T he Daily Pennsylvanian’s annual gag issue has a long history, of which another chapter has been written today. Every year at about this time, tradition dictates that DP editors turn their usually proper paper into a playful parody.
Although the DP used to publish a gag issue on or about April Fool’s Day, the issue was moved to Washington’s birthday in 1962. Through a series of haphazard and random events, the DP has settled on a time loosely referred to as “sometime in March or April, or whenever we remember to commemorate the crusading DP editors of days gone by.”
So how did this strange tradition begin? The DP was then led by the now celebrated Melvin Goldstein. “Magnificent Melvin,” as the flamboyant editor-in-chief was called, decided to liberate the traditional all-male newspaper by adding a few women to the staff. Not to be outdone, the rival Pennsylvania News — a weekly published by female undergraduates — decided that it, too, would go co-ed and invited men to join the paper.
The women got more than they bargained for. The very next day, Feb. 22, Magnificent Melvin and his staff produced their own Pennsylvania News, mocking the News’ frivolous style.
But Melvin didn’t stop there. He unsheathed his verbal axe and proceeded to chop down the student government, too. In those days, the Men’s Student Government (the sexes were separated there as well) was run by two rival political parties, the Union and the Red and the Blue, both coalitions of fraternities. But that year, a new political entity held the balance of power. The members of this third party, the United Christian Front Student Anarchism League, had been elected on the promise that they would disrupt student government.
The DP thought the time was ripe for just that sort of thing. Thus, the Feb. 22 issue carried the banner headline “Men’s Gov’t Verges on Collapse; Anarchists Trigger Bitter International Clash.” Not one to go halfway, the next morning Melvin ran a front-page editorial urging the University to “abolish all student government.”
All this piqued the student politicos, so they held a special Saturday meeting and suspended funds for the campus rag, charging that Melvin’s News parody was “libelous, vulgar and, in general, an insult to the intellect and morals of the University.” Actually, the bluest thing in the issue was an announcement that the College for Women-sponsored “ceremony in honor of the first buds of spring” would be “consummated on Monday on the lawn.”
With the support of the Dean of Men — who was also the victim of a few scathing editorials — the DP for Monday, Feb. 26, which was then printed on Friday night, was confiscated and burned. (Since then, the DP has always printed its Monday editions on Sunday nights.)
The student government also staged a rally protesting “irresponsible journalism.” The suspension made headlines up and down the East Coast and was mentioned in London’s The Observer. Meanwhile, special editions of The Harvard Crimson and The Columbia Daily Spectator were flown in to fill the journalistic void.
Finally, on March 2, 1962, freedom of the press was restored and the DP was allowed to publish — minus Melvin, who was put on academic probation and prohibited from participating in any extracurricular activities.
Undaunted by the loss of their leader, however, the staffers printed a note at the top of the March 2 issue that read: “As we were saying before we were so rudely interrupted” and proceeded to publish “Part II” of the editorial blasting Men’s Student Government. (An interesting note: The person who took over as editor-in-chief after Melvin’s suspension was Michael Brown, the 1986 Nobel Prize winner in Medicine and Commencement speaker 11 years ago.)
Ever since the memorable Melvin incident, DP editors male and female have followed Melvin’s example and produced a DP gag issue each year. The results have often been memorable.
One year, an associate dean in the College called up the provost to ask why he had not been told that the University had been kicked out of the Ivy League.
Another February, an article disclosing that the University was really a “mafia shield” caused a Philadelphia Evening Bulletin editor to “damn near run to the telephone to give somebody hell for missing a story like that.”
Thus, the current editors, recalling Magnificent Melvin and his clashes with the forces of evil, present Joke Issue 2014, partly in fun, partly in jest — and partly to remind every one who really runs things around here.
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