When my editor first asked me to write a View, his only instruction was that I “be funny.” Usually, I welcome this challenge. On Twitter, people have commented that I’ll “live tweet anything” because I believe my commentary on the things people said in my “Athenian Imperial Democracy” class is hilarious. I also write about something ugly someone wore or take quotes out of context to make people look rough. So when I started thinking about possible content for this article, my mind first immediately jumped to some mean ideas — for example, writing about the one time a drunk, naked stranger stupidly wandered into my apartment and proceeded to take a shower, or all the vicious things I once said to people at an open bar because I’ve been told that the way I tell these stories is funny.
But what does that really add to the productive campus discourse? What do these stories say about anything other than that Yale clearly cannot handle its booze?
What they say is that the truth is that I don’t really know how to be funny — I know how to be mean. And even though this article might be widely read (I’m looking at you, Mom and Dad, are you proud of me yet?), that possibility probably won’t stop me from jumping to say something humorously critical about the people around me, the school I go to or some larger societal trend in order to get some laughs. (Invariably, my own dad consistently asks me if I’m actually funny whenever I express interest in writing for a comedy show.) As a consequence, I have been so mean to people (even if they might be universally disliked) because I know people will laugh.
Bear with me here, because I’m going to start an extended metaphor — this is why I am Gretchen Wieners.
Towards the end of “Mean Girls,” Gretchen announces, “I’m sorry that people are so jealous of me, but I can’t help it that I’m so popular.” And everyone laughs because, really, how can someone be so self-deluded into believing that? Well, that’s how I am about my meanness. I rest on bitchiness instead of genuinely trying to be funny because it’s going to get me results. Similarly, Gretchen’s character relies on the fact that her dad invented Toaster Strudel (and that “her hair is full of secrets”) to justify her lack of depth and her attitude. I won’t strive for smart humor or real originality, because I tend to be lazy and because the one or two laughs I get enable me to be lazy. (Unrelated to my humor or lack thereof, but also related to how I am Gretchen: My grandfather invented both the powdered donut and Cool Whip.) Ultimately, I justify how mean I am with the fact that everyone laughs at it — I’m sorry people think I’m mean, but I can’t help it that I’m so funnny, right?
Except for that fact that I can help it. What I’m trying to say here, in my own roundabout way, is that I’m sorry and that I can do better (and now, so can you!). Take this as my public apology for all the things I’ve said on the Internet and/or to my friends and/or to your face. What I have been doing is a form of bullying, and it needs to stop. When we’re at a party complaining about our friends or stealthily taking unattractive Snapchats of others to send to friends, we’re relying on meanness to create humor and justifying the cruelty with its laugh-generating effectiveness. As easy as it is to be Gretchen, Yale deserves better than me acting like an animal in Cady’s fantasy. It deserves you to be better, too.