Back in the ’60s and ’70s, my own generation’s taste in humor ran to the transgressive and outrageous. We liked nothing better than violating all existing limits on expression and every conventional stricture of decorum.
Now, it seems that Cotton Mather’s generation has been reincarnated into the college students of today. With the Fall Semester opening at Yale, out comes a new issue of Rumpus, the current student humor magazine, and all over the Yale campus, the snowflakes are melting.
Goodness gracious! Mercy me! Somebody had the crudeness and insensitivity to joke about the possibility of girls getting hammered and led astray at a particular fraternity called “Leo.”
Evidently only last year an issue of Rumpus came out featuring Hookup Bingo,” some joking about campus Hookup/Blackout culture. There was outrage. At least a dozen Rumpus staff members walked out in protest, Rumpus was denounced and condemned from every pulpit on the campus, and the issue was actually officially retracted! I haven’t seen it reported, but I assume that a number of Rumpus editors spent a few days in the stocks.
Now, what do you know? Rumpus has sinned again, triggering the deacons of the Yale Daily News and all the rest of the campus elect. Lots of chin-stroking and grovelling and apologizing ensued.
Following a year of non-publication after staff backlash over jokes about sexual misconduct, the Yale Rumpus has returned â€” but not without controversy.
The annual Freshman Issue of the student-run tabloid magazine hit dining halls on Friday morning, greeting students with a cover that read, â€œATTENTION FIRST-YEARS: YOU WILL BE REJECTED.â€ The issue â€” the first to come out since last September â€” was produced by a new editorial team. But despite the new staff â€” which includes five members who actively worked on the issue and about 12 total staffers, compared to previous staff sizes of 30 or 40, according to Rumpus co-editor-in-chief and a former photo staffer for the News Jakub Madej â€™20 â€” the new tabloid issue has already sparked discontent among many Yalies upset with its new content. Students were particularly angered by jokes about the K2 overdoses on the New Haven Green and a â€œRumpâ€™s Reviewâ€ of Leo, which they believe made light of sexual misconduct once again.
â€œThe Leo joke was not intended to make fun of rape victims in any way, shape or form,â€ current Rumpus Co-Editor-in-Chief Anushka Walia â€™21 wrote in an email to the News. â€œIt pointed out messed up practices of frats, and it put Leo down. Part of the point of satire is this kind of commentary anyways. Iâ€™m sorry if it offended anyone, but it wasnâ€™t the intent.â€
Last September, at least 12 staffers quit the publication in protest over several jokes about sexual assault that appeared in the Rumpusâ€™ â€œFreshman Issue.â€ Those included a spot on the issueâ€™s â€œHookup Bingoâ€ reading â€œFreshmanâ€™s First Blackout (Free)â€ and a line in the editorâ€™s note making fun of a blacked out first year â€œlet[ting] a senior on the baseball team raw [them] on that foul mattress in the Sig Nu basement.â€
The objectionable content in last Septemberâ€™s issue had been reviewed only by members of the editorial team prior to publication, but not the remainder of Rumpus staffers. Following internal backlash, Rumpus leadership retracted the issue, removed all copies of it from dining halls throughout campus and issued an apology for the content.
According to Madej and Walia, this yearâ€™s publication â€” which the current board revived independent of the old editorial staff â€” was for the most part vetted by board members as well as several staffers prior to printing, unlike in previous years. Also unlike Rumpus leadershipâ€™s response to last Septemberâ€™s backlash, this year, Madej and Walia neither retracted the issue nor issued a public apology for the content.
Although Madej said the Rumpus has not established any written standards for the kinds of jokes it will publish, the editors review content on a case-by-case basis to decide if it is fit to print.
â€œThere were some issues last year regarding controversial issues and mismanagement,â€ Madej said. â€œWe noticed what happened last year, and we believe in the idea of Rumpus, no matter what they say. We do want to bring it back to life.â€
Still, social media posts from Yalies this weekend argued that the publicationâ€™s â€œRumpâ€™s Reviewâ€ of Leo showed that Rumpus had not learned its lesson from last yearâ€™s backlash. …
Hours after the issue hit dining halls, the Instagram parody account @yaleactualweeklynews posted a picture of the review with the headline â€œRumpus Learns From Mistakes; Only Publishes Subtle Rape Jokes.â€
In a statement to the News, Leo leadership called â€œthe Rumpusâ€™s attempt to make humor out of sexual misconduct extremely misguided and disappointing.â€
â€œWe take the issue very seriously and work actively to make sure our friends and guests feel safe and have fun at our events,â€ the statement read.
During a Friday night interview with the News, Madej said the post from the @yaleactualweeklynews Instagram page was â€œnothing moreâ€ to him â€œthan a kindergarten-level attempt to make jokesâ€ and bring up problems from last year, adding that he did not see a connection between last yearâ€™s controversy and this yearâ€™s issue.
But Walia disagreed with Madejâ€™s statement. In emails to the News following the interview, she stressed that she did not interpret the post as an attempt at humor, but rather as a way â€œto bring an important issue to light.â€ She explained that she did not expect the criticisms the post sparked, because she cares â€œvery deeply about the very issues everyone else cares aboutâ€ as both a woman and a feminist herself. Further, Walia underscored that the Rumpusâ€™ intent is never to be offensive or malicious, and that she respects â€œpeopleâ€™s beliefs as well as their criticism.â€
â€œI do care about the criticism received because I want everyone to read the Rumpus and have a good time and laugh at it,â€ Walia said. â€œI donâ€™t want anyone to feel offended or hurt by something that someone writes in it. So as editor in chief, I do take concerns seriously and keep that in mind â€” I care a lot about our readers.â€
Madej clarified in an email to the News on Sunday that he was not â€œsure of the intentionsâ€ of @yaleactualweeklynews, but â€œif they indeed wanted to be funny, itâ€™d be a tremendously bad level of a joke.â€
Former Rumpus staffer Leila Halley-Wright â€™21 â€” who quit the publication in protest of last yearâ€™s jokes about sexual assault â€” said she was â€œsurprisedâ€ to see that the Leo review had been â€œdeemed appropriateâ€ for the issue considering last yearâ€™s backlash and its thematic similarity to last yearâ€™s editorâ€™s notes.
Mia Arias Tsang â€™21, the editor in chief of Broad Recognition, said she was upset to find a screenshot of one of her posts advertising the feminist magazine featured in a collage on the front cover. She stressed that the cover upset her because of the publicationâ€™s past of making light of sexual misconduct issues, and she was disappointed to see several similar problems arise in the new issue.
â€œSatire, I think, is very different from rape jokes,â€ Tsang said. â€œI think thereâ€™s ways you can tackle these issues satirically, but it has to be done really well and really carefully, and you should probably have some people look at it multiple times that are outside of the sphere of your tabloid magazine if youâ€™re trying to go for a satire angle. â€¦ I think the stuff they do satirizing Yale culture has always been pretty on the nose and good, but theyâ€™ve just veered so far into this other territory for some reason.â€