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Why Wharton's Shoutout on Monday's Gossip Girl Was A BFD


From Amy G in a tweet from Arianna Huffington and the Engineering school's scary acrobatic builder bots on Stephen Colbert's ThreatDown, Penn has enjoyed quite a spell basking in the attention of the national media. But while Penn seems to be appropriately prominent in the realms of news and reality-based television, our alma mater remains relatively irrelevant to mainstream pop culture. Or, at least, until this past Monday.

Raina Thorpe, a brand new character revealed on this week's "Gossip Girl," went to Wharton. An inevitable love interest for Chuck Bass and the daughter of a billionaire being positioned to do financial battle with the Bass/Van Der Woodsen family — Raina is the kind of character that it isn't hard to imagine prancing down Locust, having to make the impossible decision between Theta and Tabard and eventually being a shoe-in for Wharton's notoriously Scene-y Lantern Senior Society. But what's so great about that?

Finally, Penn (well, Wharton) is referenced in order to add a specific and positive facet to the understanding of a character; by name dropping Wharton, it is implied that Raina received an impressive and intimidating education.

Does this mean Penn is building itself a home on the map of American culture? Perhaps. There are a few exceptions to Penn's depressing absence from the collective cultural conscience:

1. We get superficial (not-Penn specific) shoutouts when shows are set in Philly and college-age characters, for purposes of plot, need a place nearby to attend school.

Take Wharton's other Tuesday silver screen mention, on ABCFamily's latest so-awful-it's-addictive tween drama "Pretty Little Liars." Though the show just mentions that a main character's sister is in business school in Philly (the series takes place on the Main Line), here's a quote from the original book:

"It was a big celebratory dinner because Melissa had graduated from U Penn undergrad a year early and had gotten into Penn's Wharton School of Business. The downtown Philly town house was being renovated as a gift from their parents to Melissa."
It's as if author Sara Shepard hasn't even been to the Penn website.

On a similar thread, remember "American Dreams?" The show that took famous musicians and transformed them in to '60s-era stars to perform each episode? Well, it was set in Philly, and two of its characters attended class at Penn — and often attended concerts at "The Lair," our hypothetical student union. If NBC had it right (they didn't), Country Joe McDonald, Janis Joplin and Cal Cooper all stopped by campus between 1963 and 1966, plus a bunch of anonymous "folk singers" played by the likes of Joss Stone, Alanis Morrissette and Gavin DeGraw.

Using Penn's name as a generic college stand-in isn't limited to TV — our school provides context to literary characters in Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, and Jennifer Weiner's Good In Bed (sexual fantasies about a Cinema Studies prof!).

2. Penn mentions also enter the mix when a show's writers, creators, or personalities (or their relatives) actually attended Penn.

Former Street-ed Matt Selman once stuck the Button in an episode of "The Simpsons," and Tony Kornheiser, a host of ESPN's "Pardon The Interruption," keeps a Penn football helmet on his desk because his son graduated from Penn last year.

3. Our campus (and Philadelphia in general) is a super-popular generic city/college campus/stadium backdrop, though these projects tend to never mention Penn directly.

Most recently, Castle's chapter house and the Quad were featured as Shia LaBeouf's college world in "Transformers II: Revenge of the Fallen." Franklin Field was the backdrop of a chase scene in Philly-local M. Night Shyamalan's film "Unbreakable" and stood in for Veteran's Stadium in "Invincible," a movie that starred Mark Wahlberg as an Eagles player. The obvious exception is, of course, the 1993 film "Philadelphia," in which Tom Hanks plays a gear-sporting graduate of Penn Law (and Fisher Fine Arts Library is portrayed as its library).

Know of Penn pop culture references we've missed? Put 'em in the comments.