Humor on Campus:

Satirical Publications Throughout the Years at William and Mary


The Owl, The Scalper, The Taverner, and Sleuth represent changes over time, yet unite different eras by using humor to exploit similar “us versus them” dichotomies seen on the campus universally throughout the ages.


Background Information

The Owl January 1854

“We present to the wide world; this day, our first, a precious little Owl. We beg our readers not to criticize too severely its notes… this is the first time this charming little critter has uttered a whoop”
The Owl was one of the earliest recorded examples of satirical literature at the College of William and Mary. The premier issue was released in January of 1854, and is the only remaining copy in Swem Archives. The issue came out during the height of the Antebellum period with the country torn over the issue of states rights and slavery. "The Owl" addresses many issues that would be considered controversial today, such as race and gender. Other issues addressed that are still present were professors, administration, and Williamsburg citizens. It is questionable as to how many other issues of "The Owl" were produced due to the fact that Swem Archives has no others.

The Scalper: 1925, 1950

"We are going to tell the truth in this little publication, and our purpose is to tell it fearlessly, so far as in us lies.”
The Scalper was a humorus publication with two known issues, May 1925 was the primer issue, followed by one from November 13, 1950. While the first is humorous, the second is completely different in that it is hardly satirical, and tells of the William and Mary Indians beating University of Virginia in football. The 1925 issue claims that The Scalper is, "Published occasionally by those, who being the loafers, are able to obtains all this information.” The 1925 issue is a four-page series of short articles and lists in newspaper layout.

The Taverner

Sleuth: 2000

Like the other satirical publications, Sleuth also has very few issues. There are only two copies of it-- one each for the months of October and November of the year 2000. Not very much is known about the publication besides what is clear to read of it. The staff appears to be made up of six or seven males, but it is difficult to tell their genders because of the pseudonyms they use. They produced Sleuth in a newsletter format-- one long sheet with several humorous stories.


History


The Owl: 1854-- Antebellum Era, 82 students enrolled.

The Scalper: 1925-- Women had been at school for 10 years, general enrollment growth.

The Taverner: 1988-- WM host of many political events/debates as well as international visitors.

Sleuth: 2000--
During the turn of the millennium, America was entering into the age of technology, and so was William and Mary. The College was providing state-of-the-art improvements in various aspects of campus life, a fact that Sleuth editors even mock in the story "College Announces Sundial to Go Digital!" Alumni and others were also making substantial private donations for campus refurbishments at the time.


Layout

taverner_inside2.jpg
  • The Owl: Newspaper
  • The Scalper: Newspaper
  • The Taverner: Bound pamphlet
  • Sleuth: One-sheet newsletter, "tabloid" style

The first two: The Owl and The Scalper would appear to be regular newspapers at first glance, which automatically categorizes them with the look of a “hard news” publication. This corresponds with their content, for they are more newspaper-like; more satirical, their humor is in that they are really mocking a regular newspaper. Out of the later two, neither The Taverner from the late 80s nor Sleuth from 2000 has the look of a newspaper, immediately lessening their “hard news” status. Those are more openly comical, not trying to satire a newspaper but rather simply made up of the funny articles and stories within each. This makes them more openly “soft news.”



Staffing


Publication
Size
Sex
Names
The Owl: 1854
One editor listed
No female students
"Our Owl" "High Betty Martin"
The Scalper: 1925/1950
9 Writers 2 Censors (1 Special Correspondent)
Hard to tell; mixed?
Humorous pseudonyms and position titles
The Taverner: 1987-1988
10-17 Writers
Mostly male, 1 female
Real
Sleuth: 2000
6 writers
Hard to tell-- male?
Humorous pseudonyms and position titles

The Owl
"The Owl" existed at a time where women were not allowed to study at William and Mary, therefore the staff consisted of males; entirely all white males due to the time period. In the sole issue of "The Owl" there are only two references to staff:
  1. "By High Betty Martin"
  2. "Non Comeatibus In Swamppo: The Editor of the Owl"

The Scalper
  • Scalper had 9 listed writers in the 1925 edition, all with bogus names and titles such as, “”The Top Ring Leader…Sour—Face Andrews” Other titles were: “Accomplice, Society Editor, Gossip Editor, Juvenile Editor, Automobile Editor, Scandal Editor, Whiskey Editor, and Athletic Editor.” Other names were, “Griping Big Bull, Flapper Bruner, Baldhead Irby,” and others. There are 2 “Censors” listed: “Beau Brummel Stuart” and “Rudyard Kipling Parrish” There was 1 Staff Correspondent, Bill Whosis, the only one given credit for a specific article.
  • Sex of staff unknown, although the Scandal Editor is listed as “Mrs. Grundy Green.” However this still could have been a man.
  • The positions and pseudonyms clearly were simply a part of the humor of the Scalper.

The Taverner

winter_053.jpg
Sleuth Staffing

Sleuth

There were six to seven staffers working Sleuth during its time. They had regular office titles, such as Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor, but also managed to include humorous positions as well. Pinky Twinkleton and Luther, the Elder, as managerial positions and probably founders of Sleuth, remain constant in their position over the two issues; the other positions change, especially the News writers and Circulation department.

Changes Over Time




Funding


The Owl
There was absolutely no evidence of funding found for "The Owl." A theory on this is that "The Owl" was merely a joke amongst a group of people and they used their own money to pay to have it printed. Also there is no evidence to prove that multiple copies were produced and distributed.

The Scalper
  • The Scalper has fake advertisements and a fake cost of “2 bits per copy.” It has 3 fake ads. First: "HATS HATS: We supply hats to fit any size head. Special attention given to students who have made frats and letters. Our special Student Strechable headdress gives plenty of room after you have accomplished any great achievement. We made a hat for Meb Davis. Nuf Said. STRECHUM HAT CO." Second is for "THE COLLEGE SHOP," Third is for "DEAF AND DUMB LANGUAGES IN TEN LESSONS: Learn this Attractive and Useful Means of Communication. My Lessons Are Sure and Very Effective. For further information refer to the Varsity Baseball Squad. Yours for Service, William S. Hart’s Double, Alias The Silent Signaller." These are clearly not real ads, only there for humor. As is per normal with The Scalper, they target frats and athletes.

The Taverner

Sleuth
Sleuth contained only one small advertisement per issue, located in the bottom right-hand corner. They provided coupons for the campus coffee house The Daily Grind and Williamsburg pub The Green Leafe, two popular student hangouts. Since the newsletter did not require much for printing costs (as it was just one page), and most likely enjoyed just a small ring of circulation, further advertising was probably not necessary.

Changes Over Time




Us Versus Them Humor

The humor used creates "us" versus "them" dichotomies. Over time the "us" and "them" have changed, yet the underlying formula has remained constant.

Owl
Scalper
Taverner
Sleuth
Greeks

x

x
Campus

x
x
x
Admin


x
x
Gender
x

x
x
Race
x

x

Religious
Stereotype
x
x

x
Off-campus
x


x


Greek Life


The Owl
Greek Life at William and Mary was not flourishing at this point in time. Many of the chapters that are here today were not even founded at their Alpha school. Even though Phi Beta Kappa was founded at William and Mary, the closest thing to making fun of Greek life was a mention of secret societies. In a portion called "Amendment of the Constitution and Bylaws of William and Mary" there is a reference to a rule made for a secret society that would not be kept because they are in fact, secret.

The Scalper
The Scalper displays a superior attitude over members of fraternities. They are shown negatively throughout, and are incorporated in almost every article. The 1925 issue has a section called “Introducing Our Greeks” which takes jabs at each individually: “ALPHA PHI EPSILON: We consist mostly of Brother George Smith and Brother Sheik Jones. There isn’t much else to speak of.” Includes other stories about individual members of the fraternity that serve to reflect poorly upon the fraternity as a whole. Sororities shown in negative light only as means to end of ridiculing frats.

The Taverner

Sleuth
Greek life is one of the main targets of humor in Sleuth, especially sororities. Both issues rely heavily on national stereotypes that pin Greeks as less intelligent and only interested in parties and booze. They print articles such as "Ask a Sorority Girl at 2 AM," which displays sorority girls as petty and drunks, and tabloid headlines like "Frat row rumored to have nightly pillow fights -- feathers found in hallways!" For the most part, however, they do not pick and choose Greek organizations or mock them by name.

Change Over Time

One of the easiest targets of mockery is any group that intentionally isolates itself, from the secret societies in early College history to Greek life later on. During the time of The Owl, many fraternities were not yet in existences, and sororities of course would have no place at William and Mary yet. By the time of The Scalper, women were still fairly new at the College and not yet acceptable targets; the stereotypes were not pervasive. As time continued, national stereotypes of fraternities and sororities prevailed, and their use became more and more prevalent the later the publication. Superior attitude prevails over time, from The Scalper all the way to Sleuth.


Campus Groups and Student Publications


The Owl
Again, there were very few groups on campus at this time. The only specific groups were the secret societies. Also, no mention of any of the other publications, which may be due to the fact that there were no other publications. The Flat Hat was not founded until almost 60 years after "The Owl" was published.

The Scalper
The Scalper attacks:
  • Individual campus “celebrities.” There is a whole such section titled as such, with a list of people and their “felonies,” such as athletes like the baseball player Kahn, who is apparently bad, because under the “Our Question Box” section one of the questions is, “If Kahn will ever fail to make less than four errors in any one game?”
  • Individual fraternity brothers are targeted such as Jimmy Barnes—"I am the old maids’ delight, and the greatest worry of the S.A.E.’s.”
  • Clubs are targeted, such as the secret society the Thirteen Club. “The Thirteen Club, as its name indicates, claims to be composed of the 13 best men on the campus. And it does, along with the other hundred who have been taken in during the present year.”
  • Other on-campus publications are mocked, such as The Flat Hat, The Colonial Echo, The Literary Magazine, and the DUC Handbook. It says about the Flat Hat, it is “Published weekly usually, containing news that has been known to the campus no less than a month. A list of the staff takes up most of the middle section. The issues are full of would-be editorials, announcements of new organizations, and S.A.E. pledges.”

The Taverner

Sleuth
Sleuth seems to be concerned with poking fun at any group on campus. As with many satirical publishers, the editors consider themselves above everyone else, and are determined to bring down anyone who could threaten their superiority. When one of the readers, Philip E. Kray (a real student at the school), wrote in complimenting the publication in language that could have been considered high-and-mighty, and also dared to critique one article, the editor Luther the Elder took matters into his own hands. He harassed him at length and in public in the next issue. The Sleuth writers also attacked the usual stereotypical cliques that have become popular in modern times, such as geeks and nerds, Greeks, skaters, and feminists.

Change Over Time
In the beginning, groups are mocked by means of ridiculing a particular member or publication. As time progressed, the publications began to make fun of stereotyped groups such as nerds or skaters. This could be because back at the time of The Scalper, because of the scarce number of students, names could be used, for everyone must have known nearly everyone else. Even without the small, close-knit community factor, there wouldn’t have been enough students to divide into the groups later used in The Taverner and Sleuth to fulfill the stereotypes.


Gender


The Owl
In the time period of "The Owl" women were considered inferior to men. The feminist movement was not even an idea at this time and woman were not present on campus. With no female writers, "The Owl" was free to make judgements against them as they pleased. One of the major references to women would be the "easy" nature of the females in Williamsburg. This would be the only female interaction these young men were having at the time.
The Scalper
In The Scalper, the women are only belittled if it serves the greater purpose of ridiculing a man. Men are the ones shown at fault for seducing innocent girls. If the girls are slandered it’s only for their use as puppets in jokes against men. They are literally portrayed as puppets in one article: “And look at those puppets at his heels. He has them trained well, hasn’t he? But, then, he is so handsome and so attractive and so domineering that it is small wonder such unsophisticated little nit-wits can’t resist his charm.” This may seem a slam on the girls, and while it does portray them negatively, it is only for the greater humor of slandering the male in the article entitled “Handsome Sheik Misleads Girls.” It goes on to say: “Big Handsome Sheik that he is, he often leads them to his lair, where it is rumored that he feeds them chewing gum in a most brazen manner and teaches them horrid games.” Clearly, the “handsome sheik” is at fault in this situation, more so than the girls he “misleads.”

The Taverner

Sleuth
The other major topic of Sleuth's jokes is the degradation of women on campus. In the publication, girls are continually referred to as less intelligent sex objects, only concerned with what clothes they will wear (usually skimpy) to parties to attract boys. The mock interviews included in the articles, and the articles themselves, only treat the girls of campus as beings to be ogled or used for sex; even in articles that are not related to girls first-hand refer to them. For example, one article clarifies Busch field as "that field near PBK where the girls go to sunbathe." Also included in an article about a fictional miracle weight loss pill is a student interview. They write, "Males on campus were equally excited about the release of the new prescription drug [for women]... Said...junior Ryan Hill, 'My girlfriend got hers today. We plan to celebrate this momentous scientific breakthrough with a candlelit dinner and a bottle of red wine,' adding, 'Who knows? Maybe I'll even get lucky,' while gently nudging this writer in the ribs with his elbow."

Change Over Time

Race


The Owl
"The Owl" was not afraid to make comments regarding people of different races. The 19th century was a time full of racist feelings, especially in the South. Most of the students were the children of rich men who most likely were the owners of slaves, if not they were raised with the idea of racial inferiority
  • African Americans were referred to as "Negroes." There were pictures of African Americans dressed in the garb of a poor person. In the article referring to the change in bylaws, there were many references to the unfair treatment of African Americans, and how they were still not protected.
  • There is a reference to the Brafferton, which is the original school of Indians. The article claims to hear a rumor that the man who donated the land, Mr. Boyle, would not have imagined the Indians studying in the same fashion as the other students.

The Scalper
In The Scalper, there is one article racist against stereotypical Jewish people. The article is entitled, “Oi! Oi! Yiddish Frat is Born!” It opens with a quote from a Jewish father in what would be considered a stereotypical accent: “Vell, Vell, Vell! I shall send mine poy to Villiam and Mary, now that the brothers under der skin have seen der light and established a socialum fraternity at the college.” The article goes on to say, “Abie, Ikie, Isaac, Loui, the Goldbergs and Icebergs harken to its beckoning call and begin with a rush the second exodus of the Yiddish tribes at William and Mary, as the promised lane where they may join the social fraternity and enter the co-called world of exclusive elite.” Somehow, even while being racist The Scalper managed to undermine fraternities.

The Taverner

Sleuth
Sleuth is not particularly racist, but does subjugate itself to common preconceived misconceptions of racial identities. It allows itself to refer to groups by their stereotypes, such as the references of two black rappers as "thug" or "gangster" in the article, "Rappers Unite to Fight Literacy." Another reference is also made using the stereotype of the American Jewish as miserly and rich.

Change Over Time
Over time, each of the publications continued to make references to different racial groups. Over time the focus of the jokes changed, much like the socially accepted "black sheep" of the time. The irony is there are overlapping of certain groups. For example, Owl and Sleuth both make references to the African American culture, while Sleuth and Scalper find humor in the Jewish culture.

Change Over Time


Conclusion

Through history the idea of what is funny and what is inappropriate has changed with the changes in society. Something that was found humorous would be considered racist, sexist, or politically incorrect. Looking at satirical publications is a difficult feat because one must understand the social norms of the time, and it is hard to understand if something is meant to be funny or serious. The us versus them ideology is evident in these publications and will continue to be an area of humor. Even today, media sources use satire to make points, with a twist. To conclude, a quote from Jon Stewart, a William and Mary graduate, ties everything together:
"Our show is obviously at a disadvantage compared to the many news sources that we're competing with… at a disadvantage in several respects. For one thing, we are fake. They are not. So in terms of credibility we are, well, oddly enough, actually about even. We're about even.”