We’ve all heard what they say about Trinity students; we are pretentious, full of ourselves. We dress nonsensically with the sole aim of making an appearance on Campus Couture. We are phonies. We think we are so much better than all those other Dublin students, just for being enrolled in the ‘best’ Irish college. According to stereotypes, the Arts Block students are all jobless, feckless nepotism babies, the Phil is a cult and the Hist is a try-hard (what even is the Theo?), and everyone is loaded. These statements are not likely to be found in Trinity News’ pages today, and yet, seventy years ago, such remarks could have made the front page.
We are well aware of how we are perceived, and only one glance at the Trinity News archive will show that we have been so for a long time now. The Thursday 5 December 1963 issue opens with a piece called Outside TCD, which responds to what purportedly was a UCD student-published article about Trinity’s reluctance to “join the rest of the country”. The article states some still-quoted stereotypes about the university: “a relic of British rule in which Ireland and the Irish have little place” with a history “of isolation from the rest of the country … living about fifty years out of date and still trading on its past reputation”, with students treating Ireland as “an offshoot of England,” and a life “typified by the Trinity Ball and the College Races”. While this specific article seeks to defend Trinity and its students, some articles from our past took a far more unhinged approach to our campus culture.
“From its very first line, the article takes a strong stance against beards, which, in the author’s opinion, are ‘an ever-growing problem […] flaunted on once presentable chins’.”
In the same edition as Outside TCD, the reader can find an article entitled Beards, written by “Elynour Rumming, the distinguished sociologist”. From its very first line, the article takes a strong stance against beards, which, in the author’s opinion, are “an ever-growing problem … flaunted on once presentable chins”. Rumming’s article, styled like a research paper, satirises beards on campus, conducting interviews with bearded individuals as well as trying to define ‘beards’ to understand why they are making an appearance in the university. The author wonders if “sophisters felt a need to pose as sages to the freshers, or merely as Males,” or if “in their Freshman years, beards and confidence did not come easily to them.” Men on campus still sport questionable facial hair, yet, an updated “sociological exploration” of this psychologically damaging phenomenon has yet to emerge.Image via Trinity News archives
Campus fashion has been gratuitously satirised throughout the decades. The Thursday January 29 1970 edition of Trinity News contains a helpful, if not slightly snarky piece titled For The Adaptable Female Chameleon. The article exposes the quick-changing fashion trends using language highly reminiscent of modern student articles. Trinity students have always been fashionable, so it would only make sense to write a fashion article about them; some things never change (but they do move to tN2). At some point, the author mentions that: “Clothes are aimed at the young go-ahead girl with more taste than money.” Where have we heard this characterisation before? Perhaps in the stereotype of the trendsetting Arts Block denizen? The articles were by students, for students, and the language they used – the language of campus humour – remains familiar to all.
“The February 18 1954 edition encourages Freshers to join societies ‘before [they] turn into mere lecture attenders and too degree conscious'”
The fashion section was not the only residence of the News’ satirical tongue. In the June 23 1960 edition, a column discusses the Dublin Music Festival, a festival connected to Trinity through the Dublin University Opera Group’s participation. According to the author, the Opera Group’s involvement in the festival was a “slightly self-contained and isolated declaration of independence” from Dublin’s then-ambivalence to the Edinburgh Festival, which was “on a higher artistic plane”. The February 18 1954 edition encourages Freshers to join societies “before [they] turn into mere lecture attenders and too degree conscious”, as “TCD is a Residential University not a Technical School,” and that those who do not participate in college life “may do down with a degree, but they will not have had a university education”. Yikes! And yet this piece of advice remains true, as Trinity still markets its student life as one of its biggest strengths. The same edition also satirises “Painted Mancatchers”, or gold-diggers, a “Common Trinity Bird”: well-dressed and made-up female students who can be found “hopping at the Dixon, strutting in Front Square, meandering round the Reading Room [or] pecking at coffee in Switzer’s”, with the aim of “capturing” a male student. While many of the places mentioned in the article may be lost in time, the student stereotypes remain relevant. The articles mentioned only scratch the surface of campus humour (and its stereotypes) over the years, which, with its positives and negatives, has transcended generational boundaries and seems to prevail still, albeit nowadays, there is not much proof of it outside of oral transmission. Archival articles represent a writing trend that has been slightly lost in the modern Trinity News editions; students being unafraid to boldly joke about themselves and the culture they exist in and build together.
Granted, not all humour has been lost in Trinity student journalism: after all, a reader can always trust the Piranha to deliver some delightful campus satire. Still, I would argue that humour remains slightly overlooked in most Trinity publications, and for what? Some satire would do well to humble pretentious arts students, or keep those monstrous Phil members’ egos in check, and, most importantly, would help students who feel less inclined towards factual reporting than more casual observations more engaged with the publications (as well as give future chroniclers and anniversary editions’ contributors a fun time reading them). Are we, Trinity students, afraid of self-satirisation? What anxieties stop us from documenting our culture of campus jokes?
“A healthy sense of humour has always been key to journalistic democratisation, so why avoid it?”
With humour comes connection, and, while some students may feel slightly intimidated by the more ‘serious’ news or features’ articles found in Trinity News today, they may be encouraged to engage with humoristic cultural or social observations they may find more approachable and relatable. A healthy sense of humour has always been key to journalistic democratisation, so why avoid it? A smart-sounding, no-nonsense feature may place a writer on a wall of journalistic prowess, however, nothing is as rewarding as an article that truly connects with the reader, and humour works wonderfully for that. Maybe Trinity News and other student publications should take a page out of their past playbooks and incorporate more humour into their pages going forward. It is, after all, a Trinity Man’s “personality, tact and initiative” – and, very possibly, sense of humour – that makes him stand out (‘Outside TCD’).