The da Vinci effect lacks substance

For several weeks, slick professional posters outside McConomy Auditorium advertised a mysterious ?multi-sensory theatrical event? next to the standard movie advertisements. This presentation, having already celebrated its debut in Pittsburgh and Silicon Valley, is dramatically titled ?The Da Vinci Effect.? Presumably named in a subtle nod to the popular book The Da Vinci Code, the posters promised to reveal to audiences ?how Carnegie Mellon is creating the Da Vincis of our millennium.? Just in time for the Homecoming rush, the event sold out, according to its online schedule.

Those who missed it should not feel too bad. ?The Da Vinci Effect? is, plain and simple, a promotional video and speech created by the University Advancement Department. The presentation is nothing more than an advertisement, albeit one that provides free juice, cookies and T-shirts to its attendees.

As the posters and hype might suggest, ?The Da Vinci Effect? wants to be a lot more. This isn?t surprising, as it is the creation of a school that appears to have more than a small inferiority complex. As a ?multi-sensory theatrical event,? it employs film, live performance, and a light show, all to get across a point that could have been told much more simply: Carnegie Mellon is a good school. You should go there, if you don?t already.

Current students, therefore, may not be as appreciative of the Effect as alumni and potential students. Most CMU undergrads ? and grads ? already know that Ted Danson is an alumnus without having to be beaten over the head with clips of Cheers. Students have heard about Red Team, and they understand the concept of studying artificial intelligence. This presentation is much more directed toward those who do not attend the school, and, most prominently, those who are in a position to donate money.

To that end, the presentation is fairly solid, if more than a little peculiar. On Thursday, during the ?matinee? showing, audience members took their seats in a dramatically lit Rangos Ballroom and received several free goodies. The opening speaker was Kyle Fisher Morabito of University Advancement, who announced that this presentation, three years in the making, was designed to tell the ?Carnegie Mellon story.? The room swelled with, of all things, the opening of Van Halen?s hit ?Right Now,? and then a man dressed as Leonardo Da Vinci took the stage.

The actor presented the tenuous link between the presentation?s title and the actual historical figure by lauding himself as a man of the arts and sciences both, then proclaiming that Carnegie Mellon?s current students were poised to become the next incarnation of that famed Renaissance man. Although it sounded a bit like a commencement speech, the actor had style enough to deliver it completely in character and with a sly tone.

A 20-minute film followed, pushing Carnegie Mellon?s goal of ?innovation with impact.? It highlighted the University?s commendable achievements in the sciences and the arts and featured interviews with renowned professors and alumni such as Jim Gosling, creator of the programming language Java.

Clocking in at less than an hour, ?The Da Vinci Effect? covered its main points succinctly and pushed home the ?innovation with impact? theme as many times as it could. Despite its packaging, one couldn?t help feeling that there was more attention paid to the making of the attractive banners and brochures than to the making of the video.

In all fairness, this experience was bound to be a hit with alumni, and would be a guaranteed attraction to those interested in attending the school. For the most part, the production is tight, and the idea is innovative. But those in the audience who were less impressed saw it for what it was ? promotional material, not art. Perhaps it was merely a case of mistaken identity. If that?s so, then the school misled many in its community by hyping the presentation as something other than what it was.

Alexandra Kilduff
News Editor