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Getting the Scoop on the 'Poon

By Dan S. Aibel

It's not as if every undergraduate finds that picture of the noodle-covered cat sitting in a ladle as hysterical as I do. And some of those jabs at the Advocate's leadership were a bit on the harsh side. And sending those poor young kids to the Hasty Pudding with fake invitations might have been just a teeny tiny bit over the line.

But it's impossible to deny that the Lampoon has been up to some damn funny stuff lately. I'm probably breaking any number of Crimson internal editorial commandments when I say so, but if its recent activity means anything, the semisecret Bow Street social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine seems intent on moving away from its "final-club-lite" reputation and toward a more relevant role on campus.

In the last few years, the Lampoon seems to have been living off its longstanding reputation as the most vital source of humor at Harvard, basking cockily in the recent success of alumni Conan C. O'Brien '85 and a number of writers for "The Simpsons." Whole semesters have gone by with scarcely a word from the Castle, and some of the Lampoon's magazines have been so dull as to make one wonder if they weren't Demon-orchestrated counterfeits, produced to sully the organization's name.

But with last Thursday's barrage of four parodies and rumored responsibility for a Hasty Pudding prank on Sept. 29, in one week the 'Poonsters seem to have matched their entire comedic output for the last three years. What's more, the phony issues--extremely successful at reproducing the designs of the publications they satirized--are hilarious.

Sure, it's possible I'm just secretly thankful that the Lampoon skipped The Crimson this time around, instead publishing mock versions of the Advocate, Gazette, Independent and Peninsula.

But how can you argue with the mock "Peninsula Woman Presidents of the United States Watch" or "The Peninsula Strom Thurmond Three Bullets Away From the Presidency Watch?" How can you argue with an item in the fake Gazette titled "Loker Commons to Add Customers"? Maybe the Lampoon, if it was responsible, went too far last week by sending dozens of first-years to the Hasty Pudding for a punch event at which they weren't welcome. The prank displayed a callousness and an unmitigated deviousness that cannot be condoned. It was also one of the funniest things to happen on campus so far this semester.

Curious to find out if this flurry of activity is the sign of things to come, or if it is a dying gasp by a publication on its last legs, I decide to send feelers out far and wide. Soon I realize that it may be difficult to track down someone from the typically clamp-mouthed organization who will talk to an editor from The Crimson, the publication that has historically been the Lampoon's arch-rival.

And sure enough, after some no-nonsense phone work and more than a little quality time on my e-mail account, I'm no further than when I started.

It's late Monday night--just as I begin planning my march up the steps of the Castle and the improvised secret knock I'll use to gain entrance--when, finally, I locate a 'Poonster who's willing to discuss the organization. To my surprise, the upperclassman admits right away that the Lampoon was behind both the parodies and the Hasty Pudding prank. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he explains, "I felt sorry for freshmen who were taken in, but maybe it made people think about institutions like [the Pudding]." He rejects my suggestion that the Lampoon has undergone some radical shift, or that it has somehow been invigorated as of late, but he does acknowledge that the publicity generated by all the activity has probably boosted the size of the comp class. "People just got their act together, and some were here over the summer," he explains. "There's always been a lot of people on the staff, it's just a question of putting stuff out."

When I ask him about the mechanics of putting out a mock issue, his comments are vague but intriguing: "There are various ways of getting the fonts," he assures me, divulging that "sometimes you go on raids." While the recent parodies didn't require any covert activity, in the past, "there have been more paramilitary-type efforts."

And while we don't discuss it, we both know that one of those paramilitary efforts involved not the theft of fonts, but the appropriation of a wooden throne belonging to a certain Plympton Street publication. I let his comment hang in the air for a long moment before moving on, and as the conversation comes to a close I decide that there's nothing to be gained by pressing him about the chair's where-abouts. After all, if the Lampoon continues to put increased time and effort into its publications--if it has decided to become a prolific humor-producing machine--it can only mean that Harvard's daily newspaper will have an easier time doing its furniture shopping in a certain Bow Street stronghold.

Dan S. Aibel's column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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