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OFA: A Real Jerk

By Philip M. Rubin

death. it defies the soul. but in the spirit of its absurdity it lingers it labors it languishes piercing through my oil-stained tunic is a ray of hope that teases me it surrounds me and jostles my spirit then it leaves me alone, cold, lifeless in a vat of vomit i submit.

IS THIS ART? The Office for the Arts probably thinks so.

We're not sure. It did take us three or four minutes to write.

Two weeks ago, the Office for the Arts gave $400 to a soft sculpture project, $150 to a fashion show and $70 to a group performing a "Halloween orchestral reading." They rejected the application from Jerk, the new humor magazine we edit.

We don't mean to disparage OFA grant recipients. But it seems that if one woman staging a cross-dressing fashion show gets $150, a new campus-wide humor magazine deserves at least a small handout.

Why was Jerk denied funding? We asked a member of the Council for the Arts, the group responsible for approving the grants, to explain. He said that there are two basic reasons. First, there was "some question as to whether the proposal was innovative and fresh." Second, some members of the committee "felt that humor is not art, but entertainment."

THE OFA'S first claim--that Jerk magazine would not be an "innovative and fresh" addition to the Harvard community--is preposterous.

As everyone knows, there currently exists only one so-called humor magazine on campus, the Harvard Lampoon. Jerk cannot help but be a fresh face in a stagnant sea of political and arts publications that litter our doorsteps.

Every day, we come home from a long day of classes only to find a magazine with a picture of Mao or Europe on the cover. A fresh new publication like Jerk might add a little levity to Harvard's otherwise somber campus.

The OFA's second objection to Jerk is that humor does not qualify as art. Hogwash. Tell Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, two of history's best and most innovative humorists, that their works hold no artistic value.

We're not saying that we approach the wit of Dickens and Twain, although we do. But if either of these men were living in 20th-century Harvard, their comic talents would be squashed by the OFA, a group that purports to harness creativity but actually stifles it at its source.

IF THE MEMBERS of the council are worried that we won't produce anything, they're wrong. We have a staff of 10 and a pool of 18 compers who are producing a magazine for distribution to every door on campus. Compare this to the one woman who is planning to design some clothes. Or the orchestra that is playing only on Halloween night in the Lowell House Tower Room. Or the soft sculpture project.

We were curious about what "soft sculpture" really entails, so we called Christine K. Lee '93, one of the project's organizers. The soft sculptors will paint on hundreds of T-shirts and arrange them in either "a pile on the steps of Lamont," or "string them around a tree." Everyone who passes by the spectacle may take one of the shirts, thereby changing the size of the pile and contributing to what Lee calls an "evolving work of art." This project, remember, got four hundred dollars.

So why didn't we? One automatic strike against us was probably our Currier House addresses; unlike 74 percent of the grant recipients, we don't happen to live in Adams.

And it appears that the Council gives special priority to projects which appeal to the fewest Harvard students. The fact that a humor magazine appeals to a broad base does not disqualify it as legitimate art. It is mainstream art.

Then there's the question of who needs funding. The Immediate Gratification Players received $150 from the OFA. What the hell do they need money for? The whole point of improvisational acting is not to use props or anything else that costs money. Are they paying the actors? Are they holding special parties?

Our magazine will cost about $900 per issue, and as the recent Lampoon parody of us correctly noted, our ad revenues will hardly cover publication expenses.

AT LEAST we've learned something. Next year, when we apply for a grant, we'll know how to win the hearts of the Council for the Arts. We will stress that our magazine has the most limited appeal of any journal on campus. We'll dress soft sculptures in original fashions, and parade them at Midnight on Halloween. We'll set up a pile of crap somewhere in the Yard. We'll drop oil-stained tunics into a vat of vomit.

And we'll submit.

Steven V. Mazie and Philip M. Rubin, Crimson editors, are founders of Jerk magazine.

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