STERN: Poopetrator’s media circus

A Stern Perspective

The “poopetrator” may strike again soon. It’s been several weeks since the brown bandit’s last dung-bomb-shell hit — just enough time to lull us into a false sense of security.

scott_stern_headshot_peter_tianAnd if it happens, you’ll know. Don’t worry: The national media’s got your back.

Yes, the national media luxuriated in the case of the Saybrook squatter like pigs in poop. Papers across the country and around the world raced to get the scoop in this all-important story. If you’ve read the Associated Press, ABC, CBS, Fox, the Huffington Post, the Washington Post or literally dozens of other news sources in the last couple weeks, you’d have noticed how they all salivated over a juvenile college prank.

This coverage was troubling, to say the least. Is this really so important a story? Probably not. But it’s not just their coverage that’s troubling. It’s their tone.

One of the first media sources outside of New Haven to cover the poopetrator was Time Magazine. On Oct. 3, an article on Time’s Newsfeed lamented the troubles of the “bright young things at Yale.” It continued in the same vein, noting that the poopetrator was ruining “students’ Polo shirts and pleated khakis.” Finally, it reached the climax: “Pray for Yalies, for this is the first bit of suffering they’ve ever endured.”

Time Magazine was, in fact, founded by two Yalies. In the original proposal, the magazine’s name was “Facts.” Clearly it has strayed far. Professionalism and humor aside, a majority of Yalies receives need-based financial aid, and to assume that none of us have experienced suffering is simply foolish.

Time’s remarkably petty article might seem surprising in isolation, but its tone was quickly mirrored by other papers and websites. A day later, the Associated Press wrote about the “case of whodungit” at “the elite Ivy League school.” The Daily Caller added, “Not to be outdone by the disgusting living conditions reported at other, inferior universities, Yale University has now claimed the odious distinction of least livable dormitories.” New York Magazine informed readers that “one of the world’s finest institutions of higher learning [was] on high alert.”

There’s apparently something about Yale — the reputation, the spawn of the rich and famous — that make it ripe for the mocking. None of these newspapers wrote about the poopetrator without some reference to Yale’s prestige or prominence. It seems this perceived privilege entirely defines Yale to most journalists.

These newspapers apparently forgot what Yale is: a school. A school full of kids. Kids who sometimes do stupid things for attention, for spite or for no reason at all — like pooping in laundry machines. The poopetrator’s actions are not excusable, but, with thousands of hormonal young people living in close proximity, they are hardly shocking.

Sure, the poopetrator is a funny story — but it is not one about which people across the world need to be kept updated. It’s just another one of these stories in which Yalies come off looking entitled and out of touch, like the ones about squirrel death or Sex Week.

But there’s something else at play too: many Yalies do seem to be entitled and out of touch.

“The fact that this could happen at Yale is shocking to me,” one of the poopetrator’s original victims told the News. Regardless of the student’s intent, this quotation certainly sounds like the shock was not the crime itself, but more that it happened at Yale. Had it happened elsewhere — perhaps in a non-Ivy League school — this student seems to suggest that it would have been less shocking.

Yalies are enamored with their school’s selectivity and prominence, and, when something dissatisfies them, they react with indignation and betrayal by Yale. When the dining halls aren’t up to snuff or certain luxuries aren’t provided, students respond with a palpable sense of entitlement. This is Yale. We deserve better.

And this is the context in which the outside world viewed Yale’s reaction to the poopetrator. The poopetrator became a national story because administrators, the Council of Masters and even those writing about it treated it as a grave threat to Yale’s Yale-itude. A prank, albeit a disgusting one, apparently merited daily coverage in Yale’s publications, repeated comments by administrators and increased security (whatever that means).

If the reaction had not been so overblown, there would have been no copycats and no pundits’ prank. These national press stories didn’t start until after the copycats, after the pundits, after all the outrage. This was an infantile prank that barely deserved any coverage in the first place. Had the uproar not been so fierce, so indignant, there would have been no copycats and no national media bonanza.

Scott Stern is a junior in Branford College. Contact him at scott.stern@yale.edu.

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