On March 21, Susie Paul ’16, creator of the popular Humans of Williams photo blog, posted an interview with James Hitchcock ’15 to her project’s Facebook page. In the interview, Hitchcock said, “In any school, but in particular in a school that’s designed for liberal arts, there’s a need to try out all sorts of new things – intellectually, it’s just important that there’s some balance on campus in terms of perspectives.” Hitchcock is not one to speak emptily. His satirical project, Non-Humans of Williams, is a platform for the unique perspectives of the overlooked, non-humans of the College.
Hitchcock, the Junior Advisor (JA) of Pratt 3, started the Facebook page in April with three of his first-years – Matt Hennessy ’17, Ben Lin ’17 and Didier Jean-Michel ’17 – and his friend Ben Nathan ’15. The group admits it jokingly started the blog with the ultimate goal of featuring one of their friends as a prank. According to Jean-Michel, though, the project got “too big too fast” and they could no longer use it merely for the purposes of embarrassing their close friends. As Nathan explained, “When we rejected the buyout from Google, we took it in a new direction.”
That new direction is to satirize the elements of life at the College that students do not usually discuss. For instance, an exclusive “interview” with Goodrich Hall became an exposition on the College’s party culture. The Non-Humans writers personified Goodrich as enthusiastic, saying, “I’m part of this awesome club now where every weekend people booze themselves up and shove their tongues in each other’s mouths! Sometimes, it’s such a blur that I can’t seem to remember anything in the morning. I swear, the only thing that keeps me going is the coffee!”
The humor here, Nathan explained, comes from the fact that “when you’re in that environment, it doesn’t seem that fundamentally weird, but when you step back, you’re like ‘holy crap.’ These otherwise intelligent people, just, like, stick their tongues in each others’ mouths.” Non-Humans of Williams boldly verbalizes this and similar common experiences through its satire. “There are certain shared experiences a wide part of campus goes through that are hard to talk about,” Hitchcock explained. “So it’s basically cheating. It’s such an easy fun way to assign those feelings to rocks.”
The group’s easy-going and humorous social dynamic is reflected in the way they work together. There is no one leader of the blog, which incorporates of all of their ideas. The drafts are all edited as a group, which leads to one writing style despite their separate senses of humor. Hitchcock said that he and Nathan have “an absurdist sense of humor together,” and the group agrees as a whole that Hennessy is the one who most needs to be toned down. Hitchcock says that as a JA, he does feel the need to be the first to cut back, which is uncommon for him because of his irreverent sense of humor. Nathan, the other junior, however, feels no such need. He published one of the group’s most critical posts without even informing any of the blog’s other creators. The post is a picture of a squid with a caption of meaningless squid noises interspersewith campus buzzwords, such as “collaborative relationships,” which Nathan says he took right from an email from President Falk. The implication is that the English words used by the administration may be just as meaningless as the squid garble.
The group relishes in this meaninglessness and do not acknowledge having any sort of overarching philosophy. Jean-Michel says that he enjoys giving a story to inanimate campus objects, but they are doing this to “lighten the mood a bit” on campus. “We are a Facebook page devoted to interviewing inanimate objects,” Nathan adds. “So we shouldn’t be too ambitious.” He did note, though, that if there is any philosophy to Non-Humans of Williams, then it is definitely “neo-paganism.” The closest thing the group has to a grand strategy is what they have defined four variations of posts: posts that are pure silliness, posts that express an element of campus life not openly discussed, posts that mock elements of the campus itself and posts that self-deprecatingly lampoon the real Humans of Williams page. At its core, Non-Humans is not so much a satire of Humans, as it is of life at the College.
Part of Non-Humans’ appeal is that it finds reasons to laugh at the very aspects of campus life that weigh us down or leave us exhausted and anxious. Non-Humans has yet to touch any subject too controversial, but that does not mean they will refrain in the future. “Part of a good sense of humor,” Hitchcock explained, “is pushing limits. I think humor at its core is a release of tension. It’s a vehicle for arriving at certain insights that are often surrounded by minefields.”