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How to Merge the Ego and the Self in the Huntsman Bathroom Mirror


Photo // Stańczyk by Jan Matejko (edited by Daniel Scanlon)

The place might have been commissioned by Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Laminated floor to ceiling, every surface a design boardroom’s fervent debate, a commemoration of wealth so immediately productive of crowds and jammed traffic that going to class evokes the splendor of attending a 2016 makeup product launch at a Los Angeles mall, the one-hundred-forty-million-dollar Huntsman Hall manages to strike a nerve in anyone who steps foot inside.  Can you belieeeeve Pret has four Philadelphia locations, and TWO of them are in Huntsman Hall: one on the ground floor, and one on the second floor, for the MBAs of course. 

I recently attended the mayor of Philadelphia’s guest lecture at Steinberg-Dietrich room 350. It’s only in these guest lectures for Urban Fiscal Policy that I confront the uncomfortable truth that an additional section of this course is exclusively for grad students. If this thought hadn’t occurred to me at the beginning of the mayor’s lecture, my confusion was all but quashed during the Q&A “lighting round,” where the MBAs all presented their nonquestions with the same cadence. Somewhere between Channel 6 newscaster and ameteur-motion-graphics-whitewashed-history-why-copenhagen-has-the-best-public-transit-here’s-my-patreon style of video essayist. Introducing oneself as a Penn State alum is maybe the most powerful tone indicator one could provide in this instance. 

I guess I’m just wondering if you’re satisfied with job creation in the city during your term? Just wondering. 

Huntsman changes you. I miss the enlightened and sincere demeanor you presented with before this interschool minor … heartbreak emoji! The building seems to stir up social discomforts at levels not easily plumbed. To mention this place in the more enlightened of those very entrepreneurial, driven groups of people it is said to attract is to invite a kind of nervous derision, as if the place were a local hoax, a perverse and deliberate affront to the understated good taste and general class of everyone at the table. With its warm natural finishes of wood, brick and stone, it’s said to reflect the historic significance of surrounding buildings on the University campus, “connecting Wharton to the world.” To what end, I wonder, have we realized this Wharton-world connection when every floor is adorned with sprawling Adobe-Illustrator-screenprinted “Power of Wharton” tapestries and clinical lighting fixtures. There’s escalators … multiple! 

Something about the place embarrasses people. The name placards lining the expansive lecture hall tables sours many people, plucking at deeply held insecurities, reminding them of times when the ninth grade biology substitute teacher couldn’t pronounce their name, or the chapters of a textbook that never got covered in class. Tempered expectations. 

And a friend of mine, near the end of a rehearsal, pulled out his phone, telling me and my friends that he was putting a video together for the Instagram account known as @previewingpenn. He encouraged everyone to act like we were candidly performing one of the sketches we had just been rehearsing. He waited until we were filtering out of the room to spur this request on us, until after we finished rehearsing in real time. 

Videography is a shaky truth-telling device, selling an idea, affirming the status quo without criticizing it. To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have. @previewingpenn has corrupted the youth, outsourcing students to turn their peers into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder. 

To “document” in this way is to reduce the subject to an easily reproducible form. Hey Baby Quakers! Look at us going to this place that you also go to. Guess what? I didn’t get coffee at that one place, I got it at the other place! You know the one, right down the corner from that one building. I’m not allowed to use the world “formal,” but here’s a half-baked spiel about community building. This could be you one day! If you dedicate your adolescent years to this one goal, then maybe you could be in my shoes, in this room, using your phone to film a video for the @previewingpenn instagram account! 

We can, in fact, challenge the director’s ostensibly neutral gaze. Why does @previewingpenn get to decide what counts as real, or how to represent it? Subvert the gaze and take revenge. Go into the Huntsman ground floor’s gender-neutral bathroom and take a selfie. Don’t send it to anyone. Don’t smile. Put the Rio de Janeiro Instagram filter on it. Be the subject and director at the same time. Merge the ego and the self. Play around with the optics. Punch holes in the canvas and make something indecipherable out of acrylic paint just for the sake of making something you have ownership of. Celebrate bad taste. Get a cheesesteak from Dahlak. Do something for yourself, you dastardly angel.