When I first watched the new admissions video, “That’s Why I Toured Yale,” I kept wondering when the song and dance would break out. Such is the shadow of its musically charged predecessor, “That’s Why I Chose Yale,” which has attracted almost two million views on YouTube since its 2010 release.
But in this iteration, the music never quite comes on. The new video is far more subdued and far less exuberant, reflecting the circumspection of a campus which has, since the last video’s release, faced federal Title IX investigations, protests about race and free speech and demands for graduate student unionization and better financial aid. In place of reverence and triumphalism are irony, allusion and surface — a postmodern blockbuster production rather than a classic admissions video.
Directed by Kurt Schneider ’10 and starring Sam Tsui ’11 and Simone Policano’16, “That’s Why I Toured Yale” is shot as if it were a continuous scene. Putatively seamless transitions stitch together disparate aspects of campus life. At their best, the transitions reflect directorial wit, such as when Policano walks through the Yale University Art Gallery and uses paintings on easels to introduce a range of campus resources. At their worst, the transitions come across as gimmicky: At one point, a scene with Laurie Santos zooms out into a TV screen in a residential college basement. The polarizing aesthetics of montage and pastiche disrupt conventional narrative forms and cause-and-effect relationships, in favor of spectacle and technical skill.
To its credit, the video is at once subtle and effective in addressing concerns about college access and inclusion. There is the much-talked-about mannequin challenge scene in the Ezra Stiles Dining Hall, in which Policano communicates the essence of Yale’s financial aid policies. But in a tacit nod to the current political climate, there is also a brief reference to “civil discourse” in a scene of a Yale Political Union debate. And then there is a beautiful moment in the Afro-American Cultural Center, where a black student delivers a Spoken Word poem. “I did not build this house,” she declares — in a pointed reference to Audre Lorde’s famous quotation, “the master’s tools can never dismantle the master’s house” — “but I claim every beam and bone as my own.” Tactful enough to avoid relitigating old controversies, but unequivocal as a message for students of color, for whom diversity and inclusion might be real considerations in choosing a college.
But despite these moments of brilliance, the density of references and inside jokes can become tiresome. At moments, the video feels like a pale imitation of “That’s Why I Chose Yale” rather than a standalone masterpiece. English professor Murray Biggs’s class on “Shakespeare from Script to Screen” carries over from the 2010 video, even though Biggs is now retired (In case viewers don’t get the hint, the Whiffenpoofs belt out “And that’s why I chose Yale” in another scene). Two beatboxers serve as a recurring motif with no apparent purpose, apart from evoking a sense of seriality and play.
On the one hand, it’s understandable that the directors styled the video as a sequel. It’s never easy to follow up on a hit, and franchises are indeed the trend on the big screen. On the other hand, the video feels like a missed opportunity for re-imagining what Yale can be. After all, new admissions videos are a once-in-a-decade event (indeed, the video features Marvin Chun giving a lecture but never introduces him as the dean of Yale College, implicitly acknowledging that the video will outlast a typical five-year decanal term).
And then, of course, there is the question of omission. Academics take up just two-and-a-half minutes of the ten-minute video; a preview of extracurriculars comprises its bulk. There is no mention at all of New Haven, a city which has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance the last couple of years. Surprising choices, in my view, though in all fairness one must always pick and choose.
At the end of the day, “That’s Why I Toured Yale” gets the job done, even if it is at times underwhelming. It accurately reflects the fact that our campus today is less buoyant and carefree and innocent than it was eight years ago. It pulls together multiple moves to grapple with difficult questions, capturing the hybridity which characterizes the complexity of our community. But because the video is less ebullient, it also feels less earnest. As someone I know described it, the video proclaims that “Yale is excellent,” not that “Yale is fabulous.”
But what do I know? Coming from halfway around the world, I never toured Yale. I merely chose it — and choose it again I would.
Jun Yan Chua | email@example.com