Sunday, April 5, 2015

Marshmallow Peeps and Irrational Hatred

In their baskets this Easter morning, my children once again found one of their favorite candies: marshmallow Peeps. Fortunately, the Easter Bunny knew not to put any of those in my basket. He knows I have an undying hatred of Peeps.

Before the spring of 2003, I simply disliked them. Even as a child, marshmallows were generally too sweet for my taste and I didn't like their gritty layer of sugar. But in April 2003, Brigham Young University's newspaper, The Daily Universe, turned my dislike into something more.

To be honest, I never really cared for the paper. The Daily Universe obviously focused on the activities of humanities majors at the expense of the hard sciences. The paper would gloss over or entirely ignore impressive and internationally recognized accomplishments from BYU's engineering, physics, chemistry, and biology students and professors while articles about life as a [enter title of humanities major here] would make the front page. The journalist brother of a fellow engineering student actually told him that those who served as editors and writers for the newspaper had little interest in the hard sciences and paid almost no attention to what happened on our side of campus.

In April of 2003, I was a member of BYU's Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) team. At the time, we were developing some of the world's smallest airplanes, several of which were equipped with tiny cameras and could act as surveillance drones (this was before such things were ubiquitous). We had just returned from the annual Micro Air Vehicle Competition held at the University of Florida, having competed against 20 other schools, one of which was from Germany and another from South Korea. Despite stiff competition, we placed first in the design and surveillance portions of the competition and fifth in the endurance portion, giving us second place overall.

Our advisor, Dr. Bowman, was very proud of the team and called The Daily Universe, encouraging them to interview us about our work and the competition. He had a preliminary phone interview with one of the writers and expected that the team members would soon speak to one of their reporters. But the team was never contacted and the phone interview served as the sole source of an April 7, 2003 article that appeared around page 15 of the day's paper. The 585 word article included no photos and mentioned no other names beyond that of our advisor.

A mere two days later, the entire top half of the front page of The Daily Universe was taken up by an article on life as a male ballet student (yes, this was considered to be front page material). The 992 word article had a large, full color photograph and included interviews with several dancers. Needless to say, the difference between this article and the treatment the MAV team received further proved what we all suspected about the University paper. We were annoyed by being upstaged by an article on men in tights, but we thought we could take it in stride.

But the very next day, a small color photo of a yellow Peep appeared just above The Daily Universe's title, along with the line "Peeps heat up Easter traditions" and the page number of the article. On the referenced page was found an enormous color photo of a marshmallow Peep. I still remember that absurd picture; a disgusting, stale, gritty mockery of a chicken stretching nearly 3/4 of the page's height. The 753 word article included interviews with several students and alumni on the role of Peeps in their Easter traditions.

An article on chicken-shaped marshmallow novelties was accompanied by an image almost twice as large as any of the MAV team's airplanes, showed more interest in actual individuals, and ran 168 words longer than a perfunctory story about engineering students' accomplishments in an international competition involving experimental technology. Peeps. The tacky and barely edible seasonal treat.

I hate those things

In the end, we could only assume that the editors' bias allowed an article about an inanimate object with no real connection to BYU to receive more attention than one about students studying a field in which the paper's staff happened to have little interest. While I'm certain there was no offense intended, the absurdity of the episode annoyed me to an unprecedented degree. (It's a good thing I missed their 2004 article on Peeps; I simply stopped reading the paper after 2003.) Eventually this annoyance focused not on any human being, but entirely on the face of the whole incident: Peeps.

Yes, I have a fiery hatred for Peeps.

(But, even if I hadn't been on the MAV team at all, I still would have thought the article was stupid.)

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