Somerville school children cross their hearts and swear that their teachers correct papers by tossing them down a staircase, picking them up in the order of their fall, and then marking them according to their bulk. Even if the summer issue of the Harvard Lampoon were graded by Somerville standards, it would surely fail. But no one grades the Lampoon, for during the past year or so (with one or two exceptions) its quality has been remarkably consistent: light in weight, with more gravity than levity.
The popular theory is to blame all the Lampoon's woes upon last summer's issue, The Playboy Parody--a mercenary, bulky enterprise which netted over $150,000. According to lampologists, the poonies spent the next six months bickering over how to spend it all and still maintain their tax-exempt status. In the meantime they forget, or didn't care, about the high-quality humor of the good-old-day (which, by the way, not even the most ancient Cambridge observers can recall).
No doubt the new wealth and accompanying seven flavors of wine took their toll. No doubt the continued success of the Playboy parody brought an all-time high in complacency, and low in standards. No doubt nobody cared. All these explanations, however, only hit the surface. The real problem, deep down, happened to be the power struggle.
Actually, there was no great struggle in the Lampoon this winter or anything like that. In short, the newly elected leaders (who had been de facto leaders for half the previous year) calmly drove many Lampoon members away, leaving no one but charming, neurotic insiders and the obtusely dull hangers-on. While this cultural revolution was underway this spring, the Lampoonproduced virtually nothing. Their "Movies Worst" issue, two months late for the first time in memory, failed even to produce the humor innate in the conventional forms of that issue.
And so when the Lampoon to publish a summer issue, it could elicit nothing but subtle smirks from the waiting readers. The issue is now out, however, and the effects of the cultural revolution are salient: the 20-page production contains only seven meager articles (none related to each other), costs a piddling 35 cents on the newstands (or free in Bow Street trash barrels), and is generally not bad.
Usually Dave McClelland's cartoons are about the only thin to rave about, but this issue manages without him. Jonathan Cerf's full-spread cover would make a fairly sophisticated cover for the New Yorker--if he could draw an Ibis; Henry Beard's Arab-fish cartoon is reasonably amusing--which is all that Beard ever attemtps to be. He is a master at plucking the boredom or inanity out of anything or anyone, and for that talent his "Vanitas" is worth reading.
Otherwise, this Lampoon is rescued only by newcomer Nicholas Pilavachi, a freshman who contributes the bulk (i.e., two articles) of the issue. His first, "An Indian serenade," is written in such a self-conscious style that it is painful reading. His second, "Of Streetlamps and Fire Hydrants," is light and clever. It should be some time before the older poonies can teach him how to force humor.