November 14, 2011

Scholastic Satire

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Alexandra Post ’12, a senior in the College of Human Ecology and humor enthusiast, is the regional manager of Cornell Campus Basement, a website devoted to satirizing Cornell current events and campus culture. After she recounted to me an (unfortunately sober) incident involving McDonald’s, quotes from The Hangover, a car door and her own struggles with spatial judgment, we sat down to talk satire, Facebook etiquette and her (admittedly petty) beef with The Sun.

The Sun: For the uninitiated, please elaborate on what Campus Basement is.

Alexandra Post: So basically, Campus Basement is a mix between The Onion and CollegeHumor; it’s satirical news meets college. But we’re not either of those sites. We’re a really niche-based site, and we’re just one “chapter” of the Campus Basement family. Lehigh just got a site, Missouri, B.U. and Wash U. all have sites. Cornell is actually the first expansion of the site, after the original site for Syracuse.

Sun: So what exactly do you rely on for content? Is it fake news like The Onion?

A.P.: It’s mostly just taking headlines from The Sun and different events that happen at Cornell, and twisting it or examining it in a way that makes it funny. There are so many ridiculous things that go on here that it’s pretty easy to portray it humorously. There’s a lot of creativity that goes into it; it’s situational humor that is more widely relatable, where one thing makes you think of another and then another and then you got a headline that will get a good laugh from students around campus. There doesn’t necessarily need to be a news-related basis.

Sun: So what’s been your most talked-about story this year? Is there anything you’ve been particularly proud of or that has drawn a lot of traffic to the site?

A.P.: Probably our “Occupy Gringotts” story. It got a ton of shares and spread even into the U.K., and ever since, our other articles have been getting more Facebook likes than ever before. It was incredible for our P.R. But I think the most talked about issues have been the Panhellenic and I.F.C. rule changes.

Sun: So you’ve tackled the whole “Occupy” movement, but have you yet hit some of the other pertinent campus issues, like the tech campus?

A.P.: Well, we saw The Sun’s Halloween issue and you guys had already made fun of the whole situation. We backed off and were like, “Okay, The Sun got that one from us.” We wanna take your regular headlines and make them into our own jokes, not just rip joke ideas (laughs).

Sun: So, about The Sun: You guys recently criticized our Jon Stewart interview for being, and I quote, the “most boring interview of all time.” Please tell us the weakness of this interview and how you would have made it “more hilarious.”

A.P.: (laughs) Well, in particular, I was so bitter about the whole thing. I was so excited to get a press pass and after my credentials were approved, I was under the impression that I would have the opportunity to interview Jon Stewart. After some follow-up, I was told that I wouldn’t be interviewing him. So when I found out that The Sun had landed the interview, all I wanted to do was just burst into tears. Hundreds and hundreds of tears. So I read the interview and was bitterly saying, “Oh, I would have done so much better.” I wanted to take it in a more ridiculous direction, like asking him what his spirit animal is. I feel like you guys took a very academic, newsy approach and I envisioned it going completely differently and ridiculously.

Sun: I mean, it’s a very weird situation. You want to have a cool in-joke with Jon Stewart, but his agent is sitting there tapping his watch and you want to come off as super legitimate and collegiate and not like a bunch of assholes who pulled strings to land this interview.

A.P.: I definitely get that. I mean, it was all just, as I said, bitterness (laughs).

Sun: So, as a fellow independent organization, how do you handle recruitment without things like Clubfest?

A.P.: Well, due to our limitations, a lot of it has been just meet contacting freshman —

Sun: Which is absolutely not creepy at all.

A.P.: Not remotely creepy! I’m just posting on the Class of 2015 Facebook group and trying to drum up interest.

Sun: Okay, okay. I just wanted to make sure you weren’t sitting outside Appel and stalking kids based on jokes you’ve overheard or something.

A.P.: Someone said something funny! Quick, recruit him! (laughs) We also do a lot of recruitment through Schizophrenics, Humor-us and The Lunatic, which only publishes once a semester.

Sun: With your writing staff, do you have anyone who really lets their voice show through? Does anyone have a particular or style that is notable, or is it a pretty standardized tone and approach?

A.P.: Well, we have 10 steady writers right now, along with our anonymous, non-staff posts. We try to democratize humor creation and encourage community participation.

Sun: How do you ensure that the submitted content maintains a certain level of humor and professionalism? I mean, with an open forum on the internet, crappy stuff is going to eventually get posted.

A.P.: There’s something of an editing process. We try to make sure that crap does not get onto the website. As we got more popular, we’ve had to enforce stricter editing procedures. People started sending me emails critizing our grammar. I now have to tell my writers, “Come on, guys. We’re at Cornell. We gotta use commas!”

Sun: How are the other “chapters” of Campus Basement doing?

A.P.: Well, recently, Wash U. has dominated our most “shared board.” We used to dominate, getting the most likes and shares, but they’ve really stepped up their game, especially since they’re new to the site. There’s a bit of an inter-Campus Basement feud with that “most shared” board that HQ (the guys who run the Syracuse site), and it really pushes us to refine what we do. We need to represent Cornell hard.

Sun: Is there anything about Cornell’s campus culture that may limit or encourage audience growth for Campus Basement?

A.P.: I mean, Cornell’s studious reputation definitely holds true, and Campus Basement is essentially a niche-based procrastination tool. This is not to say that nobody procrastinates here — my friends check out the site between problem sets and during study breaks for a little comic relief — but there’s definitely an audience you need to prove yourself to, because they don’t have a lot of time for non-school stuff.

Sun: So, you say that your promotional tactics primarily utilize social media?

A.P.: Yeah, sharing and liking on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ compose most of our promotion.

Sun: But I feel like “Facebook etiquette” (because that exists now) dictates that you don’t clutter your friends’ news feeds with pedantic likings and sharing. How do you overcome that?

A.P.: A lot of our staffers, because they’re monetarily rewarded for popular articles, indulge in a lot of self-promotion, getting their sororities or fraternities to kind of spread the word about their articles and sending it to their friends. I send my stuff to my friends and they’re like, “I like the article, but I don’t like you enough to ‘like’ your article.” They want their Facebook to be clean, apparently. People wanna find that balance between ostentatious sharing and privacy.

Sun: So, what are Campus Basement’s plans for the future?

A.P.: Well, I’m a senior, so I’ve gone about and found my successor. He’s the assistant to the regional manager — my own personal Dwight Schrute. He’s definitely got more of a business streak running through him, while for me it was simply a creative outlet. So he’s gonna do a lot with perfecting our business model. Content-wise, I’ve got my little memo of things I want to write about. Like, if Cornell gets voted the “Most Vegan College,” you know we’ll rip into it. And finals week usually yields some of our staff’s best work; frustration leads to inspiration, I suppose.

You can read Ms. Post’s and others’ work at http://www.campusbasement.com/cornell.

Original Author: James Rainis

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