Yesterday in the mail I got a free copy of the premier issue of a new magazine called 02138. Subtitle is "The World of Harvard." (Harvard's zip code is 02138.) When I was still at law school -- the day of law school graduation I think -- there was a flier about it in our mailboxes, saying it was coming that fall, but I guess it got delayed by a year. I can't imagine it's easy to get a magazine off the ground and find advertisers and everything. Sometime earlier in the year I exchanged e-mails with one of the people there, who wanted to know if I was interested in being one of the bloggers on their website (I wasn't, but it was nice that they thought of me), and there's a kinda-snarky but not unfair and not terribly objectionable blog entry about Anonymous Lawyer on one of the blogs on their website.
I'm really turned off by this magazine, and I'm not sure I can completely articulate why. I'll try anyway. The whole premise of this magazine seems to be that there's something uniquely special about Harvard and the people who go there. That's really arrogant. The founder's letter on page 10 says: "Welcome to 02138, the magazine for the Harvard sensibility.... As Harvard graduates, we share cultural DNA. We are connected not only by our interest in our alma mater but by our interest in each other: classmates, friends, colleagues, competitors. Our mission at 02138 is to track the Harvard tribe and to look at the world through the lens of Harvard -- with intellectual rigor and a critical eye."
Well, I may be interested in my classmates, friends and colleagues. But this magazine isn't really about them. The issue has a list of the 100 most influential Harvard alumni. 6 of them are dropouts, which I thought was interesting. 48 are alumni of Harvard College. 16 are alumni of the Law School. I barely feel any special affinity to fellow Law School alumni, let alone alumni of Harvard College or any of the grad schools I didn't go to. My Princeton alumni magazine is cool because of the class notes section where I can read about people I actually know, doing things (like getting married) that aren't reported elsewhere and that I wouldn't otherwise know. With or without 02138, I know who Bill Gates is and what he's up to. Maybe if the magazine was talking about non-celebrities, people doing cool things I wouldn't otherwise know about, it would be interesting. But it's playing in the world of celebrity, and if I'm looking for an article about, say, awesome political operatives, or terrific new books, these aren't things where it makes any sense to only tell me about the people affiliated with Harvard. Is anybody characterizing information in their mind like this? There's an article about the '08 Campaign Dream Team of Harvard alums. Mostly the article makes me wonder is who the other people out there are who didn't go to Harvard, and whether this team would beat them or not. It's like a weird novelty magazine for a made-up interest group. Like if there was a magazine for people with 3 vowels in their first name. I probably feel a little more affinity for Harvard graduates as a group than I do for people with 3 vowels in their first name, but I'm not sure it matters -- if there are interesting things to say about famous people, that's great, and maybe this magazine will do that, but the mere fact that someone went to one of the Harvard grad schools doesn't necessarily make me care.
But that's not the entirety of it. Because the magazine for people with 3 vowels in their first name wouldn't make me feel icky to have it on my coffee table. But this sorta would. I wouldn't want to put out the attitude that I think there's something special about me just because I went to Harvard for law school, and I would expect that anyone who does want to put out that vibe is kind of a jerk. There are six subscription cards in the magazine. Six issues for $36. I just can't imagine who would subscribe to this. (Also, six dollars for a magazine is pretty expensive.)
The ads in the magazine are almost comically upscale. Just flipping through, in order: Polo, Lux Bond & Green (jewelry and watches), Marquee Concierge ("a global network of luxury lifestyle specialists"), Bank of NY Private Wealth Management, Marquis Jet Card (private jet service), AIG Private Client Group, Glenmorangie whiskey, Wilmington Trust, BMW 335i Coupe, Brooks Brothers, British Airways Business Class, Neuberger Berman money management, POM (pomegranate tea), Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto (the Harvard of Canada?), eos luxury airlines.
I understand why, from a business perspective, this is an audience advertisers would want to reach. And I guess I can see that there are probably people out there who find this magazine appealing, and really want to feel like part of a Harvard community and read about celebrities who happened to go to Harvard. I just feel like the whole thing is kind of icky and elitist and unpleasant.
In all fairness, this is before reading any of the articles. So maybe I'm just prejudging this thing based on the concept and not giving it a chance. But, as opposed to Aaron Sorkin's tv show, which I
was rooting for myself to like, I thought my initial feeling that this is icky was worth blogging about.
Updated to add: I'm reading it now. Page 51, introducing the Harvard 100 list: "Before long, we realized that we had started dividing everyone we met, read about, saw on TV, and heard about at dinner parties into two categories, 'Harvard,' and 'not Harvard.'"
The magazine is very pretty, lots of very nice photos, and some of the articles are interesting, but the attitude is really a turn-off. Harvard's not that special.