Skull & Bones Initiation Rites Revealed!

This is a great day in the annals of American journalism. Ron Rosenbaum, author of a classic Esquire piece about the Yale secret society Skull & Bones, has become the first journalist to witness the society’s initiation rites. His findings appear in the April 18 New York Observer.

Rosenbaum’s reporting (assisted by a team of Bones-hating Yale undergrads equipped with “three night-vision-capable digital-video cameras, one tape recorder, a stepladder and two walkie-talkies”) confirms the growing suspicion that for all its elitism and hocus-pocus, Skull & Bones is just a somewhat more infantile version of your typical college fraternity. (Previous evidence included photographs of the Bones tomb’s interior, which, disappointingly, included a room whose walls were blanketed with apparently stolen license plates, and a Yale Daily News story from last year that described various Bones stunts that preceded “Tap Day,” including “a scantily-clad woman on Broadway soliciting senior citizens to play the ‘penis and vagina game.’ “) Participating collegians made lighthearted homage to Abner Louima’s adventures with New York’s finest (“Take that plunger out of my ass!”) and engaged in other witty banter (“Ooga booga,” “Lick my bumhole”). Perhaps most intriguingly, one undergrad pretended to be U.S. President (and Bonesman) George W. Bush. According to Rosenbaum,


[h]e seemed to be a bit disgruntled at being given this role–a feeling he expressed by calling out in his George W. drawl to another “Patriarch” (as they’re called): “I got the power to bomb the crap out of China and they give me this station.”

Then someone–one of the initiates?–called out “Uncle Toby!” (Many Bones ritual personae are taken from Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy–you gotta give them credit there for good taste.)

“Uncle Toby!” the cry repeated.

“Shut up, neophyte.”

“Take that plunger out of my ass, Uncle Toby.”

Presumably, this mocking Louima reference was a ploy to scare initiates into thinking Uncle Toby was going to give them the plunger treatment.


That cheerful rectal theme was followed up by:

“I’m gonna ream you like I reamed Al Gore!” from the George W. imitator.

Followed by “Help me! It’s the devil!”

And then “George W.” really getting into it: “I’m gonna kill you like I killed Al Gore.”

As Chatterbox observed a year ago, the twin cultures of George W. Bush’s Yale–Deke on one side, Skull & Bones on the other–appear to have converged. But the plunger jokes aren’t easy to reconcile with the Snapple-sipping, multiculturally hypersensitive Bones that Franklin Foer described last year in the New Republic. Perhaps Bones is retooling for the post-Clinton era. In any event, with Bones secrets spilling hither and yon, now is an inopportune moment for the makers of last year’s Bones-bashing movie The Skulls (click here for Chatterbox’s unfavorable review) to embark on a sequel. But that’s what they’re doing, according to the March 30 Yale Daily News. Instead, Chatterbox recommends that Hollywood focus on creating a new cult of paranoia surrounding the right-wing Federalist Society, which, according to stories in today’s Washington Post and New York Times, has a stranglehold on the federal judiciary.