Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Epic Fail 3: The Ballad of Charlie the Tuna

I am informed by reliable sources at both ABC and NBC Nightly News that Cal Tech has won a basketball game. A conference basketball game. For the first time in 26 years. They did it - beat conference rival Occidental, 46-45. I'm sure my brother is ecstatic.

MIT's not in quite such a predicament. In their tenure in Division III, their basketball team has actually appeared in the playoffs and been ranked (if only Cam Lange could be there!). But basketball was never the glamor sport. Before football returned to the MIT campus in 1980, crew jocks got all the attention. If you were on either the men's or the women's crew team, you were varsity, you were MITAA, and life was good.

Stickles dandy Charlie the Tunafish, however, was not MITAA. But he had a lot in common with that Cal Tech basketball team, except his losing streak had been in the academic halls of MIT rather than on the gym floor. So he decided to embark on a deliberate attempt to flunk out, in an epic tale chronicled in an extended series of strips that came out in the first couple of months of 1977. In true Charlie fashion, however, his attempt to fail was itself an epic fail.
Professor Ed Diamond taught political science classes that focused heavily on the media. I took 17.27 my freshman year, though today I could not tell you its exact name. As mentioned previously, Prof. Diamond was also a managing editor at Newsweek, which meant he was very high up in the mass media food chain. As a result, he took a very serious interest in the campus student newspapers and hosted a Friday morning class at which members of the editorial staffs of thursday and the Tech gathered to discuss their newspapers. He'd ask the Tech staffers what their lead stories of the week were, and why. Then he'd ask us if we published that week.
For those not familiar with the '70s, Gary Gilmore was sentenced to death in Utah and elected to have his life taken by a firing squad. He was the first person executed in America after the Supreme Court reinstated the Death Penalty.

As for the Objectivists, they were philosophically aligned with Ayn Rand's writings and believed in the virtue of selfishness. They hated group activities, since those were collectivist behavior, but could still watch "The Fountainhead" without acknowledging the irony of a cast of thousands helping to bring to the big screen an epic tale of rugged individualism. Perhaps they should have watched "127 Hours" instead.
Now at this point, Charlie decided to lock himself in the "Tomb of the Unknown Tool", which is a famous but inaccessible landmark somewhere within Building 7. Or was it Building 10? Charlie sure didn't know...
At this point in the series, there was a final cartoon in which Charlie comes to a truce with the academic powers that be, and reschedules his graduation to "1986, if I'm lucky." I decided to pick a date that was not 1984, so that I could avoid the Orwellian overtones. But 1984 came...and went...and despite Ronald Reagan being in the White House, Big Brother did not arrive. That final cartoon is missing; presumably it is in the Tomb of the Unknown Tool.

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