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It May Not Be Right But Is It Even Wrong?

The Penthouse

By Dan Scolnic

The word “penthouse” conjures two thoughts: the porn magazine and the place where rich people do things that can make it in a porn magazine.

On the sixth floor of Building 37, however, penthouse stands for something quite different. In this place where many of the great astrophysicists of our day work; the penthouse is the roof and astronomy deck. This place was where hundreds of students lined up to be when Mars was very bright. Students come to the penthouse to learn about constellations and planets. It has absolutely nothing to do with sex.

So what happened? How could a word so full of connotations about sex turn into one that inspires dreams of stargazing?

This question must be placed on a larger scale. What happened here was the evolution of a sexual idea into an academic one. This evolution takes place all over MIT. Certain changes are blatant while others, like the penthouse, are quite subtle. And it is not just a simple replacement, but academics have taken the form of something sexual. Academics are our sexual fetish.

I know these sound like big and ridiculous claims to make. But, come on, people think of 6.001 as a more pleasurable form of self-gratification than certain more physical activities. We get turned on when we understand something. We would choose, in a second, to ace a test over getting someone’s phone number. And would we ever spend a Saturday night doing something that was not sexual? No, academics are sexual at MIT.

We find learning erotically stimulating; there is nothing wrong with that. Someday I hope we can all go to a school where everyone can be open about these sexual preferences. Maybe there will be a time when we can just come out of the classroom and say “yes, we like school, and we are proud of it.”

But we study in an institution where its students still try to preserve some of their dignity and normalcy. We deny that we like academics, but as much as we deny it, this simultaneous attraction holds us. No one ever sat us down and told us that MIT is the place where we are going to start finding academics sexual; it just happened. As much as we want to deny it, we cannot. It is a part of who we are now.

This attraction is not so simple though. There is something fueling it. For such logical people, we would not keep these desires unless something was sustaining them. We have this secret hope that these academics that we find so sexually stimulating are someday going to make us attractive.

We dream that someday we will be so smart that it’s sexy. It is not an impossible or illogical dream. Honestly, we just figure it’s a matter of time.

After all, Richard Feynman got plenty of women. John Nash got Jennifer Connelly to fall head over heels in love with him. Lois Lane, a journalist, got the greatest superhero of all time. James Spader in “Stargate” even stayed on the planet with his girl.

It may not be likely that we will become smart enough to be sexy, but we’re going to try, and we’re going to keep on trying until it pays off. Someday, we are going to take a person up to the penthouse, show the person some constellations and planets, and the person won’t be able to keep their hands off us. Someday, we will turn the penthouse into a penthouse.