ETP joined the crush at Manhattan's Core Club Tuesday* evening for the launch party for 02138 Magazine, Atlantic Media Company Chairman David Bradley's splashy, so-Harvard-it-hurts update of the generic college alumni magazine. Amidst a crowd enjoying passed apps, pomegranate "Smartinis" (as if we would make that up) and a separate room for cheese, we joined in honoring The Harvard 100: The Most Influential Alumni, of whom perhaps a handful were in attendance. We spotted Daily Show head writer David Javerbaum (#25), NYU Professor/NYT mag stalwart and all-around superstar Noah Feldman (#74), Harvard physics professor and person who would certainly have an opinion on this article Lisa Randall (#61), and journo/Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes (#84). The big surprise of the evening was Bill O'Reilly (#10), cashing in some of his populist credentials to make a brief performance at an event dedicated to the celebration of elitism. (Insert obligatory I-guess-he-does-get-invited-to-parties joke here; try here for more on O'Reilly's appearance from Ivygate, which takes this whole Ivy League thing a little less seriously than 02138.) New York media types in attendance included Radar's Jeff Bercovici, his WWD Memo Pad successor Stephanie Smith, amNew York's Julia Allison, New York mag's Jesse Oxfeld (formerly of Gawker) and New York theater critic Jeremy McCarter (who, as it turns out, knew 02138 co-founder Dan Loss as an intern back at the New Republic. Harvard is everywhere!).
More after the jump, including an in-depth read of the mag in both text and subtext. Sounds boring but it's actually as thrilling as that sene in "Good Will Hunting" where Matt Damon proves he's really, really smart.
*We're playing a game called "Let's Pretend We're The Observer" so our party coverage is actaully early.
02138 publisher Meredith Kopit, recently plucked from the The Atlantic, strove valiantly to be heard above the din, but her effusive praise of "brand Harvard" was no match for the chatter of the crowd, who didn't seem to notice the various rounds of "shhh!" Kopit, who is engaging, genuine and upbeat, nonetheless had the unenviable task of having to deliver the aforementioned "brand Harvard" line and note how important the place is (New York Times front-page story, yo!) even while admitting that ,actually, she'd gone to the University of Virginia. No shame in that, and yet, it felt that way.
Which is the chief problem with 02138: It's just so elitist. Uncomfortably so, because it is that elitism that goes before all else. Other reviews have noted, with varying degrees of surprise and horror, that the magazine is really good. Well, duh. We all know who wrote it. But that's the point, we all know who wrote it. Which, despite the emphasis on achievement and contribution to the greater good, implicitly confirms that the who matters just as much as the what. This is not to say that 02138 will only run articles by Harvard grads; co-founder Loss confirmed that all manner of contributors are welcome. Great answer, but it doesn't change the weirdness of the fact that we even needed to ask the question.
(A note on this point: At the party, someone quipped "They already have a magazine for Harvard grads — it's called the New Yorker.")
To the mag, and the Hundred, conveyed across platforms as their names, faces and bona fides were beamed out from plasma TV screens across the room. As it turned out, the list is primarily populated with people who've already reached the pinnacle of their respective fields and who's success you've therefore probably already come to take for granted from all the recognition they've garnered elsewhere, people such as Bill Gates (#1), Anthony Kennedy (#4), Hank Paulson (#11), Steve Ballmer (#12), Jeffrey Sachs (# 19), Stephen Schwarzman (#22), Barack Obama (#50) (but a giant, beaming, full-page face on the first spread) and Natalie Portman (#79). Because ETP notices such things, we couldn't help but notice the dearth of women on this list: Only two in the top 25 (Meg Whitman at #8 and Margaret H. Marshall at # 14), with 15 in total. Reflective of Harvard, reality, or both? (Thoughts, Larry Summers?) Here it should be noted that in more than a few instances, the Harvard affiliation appears to be almost incidental to success (Bill Gates being the first and foremost example, and which explains how Yalie George Bush got on the list, though doesn't explain 02138's bafflingly glowing endoresment of his "epoch-making style of governance"). As a whole, the list is a strong and smart first move on the part of the magazine, playing as it does off the natural competitive instinct of Harvard graduates, the mistaken yearning of those who can only wish they were, and the amused resentments of those inclined to dismiss the whole enterprise as so much elitist claptrap.
More general commentary on the magazine: Founders and fellow graduates Loss and Bom Kim have opted in favor of The Economist's signature red-and-white as the magazine flagship colors, eschewing the more obvious choice of crimson. Dubbed the "Magazine for the Harvard Sensibility" probably does little to prevent certain graduates from suffering all sorts of status anxiety over the luminaries contained therein (even invites for the party were meted out carefully - it wasn't open to just any grad). The magazine also contains informative articles which should be of interest to people who care about controversies surrounding Harvard, including an article on the preferential treatment given to the children of wealthy alumni (courtesy of Pulitzer Prize winner Daniel Golden, who recently wrote on a related subject in "The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges", after covering the topic for the Wall Street Journal), an article on the mysterious Harvard Corporation (courtesy of Richard Bradley, author of Harvard Rules), and an analysis of Larry Summer's controversial tenure, and ejection. (A note: I's also a great-looking book, really nicely photographed and laid out, and the website is clean and attractive as updated with quality extras like this.) "Square" looks like a strong section, arranged Talk-Of-The-Town-Like in columns, in this edition featuring a hilariously caricatured Mo Rocca and reminiscing Frank Rich; but next to it is John Sedgwick's cringe-inducing portrait of "a group of mostly juniors on Quincy House's third floor," whose rooming block "is their club, the Success Club, a place to be with their own sort, where they can glory in their triumphs and daydream about all the worlds to be conquered next. A place, in short, to revel in their supreme Harvardness." To make Harvard the object of such adulation is a bit embarassing and unseemly, and encapsulates the single worst problem with the magazine, even if it is the golden ticket to 'premium readership' and high ad rates. From the reaction of the Harvard grads we spoke to at the party, Harvard holds less fascination for most its graduates than you would think from reading the magazine. Still, they were there. So, we shall see.
— ETP Staff