Murder Reference in Harvard Students’ Yale Video Parody: Clever Satire or Grossly Insensitive?

A video parody produced by a prominent student comedy team at Harvard mocking various parts of its Ivy League rival Yale has stirred controversy for its reference to last year’s murder of a Yale graduate student.

The video, “Why Did I Choose Yale?”, a spoof on a similarly-named vid produced by the Yale Admissions Office, “takes shots at Yale’s academics, facilities and neighborhood crime.”  It was put together by students involved with “On Harvard Time,” a prominent comedy news troupe best known for its highly-regarded ‘Daily Show’-ish look at current events and Harvard life.

According to a Yale Daily News editorial, most of the video’s comedy is sound and “[t]he spirit of this parody was entirely in keeping with the . . . exchange of pithy barbs that make our rivalry so fun. Indeed, many students on our campus even appreciated the clever satirization of a video that has now, for better or worse, become a part of Yale’s image.”

The line-crosser in the original version, in the eyes of many Yalies, is a question asked in scene one by a faux prospective student: “What happened to that girl who got murdered and stuffed in a wall?” The query, quickly brushed aside by the admissions rep at the room’s front, refers to the fall 2009 killing of Annie Le, a pharmacology doctoral student.

The Daily News: “By making light of one of the most horrific tragedies to strike our campus in recent memory . . . the video’s authors exhibited a gross insensitivity that they may not have intended, but elicited a response that they should have expected. . . . [F]or many in our community, last year’s sorrow is still fresh. . . . Our first reaction was to take offense. But then we were just disappointed.

The reference has been removed from the current version of the vid, with the prospective student now in dubbed voiceover asking, “What happened to the original line in this video?”

The OHT team issued a statement confirming, “The humor rested in the glossing over of a significant event, and not in the event itself.  The line was not meant to make light of the incident or those involved, but rather to mock the university. [Certain] students and faculty members have voiced concern that the line makes light of this student’s murder and goes beyond parody. This was certainly not our intention in writing it, but we understand this response and sincerely apologize for any offense it may have caused.”

My take: OHT is a fantastic new(s) media organization started a few years back by Derek Flanzraich, a guy I personally greatly admire.  The video is high quality, and its spoof of the original is basically spot-on.  One tiny snippet hit a raw nerve, YDN rightfully complained, and the OHT crew rightfully apologized and dubbed over it. That’s the way it goes sometimes.  Satire does not mean never having to say you’re sorry.

Check out the video.  It’s truly hilarious.

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