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Pudding Is Not Elitist, Decadent



There is no such thing as bad publicity, so we at the Hasty Pudding Theatricals were tickled that The Crimson thought enough of us to run Sarah M. Rose's half-page op-ed arts piece about our recent Man of the Year evening in honor of Tom Hanks ("Hanks and the Hasty Hunks," signed piece, Feb. 25, 1995). There is, however, such thing as bad writing. Which brings us to Sarah Rose.

It is hard to know where to begin in discussing Ms. Rose's article, in part because she skillfully subverts the reader's desire for, say, a coherent thesis or argument. What emerges is an indictment of the Pudding, but the grounds for this indictment are cleverly concealed within Ms. Rose's labyrinthine twists of rhetoric. In part, Ms. Rose seems critical of the fact that Mr. Hanks was invited in the first place. "Maybe these Harvardians should not be so star-struck," Ms. Rose high-mindedly intones, perhaps forgetting that elsewhere in her own article she refers to Mr. Hanks--with whom she has presumably interacted only through his brief press conference--as a "delightful mix of thoughtfulness and winning verve," a "mensch," and a "doll" who may be the "one nice guy left in Hollywood" (Ms. Rose has presumably met all the other guys in Hollywood--hey, she's a Crimson editor). Did Mr. Hanks behave well? You bet! He "was all grace and charm" as he "performed admirably," "sidestepped any awkwardness with boyish aplomb," and "kept the evening in perfect perspective." We simple, star-struck Pudding folk can only dream of the day when we will be able to rival Ms. Rose's cool, seemingly effortless air of journalistic detachment.

And yet, despite her admirable unwillingness to worship Tom Hanks, Ms. Rose finds it mystifying that Mr. Hanks would "waste his time" on an evening of "burlesque student theatre." It may surprise Ms. Rose to learn that thousands of people waste their time enjoying student theatre every year at the Pudding alone; and while, admittedly, these people are not all famous celebrities like Tom Hanks, they still count for something, don't they? It may also surprise Ms. Rose--though it surely wouldn't, had she half a clue about the way publicity works--that Mr. Hanks was more than happy to be named Man of the Year; that it puts him in very prestigious and flattering company; that movie stars sometimes find it advantageous to be splashed on the cover of The Boston Herald and on the Star Tracks pages of People Magazine; and that he may even have enjoyed the show, which Ms. Rose grudgingly describes as having been "fun."

"Asked why he subjected himself to the Pudding's harassment," Ms. Rose writes, unironically, "Hanks could not find an answer. 'You know, that's a damn good question.'" That Mr. Hanks was participating in a time-honored tradition of mutual ribbing--Michelle Pfeiffer said that she was considering using the Hasty Pudding Pot to help toilet-train her toddler--was obvious to everyone in attendance, or so one would have thought. How then to understand Ms. Rose's use of this quote? Was she deliberately, disingenuously distorting what Mr. Hanks had said in order to further her own sloppy sophistries? It is not a pleasant explanation; then again, the alternative--that Ms. Rose is possessed of a rare degree of witlessness--hardly seems more charitable.

But what exactly is Ms. Rose's gripe with the Hasty Pudding Theatricals? Is it really helpful to refer to us and our audience by such hurtful names as "the entitled," "the bourgeoisie," "the glitterati" and "the so-called cultural elite"? We think not. Still, while we sting from Ms. Rose's caustic, painfully accurate Leninist barbs, we must remind her that the majority of students in attendance were--like herself--seeing the show for free, as the guests of company members, each of whom was given at least one complimentary ticket to the show. Although Ms. Rose seems to imply that the audience was full of members of the Hasty Pudding Club, there was in fact no delegation from the Club at this year's Man of the Year. The "glitterati" hardly arrived "en masse" (whatever that means); only about forty students actually paid for their tickets (at company rates, incidentally, not full price), and they came largely to cheer on friends in the company and have a nice time (not "to show their support for men in chick's [sic] clothing"). Is it possible that someone present did not know exactly how much her ticket had cost? Yes. Does this mean anything? No. The fact that 80 percent of the student body needs some kind of financial aid to pay a $100,000 tuition tab does not mean that Harvard students are starving, nor does it mean, as Ms. Rose implies, that it is immoral to spend $50 on a black-tie evening with an open bar, a movie star in attendance and a great show. Is it wrong to charge so much for Man of the Year? No. Man of the Year is an event; it is, in part, a fundraising event. Anyone who wants to see the show on an ordinary night can buy tickets at regular prices, or can buy student rush tickets an hour before the show for $10. "Harvard may be elite," Ms. Rose reluctantly concedes, "but the Pudding is more so--at least Harvard has an open punch." So does the Pudding; for the cast, punch is called "auditions," and for the tech crew, band, and business staff, punch is called "applications." Many company members--and many of the audience members at Man of the Year--are even on Financial Aid.

Ms. Rose's accusations of elitism simply don't hold water, which brings us to what appears to be her real problem: happiness. We are charged with being "tipsy" and "bawdy," and of participating in "excess" and in a "glorified lovefest;" most damningly, Ms. Rose even accuses us of "enjoy[ing our] fete." At least one person, Ms. Rose smirkingly tattles, actually vomited from too much champagne. Naturally, we share Ms. Rose's indignation at these sickening displays of pleasure. We share her moving, not-at-all-technocratic feeling that we "should concentrate on being more productive." We are very, very ashamed. But we cannot help suspecting that Ms. Rose has no idea how much work goes into mounting a show like A Tsar Is Born (just as she clearly has no understanding of how much such a show costs to put on), and that her joyless perspective on the Man of the Year party is incomprehensible to anyone who has not been nursed on bitterness.

Is our excess "sophmoric" [sic]? Perhaps, but then, we have always believed that "sophmoric" is the kind of accusation that, if made at all, should at least be spelled correctly. The word, by the way, means "intellectually pretentious and conceited but immature and ill-informed;" it's a term with which Ms. Rose really ought to be quite familiar. Her inchoate, snitty, schoolmarmish, resentful, achingly stupid article is an embarrassment even by Crimson standards, which is saying a lot. Adam Feldman '95   Hasty Pudding Theatricals

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