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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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, maybe, but totally wasn’t.
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.
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.
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.