The Beet on the Street
A Conversation with Evergreen’s Guerilla Satire Rag
By Zachary Newman
All of a sudden, it was everywhere. Taped to apartment doors, advertised on the walls around Seminar II, and piled next to copies of The Stranger and The Cooper Point Journal, there was The Organic Beet. Seemingly inconspicuous at first glance, The Beet offers hard-hitting guerilla journalism in an immediate newsletter format. Well, hard-hitting guerilla journalism with a chuckle.
With headlines such as “Einstein’s Bagel’s Evergreen Location, Declared ‘Best Bagels in the Goddamn World’” and “Evergreen Spends Entire Budget on Particle Accelerator,” the newspaper taps into Evergreen’s collective world, and spins it with satire. If The Cooper Point Journal is The New York Times, The Organic Beet is The Onion, an influence the creators are not ashamed to admit.
The creators of this Beet Generation prefer anonymity and publish in pen names. They are very much into myth-making, drawing allusions to the roles of KISS. They’ve created characters to keep themselves anonymous. In keeping with the anonymity, I met with the four founders—Patrick Bateman, Jasper C. Clark, Jamie Rodriguez, and Wayland Marlowe—in secret and off campus. Could this interview with the lamestream media ruin their anti-establishment ideals?
Turns out—and I hope I do not blow their covers—the founders are actually very nice people, and lord are they funny.
Who are some of your influences? Good question. Well, there’s obviously The Onion. Our name is a tribute to them. Otherwise, comedians like Jon Stewart and Louis C.K of course, but also activists like Huey P. Newton and Gil Scott Heron. There is also this podcast, “Welcome To Nightvale,” that I love. I always felt that humor had two prongs—half satire, and half absurdist. Something that makes you think “Huh, well…that could happen.” We spend a lot of time on our headlines, and we try to push the envelope with our harsh humor.
Do you plan the jokes? Occasionally, like the El Sarape article (“Program Immerses its Students in Authentic Mexican Culture,”) we were just at El Sarape and we thought “This is just funny.” So most of the time, we’ll just find something funny, and go from there. Like, my phone has over 100 headlines on it. There’s a joke in everything, you know. I’m always thinking, “How can that be a joke?” It gets people talking. At least, we hope it gets people talking.
Is it just you four? We can’t answer that…well, we are the four originators of “The Beet.” It’s kind of infinite in a way! When we leave Washington, or do whatever we want to do…Patrick Bateman is just a name. If someone doesn’t start this newspaper again after we leave, I will be devastated. I think it’s great that the idea of anonymity is there because what happens is that it gives an open platform for anyone to be like “Oh, I don’t know who’s doing that,” so, the content is more important than the person. And it gets people talking about the content and the idea, not the person. I had the opportunity to hear people talk about one of my articles last week, because it mentioned the class. “Apparently we’ve been the topic of some satire.” What did you think of it?
Oh, I thought it was awesome! When I first saw it, I thought “This hits it right on the head.” I read the “Evergreen spends entire budget on a particle accelerator” one to my friend who didn’t get that it was a joke, and he says to me “Why would we do that?” And one of the students goes says “What is that? What is satire? Is it a bad thing?” [Laughs] That could be a joke! That right there could be a joke, but I can’t do it. It’d be interesting to see how many people get kind of offended by The Beet, because we post not offensive stuff, but very morally ambiguous stuff. And so what happens is, you get this dichotomy of a majority of students saying “Yeah, this is a funny thing” and “This is bad!” How can you get upset at satire? It’s like a filter—you’re taking yourself too seriously and not taking the subject matter seriously. It just gets people talking. It’s fun to walk around campus and see people talking about it. You feel proud! You smirk.
Yeah, I was talking about it with my friend, and asked “Have you seen it?” And he said, “Yeah, it was taped to my apartment door.” Every. Single. Door.
What was the last issue? Only the third, but I think that’s awesome people are talking about it. I’m kind of blown away. It’s not an insane amount of popularity, but we topped 100 Facebook likes, which we weren’t really expecting in three issues, and someone from Cooper Point has us for an interview. Like, oh my god! This is more than I thought it was going to be at first. We’re not settling, you know, we’re never comfortable. We’re always trying to be better at our craft and I mean in a lot of ways it’s hard to. But innovation is one of those things where under pressure the most innovative thing happens. And that’s why everyone should be a good person all the time! That’s essentially all TED talks.
So when people talk about their articles, do you have to be like “Yeah, whoever wrote that is so funny,” or do you just circumvent the conversation? A little bit of both. Well, Jamie can handle people talking about it and you’ll sort of go up and be like “Oh, yes, I found that very funny. I think it’s great what they’re doing.” And I can’t do that. The one time it happened to me I just had to leave. I remember the first time someone guessed it was me; I just gave it away immediately. And then everyone knew. I was at work when you told me we had gotten this interview, and I was so excited I told everyone where I worked and I was like “fuck it.” So I get that. There is that sense of pride we all have amongst our paper. It’s our paper; we work really hard and really diligently. I think humor is one of those things that needs to be taken really seriously—I feel like that’s an oxymoron—but the subject of humor, the whole idea, is that it’s supposed to release tension that is building up in a room. I think that’s one of the greatest things about Evergreen is that there is so much tension everywhere all the time. So when people start releasing that, you start bursting through people bubbles. Because the conversation stops at “I’m offended by that, don’t talk to me about that,” it sucks, because nothing progresses. No one learns anything. When you release that tension, just by making things absurd, you’re saying life is absurd, even in its seriousness.
Colbert is stepping down to go host “The Late Show,” and so he’s going to kill the character; The Onion apparently is stopping all printed publication because they can’t afford it. Jon Stewart’s probably retiring soon. Do you see a possible drop-off in satire journalism? No. Good question—what I was saying with seriousness in our lives is that we always need to find an escape from it, a way to cope with it. Humor has always been that way. Those guys are really prominent, and I love them, but it’s a thing that lots of people are capable of doing. I’m not really concerned, considering we live in an era where we have to fact check every bit of news that you see on Facebook to make sure it’s not satirical. I’m not sure there’s an actual drop-off in the quantity of satirical news. Colbert and all these people who’ve really revolutionized it are dropping off, but there’s still SNL, still CNN, FOX! FOX has credits. There’s still satirical news out there, and a lot of good satirical news. I don’t think that it’s going anywhere.
Let’s interview you. Who is Cooper? And what is his point?