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January 05, 2004

High School Yearbook

Dear Friedrich --

I mentioned in a recent posting how Aaron (here), George (here) and I did a little blogger-guy bonding when we found ourselves agreeing about how wrong it is that the immortal National Lampoon's 1964 High School Yearbook has been overlooked by the literary set. (A reissue of the book is buyable here.) Sigh: the lit set, eh? Why would anyone look to a such a bunch of killjoys for guidance where their reading and writing lives are concerned?

But stars have come into alignment, and if the lit set declines to appreciate bookmaking brilliance when it hits them in the face, maybe another set will. Here's a sweet and informative appreciation of the book by Michael Bierut of DesignObserver, with special emphasis on the contributions of the book's graphic designers, Michael Gross and David Kaestle.



posted by Michael at January 5, 2004


Well, if no one else is going to comment, I'll take a stab at it. As someone who went to an Ohio high school in the same era as the National Lampoon Yearbook, I have to admit they did an amazing job of simulating the time and place. Wasn't P. J. O'Rourke involved with this? If I recall correctly, he's from the Toledo area, and it seems to me there were some street names and such in the parody that could reflect such a provenance. Where it didn't quite work was that the Lampoon hired a New York private school and some of the kids for the photos (again, if I'm remembering this correctly), and it was just the wrong part of the country and too many years after 1964 to pull it off convincingly even in period clothes. I also had the feeling that the writers didn't know where to stop. Too many jokes were in really bad taste (especially the "Mad Crapper" subplot running throughout), to the point that I had to wonder if the kids hired to portray the students felt used when they saw the final product.

Posted by: Dwight Decker on January 9, 2004 3:10 PM

Just to clarify a seeming contradiction in the comment above... I thought the Lampoon parody was amazing for simulating the time and place as well as it did, but it didn't _quite_ achieve 100% plausibility for the reasons stated. I'm saying this because I went to a high school much like the one they're trying to depict at about the same time, and while I found much of the parody dead on, some things just struck me as a smidge off-center.

Posted by: Dwight Decker on January 9, 2004 3:15 PM

Hey Dwight, nice to see you again. I'm not surprised you remember the book so well -- you seem the perfect audience for it. Whatever its flaws, it's memorable, isn't it? As soon as I started thinking about it, bits and pieces came floating right back. As did the memory of laughing in disbelief at how much they got right. Were there other oddball publications from the time that you enjoyed better?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 10, 2004 12:18 AM

Other oddball publications...? I recall the NatLamp guys did a simulated travel brochure in the magazine for the last voyage of the Hindenburg (i.e., the zeppelin that burned up at Lakehurst) with macabre illustrations of skeletons in stewards' uniforms serving the passengers. The accompanying text was in German, without any English translation for monolingual readers, apparently just mood-setting background boilerplate you didn't have to read to get the idea. I do read German, and I was astonished to find the text wasn't meaningless mock German at all but the real thing -- perfectly appropriate text for the travel brochure it was accompanying. The guys at the Lampoon apparently wrote up a straight, deadpan travel-brochure text and sent it out to have it translated into German even though it would be completely lost on most readers. I was impressed that they went to the trouble...

Posted by: Dwight Decker on January 10, 2004 12:53 AM

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