Web Exclusives: Tooke's Take
a PAW web exclusive column by Wes Tooke '98 (email: cwtooke@princeton.edu)

June 5, 2002:

Top This
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, though..."

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.

Alex responds:
"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 me."

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 children.

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 cwtooke@princeton.edu