The secret is out: Westminster College alum Max White revealed himself to be the creative mind behind The Griffin, a satirical news page on Instagram that gained widespread popularity across campus.
The page went dark in May after White posted a final meme noting his graduation — ending its yearlong reign that garnered attention from all corners of campus.
The Westminster alum revealed his identity Friday during his Westminster Thinks Big presentation titled, “A Serious Discussion of the Least Serious Topic; The Benefits of Satire in Society.”
“Humor is very personal to my identity,” said White, who graduated in May with a degree in economics. “My coping mechanism while growing up and throughout my life has always been humor.”
For months, students pondered who the mastermind behind the stories could be. In the meantime, White — along with one of his named co-editors, Mary Sanchez — posted satirical memes poking fun at recent events on campus.
During his 13-minute speech, White discussed how this use of satire benefits community by accentuating the “absurdity” of human nature and logic. It reveals hidden values and exposes the consequences of one’s actions, he said.
“Satire exposes the gap between theory and practice which may be hidden but is destructive to achieving successful goals,” White said during his speech.
Satire is also a tool, he said, that allows people to navigate serious conversations in a more meaningful way. Besides, who wants to be lectured seriously?
“But many will laugh at a comedian who makes jokes at their expense [and] that expose their behavior that is contradictory or illogical,” White said. “Satire can also jostle us out of that serious mode and allow us to have new experiences.”
One example of that? News organizations.
White pointed to The Onion, a well-known news satire site that highlights illogical decision-making through fake stories. Although the stories aren’t real, it uncovers the “absurd, harmful and silly” aspects of life, according to White.
That was the same impact he and his co-editors wanted to elicit through The Griffin.
“It served as an outlet to address events from our campus, but also from around the world,” White said. “We poked fun and exaggerated just a little to address topics like intro classes, official campus responses to world events, the highly respectable Honors College — of which I’m an alumni — campus fashion […] to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Through satire, White said it helped to have fun during serious, and oftentimes difficult, conversations. But it also attracted the attention of those who might not listen otherwise.
“We were getting quite a bit of attention,” he said. “It was only a matter of time before the Griffin was picked up by the official newspaper of Westminster, The Forum.”
(Thanks for the shoutout.)
The Griffin quickly grew after its debut in early 2019, gaining over 400 followers in its short reign. For each of its stories, dozens of people would re-post to their Instagram accounts, according to White.
“That meant we were doing something right,” he said. “In order to make satire you need to understand the world and how people think. You need to be able to identify what someone says and what they do don’t align or do align.”
For White, that’s a distinction only satire can make.
“And if anyone in the audience is from The Onion, I look forward to a job offer,” White said with a smile.