Illustration shows Cornell's A.D. White statue wearing a fake nose and glasses and holding a joke issue of the Daily Sun

April Fool! ‘Daily Sun’ Parodies Poke Fun at Life on the Hill

Initially aimed at tricking readers, the satires—which have actually run at various times of the year—now seek to amuse and lampoon

By Joe Wilensky

“Trustees OK Department Name Change to ‘English: Get Lit,’” declared the front-page headline in the Cornell Daily Sun, paired with an image of the A.D. White statue on the Arts Quad holding an oversized joint.

front page of the 2021 joke issue of the Cornell Daily Sun
Last spring’s joke issue sported numerous riffs on the “4/20” theme—a college humor perennial—as well as nods to the ongoing pandemic. (Image provided)

“Profs embrace cannabis, ‘other postmodern subjects,’” the 2021 story continued—then launched into a detailed report on the supposed plans for the rebranded department, just weeks after New York State legislators had voted to legalize recreational marijuana.

The article, which appeared in last year’s joke issue of the paper—renamed the Cornell Nightly Moon—was unlikely to fool anyone, but that wasn’t the point. It was part of the Sun’s decades-long tradition of producing an annual parody edition packed with riffs on campus events, student concerns, and the tribulations of life on the Hill.

“It was an issue that people picked up, took to show their friends, laughed at, and talked about,” says Sun senior editor Madeline Rosenberg ’23.

The parody tradition, she says, gives the paper’s writers, editors, photographers, and designers an opportunity for creativity—a chance to laugh at themselves and at campus life, and to take a break from the intensity of their regular gigs.

Whether they’re crafted to trick the gullible or are simply outlandish, the Sun’s parodies have appeared at various times of the year over the decades.

front page of the 2019 joke issue of the Cornell Daily Sun
The Sun sent up its own classic list of “161 things” Cornellians should do with a hand-annotated version detailing what they should dread. (Image provided)

In past eras, they often popped up in the fall—making newly arrived first-years even more susceptible to panic-inducing tales of housing assignment changes and grading system overhauls.

For years, the joke issue—typically a four-page wrap around the regular edition—found a home on April Fool’s Day.

But that changed in 2012: beloved former President Dale Corson died on March 31, and out of respect the Sun pushed the publication date back a few weeks.

It landed on April 20—the “4/20” of innumerable marijuana references—and the parody issue has come out on that date ever since. Thus the “Get Lit” headline, and many similar japes.

While the annual joke issues were long limited to print, in 2020—when students left campus due to the pandemic—it went online for the first time; now, there’s a “4/20” drop-down menu on the homepage.

“This is a joke section,” says the landing page, “curated by Sun editors who are tired—but not tired enough to stop making 4/20 jokes.”

Fun with ‘fake news’

Most of the Sun’s early parodies were meant to fool readers and even provoke outrage; often, a “who to call” box listed actual administrators’ phone numbers, guaranteeing headaches for Day Hall.

“Many of the joke issues give a unique glimpse into aspects of student life in earlier eras,” says University history expert Corey Earle ’07. “What were the controversial topics at the time? What were the stories that might rile up the student body? Humor can help us understand the campus conversations that weren’t always being covered in the ‘real’ news.”

Humor can help us understand the campus conversations that weren’t always being covered in the ‘real’ news.

Corey Earle ’07

In 1959, a story noted that due to “a colossal geological blunder,” the then-under-construction Olin Library would be abandoned, as the entire building was sinking into the Arts Quad.

“University to Leave Ivy League Due to New Academic Calendar,” proclaimed a 1964 report, which noted that the change would abolish spring sports (and quoted Robert Kane ’34, BS ’36, the then-director of athletics, who wept over the crew team’s uncertain future).

front page of the joke issue of the Cornell Daily Sun, May 8, 1974
The 1974 joke issue included a faux complaint letter from the benefactor of Uris Hall (a.k.a. “Old Rusty”) to President Dale Corson. (Image provided)

Some “fake news” stories even proved true—eventually. “New York Legislature Raises Minimum Drinking Age to 21,” the Sun announced in 1962, more than two decades before it actually happened.

Many joke stories involved outlandish construction proposals—often on the hallowed Arts Quad, which would allegedly see such abominations as a 35-story skyscraper (1942); an aeronautical research facility smack in the middle (1966); and a subterranean parking lot (1970).

Other stories targeted student stress points: all classes would henceforth be graded on a “C” curve; Study Week would be reduced to 48 hours; Thanksgiving break was canceled; New York State had outlawed co-ed dorms; compulsory ROTC for male undergrads had been reinstated.

front page of the joke issue of the Cornell Daily Sun, November 13, 1964
The 1964 entry struck fear in the hearts of Big Red sports fans. (Image provided)

Throughout the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, many parody issues aped the style of other publications, from the New York Daily News to the National Enquirer and even the Harvard Crimson.

In more recent years, the satirical issues—with “This is a joke” prominently in the masthead—have sported such headlines as “Campus Climate Task Force Confirms Ithaca Is Too Cold,” “Trump Tower to Rise in Collegetown,” and “Golf Class Now Required for Business Minor.”

“We’re really deliberate about what we’re doing,” Rosenberg says, noting that transparency is key in today’s digital age of deepfakes, disinformation campaigns, and social media. “We’re trying to be really clear about what is a joke and what is not—that what we’re doing is trying to make people laugh.”

Top image: Photo illustration by Cornell University.

Published: April 1, 2022


Comments

  1. Wayne Lewis, Class of 1973

    My favorite was in the early 70’s when the paper said that the “Ivy League had banned Canadians from playing on college hockey teams” and had a little box that said the “the Cornell hockey coach asked any American who could skate report to his office”.

  2. Debito Arudou (Dave Aldwinckle), Class of 1987

    My favorites were within articles (1983-7) that said things like,

    “John Jones ’87, of 123 U-Hall 7, Student ID#1233455, phone number 555-3456, who asked not to be identified, said this change ‘sucks’.”

    “The main donor represented the ‘Society Against All Cruelty to Small Bipedal Animals’ (GIRAFFE). The recipient organization commented, ‘We don’t understand the acronym either, but we’ll take the money.”

  3. Steve Kane, Class of 1972

    As a very gullible freshman in 1968, I actually went to the President’s Day Hall office at 7:30 AM because I read that exemptions from the compulsory ROTC requirement just announced by the Sun were being accepted on a first come, first serve basis.

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