In Aristophanes’ “The Frogs,” Dionysus makes an underworld-ward journey to urge the return of a newly deceased Euripides back to the world above. Bewailing the state of dramatic tragedy in contemporary Athens, the god of merrymaking, madness, and Merlot hopes that by reviving the poet, he may breathe life back into the deathful and dying artform. Dionysus arrives in Hades ready to pick up the poet, but discovers him in the midst of a competition with Aeschylus, another famous Greek tragedian and more experienced afterlifer, for the title of “Best Tragic Poet.” Dionysus plays judge for the classical poetry slam, ultimately realizing and declaring that Euripides’ clever words are in fact little more than that.
Aristophanes is one of Western culture’s oldest satirists.1
In quaint Brunswick, Maine, the Sporadic Sink has kept afloat that Aristophanic tradition. Weekly publications adorn the restroom doors of Bowdoin College, a small liberal arts school in the New England town. They are a beloved hallmark—quite literally—for local undergraduates, and their writer’s anonymity is a cherished secret and symbolic gesture upheld by the paper’s loyal readers. But the Globalist has it on good faith that the concealed columnist will graduate this year, and with him would vanish Bowdoin’s only source of satire, leaving a humorless vacuum on the sleepy, snowy campus.
That is, this might have been the fate of parody at the prestigious college, had not a new team of talented funny-men heroically volunteered to assume the mantle of campus satire.
Jacob Reiben and Martin Bernard are two of Western culture’s newest satirists. In Silicon Valley, tech visionaries often speak of “creating one’s own niche,” but Reiben and Bernard didn’t even have to reach that far. They foresaw a campus without a satirical medium, one without laughter, where no one could access the true irony of the world we live in. Without the Sporadic Sink, there would not be a single humorous student organization at Bowdoin to take on politics, society and culture. A world waiting to be ridiculed, and absolutely no group at Bowdoin College—not even one—to do so.
In such a world, Bowdoin students (Polar Bears colloquially) would never again have the chance to see or hear even the most banal comic headlines, such as, hypothetically, “Major Storm Causes Bowdoin to Cancel Classes For Good,” “Noam Chomsky Upset he was not Told which College Houses are Cool,” and “The Harpoon’s Guide to Finding Mr. Alt-Right.” Until two weeks ago, before which time the Sporadic Sink was the college’s sole source of satire, Bowdoin’s future was a grim wasteland bereft of any jocular commentary on the news.
The Reiben-Bernard mind-meld ultimately produced what has immediately become Bowdoin’s can’t-miss weekly satire program, Bowdoin News Time. News Time, a weekly show produced by Bernard and starring Reiben, takes no prisoners, hilariously skewering topics both at home and abroad.
When one watches a News Time segment, the delicacy with which Bernard’s production shapes the final product is abundantly clear. In a complete rejection of Lynchian theory, Bernard elaborately cuts from Dutch angle to Belgian angle to German angle seamlessly, the effect being to fully disorient the viewer. News Time’s graceful use of the Kuleshov effect constructs meaning in a meaningless world.
It can be tempting to praise News Time with the hifalutin language that one feels it deserves, but realistically, the program is far less pretentious than one might expect from a college satire medium. In a field full of disaffected white men, aware of current events but not so aware that they feel comfortable saying anything of actual substance or value, Reiben and Bernard have managed to give genuine meaning to their work. They take on real issues, challenge those in power and force the viewer to think.2
Reiben, to his credit, deserves no less of the plaudits. Some describe his acting style as “positively Menippean,” but he’s fully capable of Apollonian subtleties as well. He ably draws from the spirits of Kafka and Brian Williams, morphing into something beyond either. His eyes betray the deadness with which he confronts his source material; for Reiben, satire is no joke.
Within and without that tiny powerhouse of academia, the satire of today harkens back to its origins. But like any facet of society, satire, too, has evolved to appropriately mock the customs and figures peculiar to certain eras. In a world of newspapers and programs, news satire is one of the genre’s most recent incarnations. The Onion provides parody both in print and on screen, and has garnered enough success to inspire other sister sites for humorous content. Andy Borowitz, of The New Yorker, consistently receives tens of thousands of likes on Facebook statuses alone.3
College campuses, furthermore, are particularly fertile farmland for sowing the seeds of pseudo-news. Harvard’s Lampoon is a prominent feature of the American comedy tableau. The Federalist Columbia has been similarly effective. It was cause for despair, therefore—not only to Reiben and Bernard, but the whole of the Maine institution—that, in this respect, Bowdoin would have fallen behind its peers with absolutely no existing source of satirical content, until they took up the torch, only two weeks ago.
In “The Frogs,” Dionysus quotes Euripides when lamenting that, regarding poets, “some are gone, and those that live are bad.” Indeed, substitute satirists for poets4 and until recently this sentiment would have aptly described the woeful future of parody at the small liberal arts school. News Time—soon to be the only, literally the only, source for satire at Bowdoin College—was an inevitable but nonetheless laudable venture, a necessary lifeline to a student body drowning aimlessly in a black hole of listless ironylessness.