DOORDROPPED: Which Scene?

A new magazine offers a view of a Harvard subculture that might not be real

The stairwell at Club Umbria smelled like perfume last Wednesday. It was launch night for Emily Washkowitz ’08 and Rebecca A. Kaden ’08’s new magazine, Scene, going down eight months after they came up with the idea and about 12 hours before the greater Harvard population would see the result.

There was a bouncer at the door, and a nice-looking Umbria girl was taking IDs. Budding financier and publisher Fred L. Bronstein ’06 shifted his weight on the steps, and JetBlue student rep Ming E. Vandenberg ’08 stood behind him. A tie-maker named Baruch Y. Shemtov ’09 made calls on his cell phone. A long line of angry tomcats piled up behind them, their leader loudly wondering what the fuck was up with the line.

A minute later, the bouncer got nice and the crowd walked through. Inside, oversized cutouts of Scene’s mission statement—“to portray the events, the people, the passions… that we are all a part of”—had been propped against support beams. The bar served free drinks until around midnight as an elevated DJ booth blasted music.

This was no amateur effort—according to a recent article in the Globe, Washkowitz consulted Vogue editor, New York publishing queen Anna Wintour before starting the magazine. She calls her a friend of a friend.

Wintour wasn’t in attendance, but the brightest stars of Harvard society stood in. There they all were. H-Bomb cover star Kevin C.L. Ching ’06. Heineken heir Alexander A.C. De Carvalho ’08. Erica S. Birmingham ’06 (see page 18). This was Harvard’s wonder class, our future fashionistas, tastemakers-to-be. Their week beats our year, and Scene is a monument in their honor.

FULL DISCLOSURE

Inside the magazine, there are 64 glossy color pages, six ads, and a sprawling, 12-page fashion spread. One article is titled “Not Quite Currier: The Living Space of Nathan Gunawan.” It’s a photo essay of sorts, depicting a boy who lives in Boston’s Ritz Carlton. “Most Harvard students go home to deteriorating buildings, marginal heating, and oftentimes haywire plumbing,” the intro text reads. “The Phoenix Club’s Nathan Gunawan drives home to his pad in none other than Boston’s Ritz Carlton.”

Need proof? There are pictures. Eight of them. One of his Gothic library. One of his Chinese daybed. One of Gunawan posing thoughtfully by his bar. Never mind how devastatingly lonely he looks—the tone is set.

In between, 12 pixilated pages of Harvard students modeling Brooks Brothers garb. Kinda awkward, true, but Scene makes Brooks Brothers look fun.

According to the accompanying article, Brooks is trying to get back into the college game by sponsoring “Harvard University Women in Business as well as this magazine.” Executive Editor Joshua Kushner ’08 clarified that although Brooks Brothers did approach them about the feature, they didn’t actually give them any money, nor did they let them keep the clothes.

The line between journalism and advertising is blurry here, and the whole “conflict of interest” thing gets even more confusing in the magazine’s list of 10 people “you want to know at Harvard,” a six-page cover story written by Kaden.

Every profile glows with descriptions like “dynamic,” “overwhelming,” “fascinating,” and “happy.” Kaden seems particularly smitten with her number-four pick, a kid from the IOP named David: “Constant thoughts about study groups and liaisons, forums and speakers, spill into dinner conversations and family chats on the beach during winter vacations,” Kaden writes. “I know this all too well since he’s my brother. Call this a conflict of interest—” Done. “—but trust me, I tried to keep him off this list. Everyone we showed it to put him right back on. It seemed unavoidable.”

Seemed, maybe, but totally wasn’t.

OVERNIGHT CELEBRITY

In its full-page editors’ note, Scene bills itself as “what is missing from the standard Harvard tour.” The magazine, Washkowitz and Kaden write, is a reflection of our “intricate culture,” the “experience we are all a part of.”

Apparently we’re all supposed to know what a Chinese daybed is—because apparently good, classy living means owning one. Trust Washkowitz and Kaden’s declaration of authority re: the intricacies of Harvard culture, and you’d think that we were all qualified to talk about how our “dining companion… tremendously enjoyed” his grilled sirloin at Aspasia. That we think “classy” means taking a cab to the hotel room you rented because you just can’t be bothered with the hissy heater in your dorm room. That we can afford to think really hard about Brooks Brothers, and take “wardrobe guidance” from them in preparation for our summer internships on Wall Street.

Washkowitz and Kaden insist that they didn’t mean to imply that any of this was a standard, or that any of it was the “right” way to live. This is just one slice of Harvard life, they told Doordropped, and in future issues, other slices will be featured too.

Indeed, they did work hard on this magazine, and their passion for journalism is apparent. But read that editor’s note again; there’s something wrong here. No matter how hard Washkowitz and Kaden tried to get Harvard right, they didn’t. For most people at Harvard, the “experience we are all a part of” does not even come close to the lifestyles depicted in Scene. Yes, we have Birmingham in the role of Paris Hilton (by her own admission, famous for her celebrity and little else), but she’s just playing—enjoying herself because some people like to watch her do it.

Scene was supposed to be Harvard’s version of Vogue and Vanity Fair (see the Anna Wintour consultation; the presumption of authority re: “society, style & living”), but instead, the editors have constructed a miniature version of a world that simply doesn’t exist around here.

God help us if Washkowitz and Kaden convince anyone otherwise. God help us if this is what we really want.