Orville Redenbacher in a bikini. Ads soliciting (and successfully obtaining) trained exorcists. Bare-chested, impassioned video renditions of Frozen’s “Let It Go.” Heated discourse on the virtues of moustaches and Gorilla Munch cereal. Bold and even lethal dating advice and avowals of love. These were the fruits from the glory days of Williams Students Online (WSO).
WSO, especially its infamous discussion section, has provided a forum for high-minded student communication, exchange, inquiry and discussion of both relevant and irrelevant campus issues since its inception in 2005. Yet, in recent years, it has also formed an impressive online subculture at the College, with many students being able to reel off interesting experiences, exciting adventures or curious interactions that, without WSO and its community, they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Due to recent coincidental shifts though in social media and online platforms used at the College, some have claimed the present as WSO’s Dark Ages. While the WSO website update that took place last spring gave the initially difficult-to-navigate site a cleaner and more organized aesthetic, its discussion section was inaccessible directly from the homepage and is no longer keyword searchable in its archives. This means, currently, that only students with the determination and wherewithal to manually log into the site if they want to write and respond to posts or to scroll through over 191 pages of the archival posts that span nine years of campus life will participate in the once-vibrant culture.
More than that, since YikYak has over the past year become one of the primary forms of social media used for discussion and proliferation of information at the College, students have drifted away from posting on and checking WSO as regularly. While YikYak of course has its benefits, one negative implication of the shift, is that due to YikYak’s anonymity and nonexistent archival capacity, College students lose the history of their postings and discussions, as well as mention an institutional chronicle, a real connection between online personalities and identifiable College students.
Some may say WSO has long been the College’s last refuge for the unhinged. Well, I say, poetically unhinged. I sought out a few of the big players, characters and celebrities of WSO in recent years to chat about their experiences and how they feel about current WSO culture.
The award for the longest running thread on the discussion section is a no-brainer. It goes to a thought-provoking post entitled “popcorn…or is it,” a bitter diatribe on the evils of diet Orville Redenbacher popcorn written in February 2008. To this day, the thread still has contributors. It all began when two friends wrote what a commenter described as “the drunkest WSO post ever.” (Maybe the thread is worthy of two awards?) Here is the original poster’s tale of betrayal, grief, and vengeance: “so my frneds nd i stole poporm frm our neighboring suite. turns out. it was 100 calriore popcornig. also. it was sweet. this was in no wasy satidactying when we needed it to be satidaying… DWON WITH orville recednechbatcher.” Needless to say, “orville recednechbatcher” became quite the WSO icon. Many posts vilified the bow-tie wearing fiend. Others created more accurate advertisements for the corporation, using his packaging and the logo “It’s satidactying!” Few tried defending the popcorn legend by turning him into a sex symbol and photoshopping his face onto many a swimsuit ad.
While the popcorn thread is an ever-updated relic that has lasted since the early days of WSO, another popular thread, “Ask Latham,” an advice column started by the four residents of the off-campus house at 15 Latham Street, unfortunately had to come to an end when its authors graduated in the Class of 2014. After the first post invited students to “#AskLatham” any questions, be they serious, funny or off-color, declaring, “The senior residents of Latham house have decided to share their wisdom and wit with those in need,” questions began pouring in. Thanks to those four, the College was, um, well advised on crucial matters such as anteaters, moustaches, Oscar nominees, artificial intelligence and Life cereal. The advice columnists specialized, though, on dating and courtship advice: “Wear really short shorts and then make A LOT of eye contact.” If a date goes badly, they advised, one should “PANIC! Make a distraction, maybe light something on fire.” EphTV even sought out the columnists for a special Valentine’s Day edition of AskLatham, which aired last February.
“My Ask Latham forum on WSO gave a group of friends and me a valuable opportunity to connect with the Williams community through humor,” said Michael Luciani ’15, an Ask Latham original author. “WSO was a shit show just like YikYak but it allowed us to connect with the weird side of Williams in person.”
The 2013-2014 school year was a big year in general for WSO, from the notorious argument about the aerodynamics and meaning behind the “double-L” statue outside of the ’62 Center, to frequent postings by Phil Sull ’14. While Sull wrote many earnest posts about serious campus issues and invited any viewers and commenters to reach out to him to continue the exchange in person, his posts became notorious for inducing sidesplitting laughter. Once, when his patriotism was challenged for his failure to realize the Post Office would be closed on President’s Day, he calmly responded: “WELL ACTUALLY … I CELEBRATE THE GREAT PRESIDENTS OF THIS COUNTRY EVERY DAY OF MY FUCKING LIFE … SO YEAH, IT’S A LITTLE STRANGE TO ME THAT PEOPLE WOULD CHOOSE JUST ONE DAY TO THINK ABOUT OUR LEADERS … COME TO MY ROOM. KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GOING TO FIND? LOTS AND LOTS OF POEMS WRITTEN ABOUT GW (GEORGE WASHINGTON!). POEMS ON MY WALLS. SO NEXT TIME YOU ACCUSE SOMEONE OF NOT BEING A PATRIOT CONSIDER THAT MAYBE THEY’RE SO PATRIOTIC THAT THEY DON’T HAVE TIME TO CHECK EVERY SINGLE LITTLE BUREAUCRATIC, PSUEDO-MEANINGFUL EVENT THIS SCREWED UP GOVERNMENT PRETENDS TO ENDORSE.” Sull had heart. Later that spring, calling for people to resist polemical, stubborn argumentation and “chill the f out,” he also posted the link to a YouTube video that has since been removed of himself shirtless and singing “Let It Go.”
This year, Maoli Vizcaino ’17 has remained one of WSO’s most prolific and wacky contributors. “I started writing my freshman year when I was looking for a fish sitter over spring break,” said Vizcaino. “That was the fish debacle! I also have posted about Fergie, missing grape juice and golf. I used to express strong opinions I didn’t want on Facebook because they were specific to Williams, but I thought it would be fun to randomly post dumb, silly shit on the low. So unsuspecting people looking for help or useful information would find a silly thing I wrote that has nothing to do with lost and found or whatever they were expecting. And this year I started more actively and intentionally going in with the posts.”