Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Consumer Guide to MIT Men

In Spring 1977, an innocuous one-page feature showed up at the thursday offices.  When I first saw it among the galleys, I thought it was a new format for the Last Word, which was a popular back-page feature consisting of famous and amusing quotes, depending on who edited it (Richard Stone was regarded as the keeper of the Last Word, but many others had assembled the page over the years; I put together a page of infamous quotes from country and western songs for one edition).  However, it turned out to be The Consumer Guide to MIT Men and it had been assembled by two female students from their notes about their dalliances with three dozen MIT students, including some who were friends of mine.  This is what it looked like when it was recently unearthed by the Smoking Gun.  The names had been fuzzed to protect the innocent...
When the issue hit the stands, it was a runaway success; copies of the paper disappeared overnight, snapped up by the curious and the prurient alike.  Then the Guide started traveling, some copies ending up in the mailboxes of shocked parents at home with an anonymous sort of "Look what little Johnny's been doing while at MIT" implied message attached to them.  The shit hit the fan, the Harvard Crimson picked up on the story and from there it was a quick trip to the pages of the Real Paper (one of two Boston-area alternative weeklies) and thence to the Boston Globe, the New York Times and even the International Herald Tribune.

People knew what the Consumer Guide was; they just wanted to understand why it came to be.  There has been no one single story that anyone involved can agree with.  Presumably it was a feminist attempt to show men what it feels like to endure what campus women had been subjected to in whispered jokes among their male counterparts; to be judged on the basis of things like ability to "put out" and whether someone "was a good lay".  Then again, it may have been nothing beyond the mundane need to fill copy on an otherwise blank page.  No one involved in the incident has elaborated further.  After a series of reprimands and suspensions was handed out to the individual offenders, which included the two women who drafted the piece, the thursday editor-in-chief at the time and a managing editor, life returned to normal.  Thursday continued to publish (over the objections of some who thought a suspension of publication was deserved for our having "crossed a line") and saw a gain in readership that almost put them on an even par with the Tech that Fall.

The Consumer Guide was not the only such feature that attempted to rate the sexes.  In 1980, or thereabouts, a student at the University of Wisconsin decided to write about every professor she had ever slept with.  And two months ago, a graduate of Duke University decided to take the sophistication of the rating system a step further by preparing a PowerPoint "thesis" on the sexual prowess of 13 male student athletes, which is why the Smoking Gun saw fit to reprint the Consumer Guide to MIT Men; it is unknown how many of the Duke jocks were lacrosse players.

The whole episode was commemorated in Stickles in 1980, but I'm not sure the series ever made it into print; by then thursday had succumbed to its internal financial problems, and I became a contributor to the Tech.  In much the same way that Law and Order's "ripped from the headlines" stories don't exactly track real events, I changed a few details...

Leif Garrett was 1980's version of Justin Bieber.  And CD's were still about five years away from commercial popularity, which meant we were still enjoying the richness of vinyl long-playing records.

The Consumer Guide would not be the only scandal to affect the undergraduate student body at MIT that year.  The Fall of 1977 would bring the "Harvey Grogo" incident...


  1. Interesting spelling of the word "nerd" as "gnurd". When did the spelling change?

  2. Actually, the spelling of "gnurd" appears to be peculiar to MIT. In fact, we were unaware the outside world even knew about the word until it was used by Fonzie in "Happy Days" (also know in the '70s as "That Fifties Show").

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  4. Jack,

    I remember the HoToGAMIT we got as freshman using the "gnurd" spelling, but my current copy from 1984 (which is named HowToGAMIT - sigh) uses "nerd."

    David Abrams

  5. "No one involved in the incident has elaborated further."

    Yet. The stories I could still tell.

    How's it going, Geoff?

    Yours, Batterfiend.