The Notorious Duke University Yearbook of 1970

Arthur’s Final Legacy  

The year after I left for medical school, Arthur became the editor of the Duke University yearbook which finally put him in a position of media related authority. Having worked his way to the top after spending time editing the campus literary magazine, he was ready to exact revenge for being censored as a disc jockey.

Traditional yearbooks are hardbound tomes with pictures illustrating typically ordinary campus scenes, as well as class-by-class individual photos that name everyone in school. Text is usually limited to platitudes or boring recapitulations about annual achievements or the litany of various campus functions, organizations, services, and divisions.

However, Arthur’s yearbook was soft cover and came in two sections encased in a cardboard box. Traditional class photos were preserved but the usual photos of typical campus life and organizations were usurped by nouveau artistic pictures, many of which he or his hippie friends had taken. The fraternity and sorority section showed the members in classically conservative group repose but then ended with the photo of the renegade non-sanctioned ersatz fraternity, Big Funk.

As another iconoclastic insult, the photo essay section had a typically stilted, posed picture of the Duke Board of Governors sitting at their official table dressed in suits and ties, below which was inserted a photo of the naked school newspaper staff sitting in the board room, at the same table, with raised clenched fists a la Black Panther protest symbolism.

naked-dukies

The text was a series of avant-garde contemporary short stories, poems or vignettes also written by Arthur or some of his friends. A Fritz the Cat Comic strip was also included as well as an original play entitled “Plum Pudding” that satirized the poor relationship between the School Chancellor and the University’s black employees.

The prose and the play attempted to rival the ilk of William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Ezra Pound, or Harold Pinter.

The attempt was good.

The writing was not Pulitzer Prize material.

The slap in the face was rather obvious.

But that hardly matters when you are the editor-in-chief because being the boss, you print what you want to.

If you do not agree, take a hard look at some modern literary crap or inane repetitive contemporary magazine articles. Even the New York Times Sunday magazine section has of late devolved to non-substantive pap with excessive empty verbiage conveying nothing about much of everything and a qualitative vacuum that rivals nouvelle cuisine; meaning who told all the chefs of the world that red, green, or yellow peppers had to be cooked into everything that comes out of a kitchen? Some people who hate peppers often have no choice.

The nonconforming Duke yearbook, with it’s provocative text was made even worse by the fact of the title, which ran in segments over the front cover of the box,  to the two inside sections and then across the back of the cardboard container.

Here is your very own

1970 Duke Yearbook: your

nostalgia dump….

your faces.

The background color of the cover being University of North Carolina; “Carolina Blue” may or may not have been intentional, but did nothing to assuage already piqued emotions.  When I was sent a copy, I wondered how Art had gotten away with it.

In fact, he did not.

The publication caused a serious backlash within conservative factions of the student body, the governing body, and the alumni who even went as far as demanding a retraction or at least a ‘do over.’ It was labeled an obscenity, a charge that challenged contemporary barriers to freedom of speech.

Arthur was singled out as being ‘a person of interest’ to be named later in a potential lawsuit that never went further than that. The editorial staff was referred to as the “Whole Sick Crew,” while many deep social wounds or sarcastic slashes at heritage and tradition, whether real or simply only perceived, required a great deal of long-term licking.

But it was far too late for a Mulligan. The year was over.

And the book was already out of the box.

duke-yearbook
Duke Newspaper Staff Duke University archives photo
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