Last Friday, I picked up a copy of Rumpus’ “50 Most Beautiful” and read it over breakfast. I was initially giddy with excitement — finally I would get to find out who was the fairest of them all! But by the fifth page my building curiosity had imploded. I regret to report that I was underwhelmed.
Let me briefly clear things up before I go any further. My dissatisfaction with Rumpus’ latest issue does not stem from any sort of puritanical moralism; unlike certain Yalies, I’m not “shocked, shocked” that Yale students party, do drugs or engage in dissolute sexual behavior. People do what they do. It’s also no personal grudge — with my unkempt beard and unwavering Euripides fixation, I certainly wasn’t expecting to make the “50 Most.”
While I’m adding disclaimers, let’s take offense off the table, too. I was not per se offended by this issue’s content — although one could certainly criticize the very premise of the “50 Most.” That would entail a separate conversation, one about the ethics of a beauty list in the abstract; ranking people based on looks alone is obviously shallow and is probably always a bad idea. But the Rumpus list, I think, is an exception. The magazine is quasi-satirical and poses as a fringe tabloid. Its “50 Most” list is framed as a tell-all rather than as a beauty pageant.
So what scandalized me? Nothing! And that’s my point. That’s what really bothered me. The profiles were shockingly tame and offensively repetitive, with few exceptions. Each “50 Most” profile read like a (slightly) lewder version of a LinkedIn profile. You get your standard framing: X person is really hot. Unimaginably hot. Moving on: What do they do on campus? What clubs or fraternities are they a part of? Next: What’s their daily grind? What do they look for in a date? Where will they be interning this summer? Then finis. When I finally put the magazine down, I simply couldn’t believe it. These were the 50 most beautiful people at Yale! And I had no interest in meeting any of them! What was wrong with me?
Well, something went wrong, somewhere. And I don’t think it was on my part. I’m pretty sure that Rumpus slipped up. And I believe their failure to be more exciting, titillating and scandalizing constitutes a serious abdication of journalistic responsibility. It’s not that they did not speak truth to power; it’s that they did not speak truth, full stop. This term’s “50 Most” could have been so much more. It could have accomplished something real. Satire and tabloids — right along with the bawdy, scatological humor and appetite for scandal that define them — are real art forms. They have actual literary — dare I say civic — purposes and merits.
Humor can humanize. Tabloids can transfigure. A morning spent reading the “50 Most” should be a morning spent peering into the souls of 50 strangers, with ample dirty jokes thrown in along the way. It should give us the chance to learn all the strange, interesting and scandalous tidbits about these “beautiful people” that only Rumpus can extract for us. And no two interviews should be alike. This was a rare chance for Yalies to write something interesting — or shocking, or tragic or romantic — about 50 other human beings. And all we got this time around was the journalistic equivalent of an hour on Instagram.
Which brings me to my broader point: We have become boring. This banality of content is by no means the exclusive province of Rumpus. It would be deeply unfair to pin this all on backs of the hardworking Rumpus staff, who have done really exciting work in the past. Just look at the often-cautious version of satire put out by The Yale Record, and the similar caution exhibited by a number of Yale’s comedy groups. If this trend represents the tastes and demands of consumers — in this case, of students, the implications should trouble us. A large number of Yale students seem to like bland humor. We are not funny.
Some might say that this aversion to bawdy comedy and tabloid scandal is a product of political correctness. They may have a point; norms of political correctness can certainly have a chilling effect on humor. But I think the “banal turn” in Yale’s gossip rags points to a far deeper problem: the side effects of the soul-sucking conformity that pervades everything on this campus. When one part of people’s lives is forced into a LinkedIn mold, the other parts follow in Canada Goose step. The evil of banality plagues Yale. Rumpus has the potential to stop the infection. It takes pride in being “the only magazine at Yale about stuff at Yale.” I hope next year’s “50 Most” lives up to that credo.
Gabriel Groz is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .