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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Joke's on the alumni magazine in two separate pranks

By Michael Barnes

It is all the buzz among young alums, “Who is the guy with his you-know-what hanging out?” And it is nothing but frustration for staff in College Relations, “Who is the guy making fun of Macalester?”

His name is Taavo Smith ’03, a former member of the Macalester student group Bad Comedy who has decided to carry on the tradition of beneath-the-belt humor—this time, quite literally.

As part of a prank, Smith decided to drop his zipper and hang his scrotum into view during a picture taken at an “ugly holiday sweater party,” held in December, said host Abbey Borkin ’03.

The photo was printed in the Spring 2006 issue of the Macalester Today.

According to Smith, no one else was in on the joke at first, until the photographer noticed Smith’s genitals in a series of smiling photos and started laughing. The group of alumni attending the party in Chicago enjoyed the prank and laughed together, Smith said.

Then they decided to go one step further and send the photo to the Macalester Today, the alumni magazine published quarterly by the college.

They call it a “hairy bean bag.”

That’s the term Smith and other alumni are using to describe his “exposure” in the photograph, which was published without the editors noticing the small fleshy spot on the right side of the group picture. As far as the average reader was concerned, the photo captured a happy moment among recent college graduates, gathering for an evening of Christmas cheer.

But when calls from alumni started coming in, the joke turned into a more serious issue for members of the College Relations department at Macalester.

“The joke is on the serious legitimate readers of the magazine,” Director of College Relations Doug Stone said. “It’s one thing to have a sense of humor; it’s another thing to be disrespectful.”

The editor of the Macalester Today, Jon Halvorsen, noted that the photos submitted do not undergo extreme scrutiny, and that willing alumni can certainly sneak in pranks.

“It’s extremely easy to plant a joke in a college alumni magazine, any college alumni magazine,” Halvorsen said. But as far as Smith’s prank is concerned, “it doesn’t even rise to the level of sophomoric humor,” he said.

“It’s easy to do, but it’s dishonest,” Stone added.

Why did he do it? When pressed, Smith cited “existential anxiety,” as the source of inspiration for his brand of humor.

“It’s the people who are paid to be squares who are going to tell you it’s not funny, and maybe they don’t see it, but I do,” Smith said. “I’m quite proud of a joke that is both subtle and [crude].”

By subtle, Smith is referring to how difficult it was for people to find something wrong in the picture. “My own parents saw the photograph, and didn’t notice anything,” he said.

“Even if you’re looking for something in the photo it’s hard to see it,” Halvorsen admitted.

Same page, new prank

While editors at the Macalester Today were informed of the presence of a scrotum in the Christmas picture prior to an interview with The Mac Weekly, a less sophomoric prank went unnoticed until it was revealed by this reporter Wednesday. The second joke, which also landed on page 45, involved a fake wedding announcement.

A close read of the page will find no obvious errors, but a slightly intriguing story about a unique wedding celebration in New York City.

“Phillipe Knab [’02] and Laura Pennington [’02] were married June 4, 2005, in a small Buddhist ceremony on a rooftop in Brooklyn.”

The picture on the following page reveals an entourage of well dressed bridesmaids and best men, flanking the bride and groom.

And who are the poseurs that staged this incident, the bride and groom not- to- be? Two alumni members of Fresh Concepts, another student comedy group that carries the reputation of being more sophisticated than its companion, Bad Comedy.

According to all the alumni involved, there was no coordination between the two comedy groups, and neither knew of the other’s prank until the latest issue of the magazine came out in March.

While the “class note” submitted to the alumni magazine about the wedding cited that Pennington “continues to teach yoga, and [Knab] is starting a career as a free-lance graphic designer,” these are inaccurate statements meant to portray a stereotypical Macalester couple.

In actuality, Knab said he is finishing up his final year of study at Brooklyn Law School, and Pennington is working in Ghana.

“It was basically an excuse for a party,” Knab said of the staged wedding. “There have been other fake weddings [in the magazine] before.”

According to Knab, Pennington borrowed the dress for a day from a vintage store, and a lot of friends from Macalester came in formal attire. When it was time for the pictures, all the partygoers who were in casual clothes were ushered away and the wedding photo was taken.

The photo, as well as the false information described above, were sent to the Macalester Today, which published them in a section dedicated to small updates from alumni.

“I was surprised as many people knew about it,” Knab said. Before concluding his interview, Knab extended an apology to Halvorsen and the other editors.

Smith, who did not extend an apology, warned that just as these two instances were not the first cases of false announcements and pranks being placed in the magazine, they also would not be the last.

“They are going to have to look quite closely at the photos [from now on],” Smith said.

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