In the first quarter of its run, the literature and humor magazine Touchstone (1936-1950) faced major opposition from students and alumni. After a period of evaluation, administration and student government reached a conclusion: Touchstone staff would be dismissed due to immature content. The choice description was “sophomoric.” The irony was sharp, but with Touchstone neutered, no jokester would be able point out the ridiculousness of telling sophomores that they were writing at a college level.
Although they often draw the ire of administration and uptight students alike, comedy publications are much more than laughs. They confront the issues of a time period that other publications are afraid to tackle and reveal a common experience throughout different groups of people. Indirectly, they reveal the fears, loves and frustrations of a generation. The jokes we make reflect on where we are looking, as well as where we aren’t looking. As a great comedian once put it:
“Tragedy plus time equal comedy.”
“They say that comedy is tragedy plus time.”
“Comedy is tragedy mellowed by time.”
“Comedy is tragedy plus time, … tragedy plus time.”
“What is originality? Undetected Plagiarism.”
In this project, I have attempted to map the sophomoric writing of Amherst College’s dedicated comedy publications. Using TimeMapper, a geographic information system (GIS), we will be able to see the reach and focus of Amherst’s amateur comedians, as well as the college as a whole. Using the data, we will also be able to take a glance at the general structure of content within each publication and decade, tracking the style of college comedy as it developed through each century.
Although I may have just sung the praises of adolescent rebellion, please note that this is an exploration of college humor. Some articles are reflective of their time, and others can be foul. Easily offended and FCC agents be warned.
Project by William Harvey ’18