“Popcorn” WSO thread turns 11

Samuel Wolf

“Popcorn..or is it,” as the classic saying goes. On Feb. 23, 2008, Elizabeth Schwartzman ’08 posted the phrase on Williams Students Online (WSO), plunging readers into a decade-long debate on the morality of theft, the durability of humor and the succulence (or lack thereof) of a traditionally salty snack. 

“So my frneds nd I stole poporm frm our neighboring suite,” Schwartzman began in a comment ridden with typos. “turns out. it was 100 calriore popcornig. also. it was sweet. like what the fuck.” 

On that February night almost exactly 11 years ago, there was no taste to Schwartzmann as abhorrent as that popcorn’s seeping sweetness.

“[T]his was in no wasy satisdactying when we needed it to be satidaying,” she continued. Indeed, she postulated, popcorn without saltiness can never be “satisdactying,” let alone “satidaying.” She added, “[P]opcorn should e salthy, rather than sweet. I would like t say DWON WITH orville recednechbatcher.” 

It wasn’t long before the post was picked up by the student body at large. The second comment in the thread, from William Slack ’11, simply stated, “Second for ‘satidactying,’” while the third, from Adrei Baiu ’11, read, “aah. The drunken encounters with kettle corn…” 

Before long, images began to accompany the posts, with Andrew Triska ’11 submitting a meme as the thread’s fifth entry: “It’s satidactying,” a red scrawl declares, emblazoned above a preening Orville Redenbacher. The message is betrayed, however, by the addition of “Too Damn Sweet” below. 

Eric Maier ’08, an early poster, stated in an email to the Record that the thread’s recent blossoming was nothing short of remarkable. “My one insight is that we basically predicted the Internet because in 2008, meme culture was an infant,” he said.

Buoyed by an inter-decade taste for the absurd, the thread has remained active for the better part of 11 years, with the formal anniversary this upcoming Saturday. From an Oct. 13, 2008 comment by Jared Quinton ’10, reading, “thought i’d bump this for a humorous study break. happy reading period,” to the July 3, 2018 declaration from Colin Pinney ’22, “I regret accepting the admission offer,” the post has reverberated throughout the ages. 

Is buttery popcorn a toothsome repast or a noxious pestilence? Some tracked a middle ground. “Popcorn is like a butterfly: they are both in a hard cocoon/shell and then they metamorphose and come out pretty,” Ananth Shastri ’21 posited. “[A]lso they are both good to eat.”

Schwartzman herself had choice thoughts on the circumstances that led to the post’s creation. “What led me to write this statement? Frankly, it speaks for itself,” she said in an email to the Record. “I needed popcorn, and I needed regular, salty popcorn. Stealing kettle corn? Pretty much like stealing a winning lottery ticket, but instead of winning money, you win paper cuts on the webbing of your toes. You’re left with shame, disappointment in yourself, but ultimately, disillusionment with our current state of affairs.” 

Indeed, shame consumed Schwartzman even as she composed her masterpiece. “I remember the accompanying feelings of rage, disappointment, and guilt,” she said. “In fact, I will never forget that evening.”

Neither would many of her co-contributors, it seems. “That post gets bumped every couple of years and I knew it was only a matter of time before it came back to haunt me again,” Triska said. “Current Williams students may be confused by it, but you have to remember, 2008 was a far more satidactying time. Also, to my clients: This is why you don’t Google your therapist.”

Schwartzman largely concurred. “Williams College in 2008 was a simple time, its students yearning for simple pleasures,” she said. “I would guess the rawness, both in content and in style, struck the same chord in many different hearts.”

At the time the thread began, WSO served as a vibrant social and political forum. “[WSO] was the place where we had a lot of really in-depth conversations,” Slack, an early poster, said. “Social media wasn’t nearly as developed, and WSO constituted our primary place of students debating ideas and campus controversies.”

The thread became both an embodiment of WSO and a rebellion against its more serious forums, which often contained dozens of comments and sometimes engaged in racist or sexist discourse. “This was a pretty exceptional post,” Slack said. “WSO had very little, ‘I’m drunk and want to express myself.’” Early community engagement with the post exuded a carefree spirit that kept it relevant for all four years that Slack attended the College. Indeed, when Slack posted on Facebook about the Record’s coverage of the post, he saw several dozen comments – a testament to the legacy it left for then-students. He did, however, express surprise that the thread remained active even after 11 years.

Some have speculated as to Schwartzman’s attitudes in seeing her thoughts immortalized. “Elizabeth Schwartzman may be regretting the post since graduation,” fellow commenter Molly Berenbaum ’21 postulated. “What can I say – none of us can truly choose our legacies.” The post’s lingering popularity certainly caught Schwartzman by surprise. “I definitely had no idea about this,” she said. “I haven’t been on WSO since I graduated, and I’d of course be curious to see how Williams students have found it to be relevant to their lives.”

Current students have indeed found meaning in the post. “William college: elite, preppy, but also home to popcorn piracy, intrigue and possibly large-scale protest of popcorn manufacture,” Pinney said. “In the end, I have realized that this post contains the essence of the whimsy of Williams college, and I am happy to contribute to this whimsy in my own small ways every day.” 

Shastri echoed Pinney’s appreciation for the post. “I sometimes have a hard time identifying with Williams as an institution because it’s so privileged and (still) so white and helped colonize Hawaii?!” he said. “But I can identify with popcorn. And also with failing at the English language. 

“In a way, we are all Elizabeth J. Schwartzman.”