a PAW web exclusive column by Wes Tooke '98 (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
June 5, 2002:
The Nassau Weekly makes a list
There's nothing quite like the kicked-in-the-groin feeling of browsing
through the New Yorker online and discovering that the Nassau
Weekly, where you worked intermittently as an undergraduate,
has just made Talk of the Town because it decided to publish a list
of the 10 most beautiful girls at Princeton.
I decided to withhold judgment until I saw the issue (which is
available online), but now I feel perfectly comfortable spitting
in the general direction of my old paper. The editors were kind
enough to include e-mails from their decision-making process as
they approached this issue, so walk with me, if you will, through
this maelstrom of banal idiocy.
Act One: Genesis
Two of the three editors of the Nassau Weekly, probably while
flipping through a copy of Maxim, decide that making a Top-Ten
list of attractive Princeton women is an interesting, creative,
and totally nonderivative idea. They share the idea with the third
editor, Ari, who writes the following response:
"Dudemeisters, First of all, let me say that I am not wild
about the girls of Princeton cover idea. I'ím sure that it
will be funny and controversial and will make the Nass more
visible, but I have to say that a large section of the Princeton
community (including me) will find it misogynist and puerile. I
donít think that this is any reason not to run the article,
Hard to argue with that. I mean, if I were the editor of a paper,
facing the last issue of the year, I'd hope that I could emboss
my legacy by printing the most misogynist and puerile article I
could find. So how does Alex, the other editor, respond?
"I don't necessarily agree that it's misogynist, though that's
a whole other debate, but I'll certainly admit to it being puerile.
But you guys know my philosophy on the Nass, which closely
parallels a brilliant skit done in the early days of the State.
It's low-brow, high-brow. The best of both worlds, so to speak.
The eradication of pretension in the whole."
An ambitious goal, certainly. Especially since your medium for eradicating
pretension is anointing 10 women "hot." Very high-brow.
Apparently some members of the staff share my doubts, because by
the next e-mail Alex has lost patience with the dissenters.
"Finally, I've allude [sic] put a lot of time and planning
into this cover piece, and it's getting really annoying having to
allay people's fears every other day. I'm beginning to care less
and less about what the Dave Hittsons and Kristinas and Russ Goldmans
have to say about our article."I'm guessing, Captain Bligh,
that Dave Hittson, Kristina, and Russ Goldman are your happy coworkers
at the Nassau. Nice. And who does want the article to appear?
"This issue is going to be unbelievable, trust me. I went to
a club hockey party tonight and the team probably spent two hours
talking and arguing about what girls should be included."
Ah, high-brow indeed. At this point in the exchange, Kristina, the
graphics editor, decides to add her voice to the critics. She prefaces
her comment with the following disclaimer:
"And I'm sure you're expecting the typical outraged 'don't
objectify women, you misogynist pig!' response, so let me just make
this personal. and I HATE being serious because it makes me feel
all vulnerable and pathetic. so here's you [sic] opportunity to
mock me and make me feel horrible:"
Gosh, that's exactly why a person comes to a place like Princeton.
To be mocked when they dare to be serious. And to think that some
people actually question the intellectual atmosphere on campus.
Kristina goes on to explain that she feels printing a Hot Girls
list on a campus where eating disorders are prevalent is, at the
very least, insensitive, and may even contribute to the problem.
"As it stands right now, I think it would be ridiculous to
not run this issue because of a plea for compassion for undergraduate
females' body issues. Not running this issue isn't going to get
rid of the problem. Publications like these will continue to exist.
The general social standards forced upon women will continue to
exist. Finally, the underlying human behavior that is largely responsible
for these social standards will continue to exist. Put in the most
dumbed-down, testosterone-ish way possible, hot girls are hot, and
this ain't gonna change."
Let me summarize the remaining e-mails in the series by saying that
the exchange got a bit "testy."
Act Two: The Product
So now we know why the Nassau is willing to bear the social
costs of printing a "Top Ten Issue." The central article
is going to be a hilarious, subversive piece of genius that undermines
Princetonís social order nay, the very twisted values
that dominate in present-day America. With that in mind, I excerpt
from the profiles of the 10 most beautiful women:
"Some say that on the seventh day God rested, but I'm pretty
sure he was busy creating Vail Bloom. With a beauty mark above her
lip and a name as ethereal as the climax of spring, the big guy
up in the sky sure knew how to add the perfect final touches, too."
Hey, easy with the scalpel, guys. Even Cosmopolitan can bleed.
"Every year I get to know a few seniors late in the spring,
only to regret not having gotten to know any of them better before
they ran off into the wide, wild world beyond the Fitz-Randolph
gates. Georgianne Ocasio is one such person. Of course, she is extremely
attractive, or she would not have been nominated to appear in this
article. But she is also very cool, very funny, and very smart."
Now Alex, if I didn't know any better, I'd say you were fawning.
Is that any way for a brilliant meta-journalist to act? And the
interviews, so creative.
"What makes a person beautiful?"
"ìWould you date a freshman guy?"
" What is your ideal date?"
Cutting, mate. Absolutely cutting.
Act Three: DÈnouement
The final page of the Top Ten issue contains a selection of staff
members' responses to the article. The section opens with a piece
by Ari, the dissenting editor-in-chief. He writes:
"The fact that this article is going to press despite the objections
of a very considerable portion of the staff profoundly disturbs
By my count, the "very considerable portion of the staff"
includes one of the three editors-in-chief, the business manager,
the publisher, and at least several of the other editors. Ari, my
man, it occurs to me that you might have been in the position to
do something other than write a hand-wringing editorial at the back
of the paper that helps keep your image as a sensitive guy intact.
Randy, the Forum editor, is more blunt.
"...I question whether the idea for this article is really
good journalism at all. It smacks of banality and all the hackneyed
conceptions of gender relations at Princeton: a group of horny,
dorky guys drooling after and idolizing a group of (likely) snooty
yet insecure girls."
Bingo. So how did it get printed? My guess is that it's because
two male Princeton students who happened to have been given a paper
thought the following:
1) If I tackle a really old and boring idea, my overwhelming genius
will somehow make it interesting and fresh. Even if I don't put
any effort into making it interesting and fresh. (This is called
Ivy League arrogance, and it is why I sometimes cringe when I tell
people where I went to college.)
2) Maybe if I do this article, one of the "hot chicks"
will discover that I'm smart and controversial and interesting and
we'íll get married on the steps of Ivy and have lots of preppy
Well, gentlemen, the truth is that in this issue you may have been
controversial in the lame way that O.J. Simpson is controversial,
but you were neither smart nor interesting. Not even by Maxim's
loose standards. Oh, and the rhetorical technique I've been using
throughout this article is called sarcasm. It's low-brow, but for
some reason that I can't quite explain, I thought that might be
appropriate. Lowbrow, by the way, is spelled as one word.
You can reach Wes at email@example.com