RSS Feed

Paper cuts.

Posted on

One of the big rivalries around here is Lehigh University vs. Lafayette College. It’s more than just an annual football game — Leh-Laf (or Laf-Leh, depending on your loyalties) spills over into other areas of student life.

Both schools have searchable editions of their student papers online — The Brown and White for Lehigh, The Lafayette for Lafayette. Both date back to the 19th century.

College papers, while laughably bad sometimes, are also barometers of American youth culture. You’ll read about issues and cultural events there that you won’t find in professional daily papers.

So here’s a new twist on the Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry:

I took 10 terms from the past half-century of American college life and youth culture, and searched the archives for their first mentions in both papers.

I was trying to determine which campus has been hipper over the long term.

As I saw it, if one school’s paper was consistently the first to mention youth culture or alternative topics, its campus was probably in the lead, culturally speaking.

So who’s cooler? The Mountain Hawks or the Leopards? Let’s see what the papers say:

Pizza: The definitive college food was first mentioned in both papers in 1949, thanks to advertisements from local restaurants. Colonial Pizza and Spaghetti House, which advertised in The Lafayette, helpfully subtitled its ad “Pizza (Tomato Pie).”

But which was the first to mention it in staff-written copy? After exhaustive research, I conclude that honor goes to The Lafayette, which mentioned in its Dec. 9, 1955, issue that a student injured in a car accident was “dying for pizza” instead of hospital food.

Marijuana: How do you think college kids get so hungry for pizza? (Well, OK, there are multiple ways; but pot is one.)

Lehigh’s Brown and White was the first of the two papers to refer to marijuana, in its Sept. 26, 1939, issue. An anonymously written opinion-page column opined: “You will have most trouble with sophomores, the faculty and sophomores. Together they will contrive to make your life so inexpressibly happy that you will sooner or later come to know the joy of arsenic, the charm of marijuana.”

The Lafayette didn’t get pot into print until April 16, 1948, again in an opinion page column — this time about the music of jazz saxophonist Illinois Jacquet.

(It occurs to me now that I might have gotten different results if I’d used the archaic spelling “marihuana.” Not gonna take time to do it again, though.)

Velvet Underground: One of the most influential bands of all time, the Velvets’ sound has echoed in college/underground/alternative rock for decades.

The Lafayette did itself proud, running a staff-written review of The Velvet Underground and Nico in its April 21, 1967, issue. It’s kind of a lousy review — quoting the whip-verse in “Venus in Furs” and calling it “pure poetry” — but it was still far ahead of a lot of other people and publications in noticing the band.

The Brown and White has mentioned the Velvets five times in its history, the first as a passing mention in a Jan. 16, 1973, review of Lou Reed’s Transformer. (“Have a few drinks and enjoy it.”)

Doonesbury: Before Garry Trudeau’s comic strip became as entrenched and familiar as Peanuts, it was the first strip of its generation that commented satirically on current events and sympathetically depicted long-haired young adults.

The strip entered syndication in 1970, but it took eight years to get mentioned in the local college papers. The Brown and White was first, putting a front-page tease into the Sept. 26, 1978, issue to announce it had picked up the strip.

The strip was first mentioned in The Lafayette on Feb. 8, 1980, in an article announcing Trudeau as that spring’s commencement speaker.

Quaalude: A friend of mine who attended the University of Massachusetts in the latter half of the 1970s once nostalgically told me, Those were the days of ludes, ludes, ludes.” So I’ve chosen the depressant to represent all of ’70s and ’80s campus drug culture.

Whaddya know: The first reference to Quaaludes in either paper is, once again, on the front page of the Sept. 26, 1978, Brown and White. A story mentions that former Presidential adviser Peter Bourne, coming to speak on campus, faced charges for writing a false prescription for the drug.

The Lafayette has mentioned Quaaludes three times, all between April and December 1993.

Punk rock: College kids were probably the first group of Americans to warm to punk rock. And they’re still listening to it today, in different guises (pop-punk, anybody?)

The race to get punk rock into print was a close one. It was won by The Brown and White with scarcely three weeks to spare.

Lehigh’s paper ran a review of a local punk concert on Oct. 4, 1977, while The Lafayette mentioned the term in a disparaging review of a Stranglers album on Oct. 21.

Condom: College kids hook up; everyone knows that. Condoms can also be a controversial topic on college campuses, when the student health dispensary either provides or refuses to provide them.

So which was the first paper to call a French letter by its real name in print?

Well, The Brown and White ran an advertisement for mail-order birth control as early as Feb. 5, 1971. Almost exactly two years later, the first reference to a condom in staff-written copy appeared, in a story claiming that “Many Women Remain Ignorant of Information on Birth Control.”

Lafayette women apparently remained ignorant for another 15 years: The first reference to a condom in The Lafayette appeared in the issue of April 17, 1987.

Michael Stipe: Few bands were as synonymous with college radio in the ’80s and early ’90s as R.E.M., and frontman Michael Stipe was the most visible member of the band.

I thought a search for R.E.M. might be difficult and time-consuming — for instance, what if the writer spelled it REM? — so I decided to search for the singer instead. Certainly, any reference to Michael Stipe would have to occur in the context of intelligent staff-written copy.

As with the Velvet Underground, The Lafayette was in the vanguard, mentioning Stipe in an October 1985 review of Fables of the Reconstruction. The Brown and White wouldn’t mention the singer until October 1994, in a review of Monster.

Kurt Cobain: When I was in college in the first half of the ’90s, no band was bigger on the college scene than Nirvana. Everyone knew Nevermind song for song. If you didn’t own it, your roommate did.

I found it rather surprising that neither paper mentioned Cobain until after he killed himself. The Lafayette mentioned him in passing in a nonsensical column in its April 15, 1994, issue, while a letter to the editor in The Brown and White of April 22 included his name.

I’d call that a draw, and not an especially impressive one.

Fuck: No, this isn’t a uniquely youth-oriented term. But college kids tend toward salty informality, especially after a couple beers. And God knows they like to test limits. So I figured I’d search for one of the seven dirty words and see where it showed up first.

(We won’t count a mention of “Fuck ’32” in a track meet summary in The Brown and White from April 1929. Presumably that was actually the guy’s last name, or a misprint of same.)

Once again The Brown and White led the way, running a police blotter item in November 1982 in which a luckless Sig Ep said someone threatened to “fuck up his car.”

Nine years later, The Lafayette dropped its first F-bomb, in a May 3, 1991, column by Frank Puskas.

The final verdict? Over the years, The Brown and White seems a touch more cutting-edge than The Lafayette — though the Easton paper seems to have an advantage where music is concerned.

Advertisements

2 responses »

  1. More interesting to me than your exhaustive research into the newspaper archives is your choice of the 10 definitive elements/measures of later 20th century American college culture. Fascinating. Too bad we don’t know how they pronounced “pizza”…

    Reply
    • Oh, they’re not definitive in the least; they’re just 10 I came up with.
      Of course, since I wrote the thing, I’ve been thinking of other search terms from history that might have been good to use. (One that comes to mind is “draft card.”)

      You’ll notice there are none more recent than the mid-’90s; I know nothing about collegiate culture since I graduated.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: