How to make a ‘Scene’

A poverty of class in Harvard’s upper crust

Bursting uncouthly into the limelight last week was Scene, “Harvard campus’ magazine on society, style & living”—the aggravating creation of a handful of people of means who cannot, despite their upbringing, capably author even softball feature pieces.

The magazine was unveiled in an orgy of conspicuous consumption, the editors-in-chief having secured several thousand dollars in pocket money from their fathers so that they might rent out Umbria, a nightclub in downtown Boston.

The whole to-do is an elaborate tea party of sorts, where mother and father have provisioned the youngsters with fancy dresses and lace, cucumber finger sandwiches (crusts off, mais oui) and have steeped the tea for them. All the aspirant sophisticates must do is pour.

But lacking the dexterity to handle the china, they have made a terrible mess of things.

In the midst of poor writing, pixelated photography, and droves of typographical errors, Scene can tell us something about playing dress-up on daddy’s dime.

Take the feature on Baruch Shemtov ’09, a tie designer, who the magazine interviews in New York at “The Carlyle...a swank upper-east side establishment.” Author Danielle Sassoon ’08 is particularly impressed that “Baruch” (as he is endearingly referred to on second reference) has an in with the maitre d’—a term whose only accepted variant differs in its inclusion of a cirumflex above the “i.” Except that in the article, it is spelled “Maitre Di.”

Scene, as it happens, is rife with ironies like these, which bubble to the surface at the most uncanny moments—almost like its editors are making jokes.

Perhaps the inverted comma was forgotten, that other “i” slipped mistakenly in—but that is no excuse for an arrant virginity of art history. A suitably thrilling one-page spread on the “living space” of one Nathan Gunawan ’07 features the fraudulent caption, “Nathan’s reading room: the Gothic library.” But there is, unsurprisingly, nothing Gothic about it. Unless, perhaps, we are being forewarned of the distressingly dim camera work.

Speaking of dimness, a particularly obnoxious column by Adam Katz ’06 asserts, “Good-looking Harvard girls are feted on”—perhaps he was thinking of “doted on” since “feted” exists, always, without “on.” Ruminating on this cabal, he chides his fellow men for worshiping them so: “Their names are the subject of intense debate and dining hall ranking. Worse, we’re dumb enough to let them know how hot they are.” Airy prose for the cultured: thank you, no.

Also jammed into Scene is a jejune 10-page spread sponsored by Brooks Brothers—purveyor of fine off-the-rack clothing, est. post-Industrial Revolution—featuring pearl accessories as desperately cultured—or culturally desperate perhaps—as the presented models. But even these failings suggest an aspiration for refinement, something that cannot be said for the barnyard article on sexual lubricants. “KY Jelly is to sex as grape jelly is to gourmet…Even cheep [sic] porn directors know that the only thing grocery store lubricant is good for is use as fake tears in dramatic scenes,” reports Alexandra Cecilia Palma ’08. What charm, what grace.

The most apparent conclusion that can be drawn from Scene is that its writers and editors are still very much schoolchildren in need of an education. If they need Harvard and its manifold temptations for young socialites, however, is unclear—a better choice might be a provincial boarding school away from the glamour of city life where they might, under the watchful eye of an aged nun, endure the slap of the ruler should they write so nonsensical a statement as “Intelligence comes in many variations” (page 9).

Because, fundamentally, there is a common intelligence—one of grammatical rules, one of social demureness—which would seem to dictate that Scene would not see the light of day and that if it did, it would at least be checked and double-checked. Something with such great potential to inflame should be, after all, an irreproachably well-written product.

Let that schooling begin here and now: high-caste persons are categorically not supposed to be vapid or unintelligent. And if they are those things, they keep them hidden. Scene makes a public spectacle of both traits. Its supposed finesse, rather like its pixels, blurs upon close inspection.

Travis R. Kavulla ’06-’07 is a history concentrator in Mather House. Sahil K. Mahtani ’08 is a history concentrator in Winthrop House. They are both Crimson editorial editors.