, hazing rituals, and naked parties are all ingredients perfectly calculated to make journalists sit up and beg the same way ham affects my basset hound.

It may very well be that this year’s Pundits’ initiation party scandal is just one more of the nation’s leading prankster organizations elaborate satirical spoofs.


William Lyon Phelps (1865-1943), founder of the Pundits.

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4 Feedbacks on "Yale Pundits Make the News"

Steve

There were many student informants as well as faculty and police sources in the Yale article. I’m pretty sure all of those facts except the penis one have been verified by multiple parties



Surellin

Pundit – if I understand correctly, this comes from the Prakit “pandit”, meaning a grammarian of Sanskrit. It came into English from India with the connotation of “prodigiously well-informed expert commentator”. And that’s more than anyone ever wanted to know about the provenance of the word “pundit”.



JDZ

True, but it is believed that the Yale Pundits society caused the term to be widely used.



E. A. H.

Appears to me the naked parties owe a debt to Andy Warhol’s Factory and “happenings” that were popular in the late 60s and early 70s. The uproar is almost priceless, and the best is yet to be.



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