The Implosion of the Planet
If there is a defining culture at the American University of Paris, a school marketed eloquently as “at home in the world”, it is that we lack any real sense of constructed common identity, any sense of living memory. Indeed, AUP wipes the slate clean every few years to start afresh, and again, and again, ad infinitum. This much is made obvious by our branding: American University of Paris, 2013, 50 years; 2018, 55 years; no doubt 2023, 60 years, on and on until the brand becomes dated. We are constantly, proudly, reminded of our perennity as an institution; despite this, we are more “adrift in the world” than we are at home in it.
This lack of identity is a choice. We have the tools to remember our lineage: they are readily accessible to anyone who would care to search. The slightest inquiry into our collective past yields an incredible amount of documentation: the stories passed down by our elders, largely through student-run media. The longest-running and most consistent of these publications was The AUP Planet.
Back in 1977, when virtually nothing about the American College in Paris would suggest the University it would become 40 years later, one of our most long-lived and durable student institutions was born: The Planet served as a weekly news bulletin and then as the foremost student publication for nearly the school’s entire history. Indeed, it would have celebrated its fortieth anniversary at the start of the fall 2017 semester.
That is, if it had survived.
In fall 2013, after publishing a single print edition, the Planet was reorganized to shift all output online, to the ASM website. Not even a year later, it was absorbed by ASM’s flagship production, the Peacock, and transformed into the Peacock Plume: a historical publication, erased in the span of twelve months. The Planet did not deserve this fate. Studying the extensive records of old editions reveals a publication that, while at times frivolous, was often of professional quality and always endeavored to regularly chronicle the many twists and turns of life at the American University of Paris.
The Planet entered into existence during an interesting intermission at American College in Paris: in 1975, the original student-run paper organized under academic affairs imploded, leaving a void and giving rise to a number of dueling journals. The next five years saw the rise and fall of the Banner, the Orifice, the Sans-Culottes (which emerged from the Orifice once the weight of its constant bickering with Le Torchon ruined its reputation) and Numero Un; the unreliable nature of the archives at AUP leaves me no doubt that there were others involved in this free-for-all. It was in this context, one of constant editorial sniping between adversaries vying for legitimacy, that the Planet emerged in 1977. It initially took on an entirely uncontroversial role, replacing the Student Affairs weekly bulletin and serving largely to inform the student population of events in the city and the school.
It was only in 1979 that the Planet took the mantle of official school newspaper. Most surprising to a modern audience was the Planet’s focus not only on the city at large, but on the internal politics of the ACP community. Through their articles, the authors of the Planet sought to address what they saw as the greatest problems at the college: namely, rampant apathy and a lack of cohesive identity. Their style, which was so fresh and untried it bordered on virginal, generated reactions ranging from high praise to scathing condemnation. These opinions, divergent and controversial, were made available to the readers through publication in the next issue.
The Planet survived this initial wave of mixed reactions and went on to become a mainstay of ACP in the 1980’s, covering everything from the U.S. Presidential elections and international politics, to the art scene and film reviews, to the (more modest in scope but much more interesting) scandals at the College: cocaine sales in the Amex, the creation of the SGA and the Student Union, the changing of hands of the Presidency of the College, and the acquisition and sale of the Champremault Chateau.
Nevertheless, the undeniable heyday of the publication was in the 80’s moving into the 90’s, when ACP was transitioning into AUP. This fertile ground for strong feelings about the fate of the school, and the many debates, movements, and outbursts that it generated, allowed for both a wealth of material for discussions, and an opportunity to discuss the very heart of the school. This Planet was a journalistic tour de force: it pressured the administration into creating the Study Days period with a census of students in 1981; it covered the reinvention of student government and the birth of the Student Assembly with the rewriting of the SGA Constitution and the creation of the Student’s Union in 1986; it managed to acquire an interview with noted Italian sociologist Antonio Negri in 1987. Most importantly, under the editorship of Joseph Loux (and other like-minded students) it faithfully covered the tumultuous period from 1989 to 1995, despite increased pressure to defang its coverage from various forces at the University.
During this golden age, the question on every lip and every page was: who are we? The early 90’s team in particular had a vision of a student body animated by pride and school consciousness, pushing them to write endlessly on finance, clubs, student government, and student affairs. This golden age nevertheless came to an end in the spring of 1995, when the entire editorial staff graduated, and the fall 1995 staff answered their pseudo existentialist brooding with pratfalls, bread and circuses. During the very first issue in fall 1995, the front page was an image of the editorial staff with their pants down. Truly, this was the essence of brilliance to which the Planet had always aspired.
The Planet had its ups and downs, going from hard hitting analysis on the AUP budgets to fluff pieces on the new elected members of the SGA to pseudo poetic ramblings apropos of nothing destined only to meet a necessary page count. Nevertheless, beyond these occasions, the Planet largely managed to bring a partial answer to its own questions about identity by embodying it. The Planet was undeniably a facet of life in the university, with a hand present in nearly every pie. Indeed, the only thing that has outlasted The Planet’s incredible 40-year run at AUP is the enduring sense of existential ennui and apathy generated by our apparent lack of identity and constant resetting of the clock. This was true in 1985, when Howard Shernoff condemned the lack of class unity at ACP (“ACP, currently a dormless college, simply is not a community”); it was true in 1989, when Sajan Kuriakose expressed his concerns over the impending expansion into a University (“Does memory begin anew with each change of the administration?!”); and it was most certainly true in 1995, when the editorial staff of the Planet set aside a full two-page spread for one poignant sentence: “Does anyone care if I die?”.
It is most certainly time to put an end to that.