The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), an educational and research institution in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been referenced in many works of cinema, television and the written word. MIT's overall reputation has greater influence on its role in popular culture than does any particular aspect of its history or student lifestyle. Because the Institute is well-known as a breeding ground for technology and technologists, the makers of modern media are able to use it to establish character in a way that mainstream audiences can understand. A smaller number of works use MIT directly as their scene of action.
The use of "MIT as metaphor" is relatively widespread, so much so that in popular culture, "the MIT of" is an idiom for "top science and engineering university," or "elite technical institution," like "Cadillac of" for "most luxurious," or "an Einstein" for "intelligent person". Whether or not Einstein was truly the most intelligent human ever to have lived—or even if such a statement has no true meaning at all—Einstein remains an archetype of intelligence. Similarly, any regionally prominent science or engineering school is likely to be called "the MIT of" that region. For example, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) touted the University of Alabama in Huntsville as a possible "MIT of the South". The Georgia Institute of Technology has also been called "the MIT of the South". Other examples abound, so much so that "X is the MIT of Y" is a good example of a snowclone, a term recently coined to denote a family of formulaic clichés.
Frequently, when a character in Hollywood cinema is required to have a science or engineering background, or in general possess an extremely high level of intelligence, the film establishes that he or she is an MIT graduate or associate. (MIT can also be a comparative or a metaphor for intellect in general: "Would they think of that at MIT?") Numerous films and television series indulge in this technique, including The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Desk Set (1957), The Phantom Planet (1961), Help! (1965), Ghost Busters (1984), Hackers (1995), Independence Day (1996), Orgazmo (1997), Armageddon (1998), Sphere (1998), Space Cowboys (2000), The Fast and the Furious (2001), Undergrads (2001), XXX (2002), Arrested Development (2003), The Recruit (2003), National Treasure (2004), The Fantastic Four (2005), Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), Rent (2005), E-Ring (2005), 21 (2008) and Iron Man (2008). In "Iron Man," several close-ups of Terrence Howard clearly show his character ("Jim Rhodes") to be wearing a brass rat; Robert Downey, Jr.'s character ("Tony Stark") appears to wear one as well in the movie.
James Burke's television series The Day the Universe Changed (1985) employs the same technique for a more academic purpose. In the episode "Point of View", which describes the discovery of perspective geometry and its ramifications, Burke spends a little time in the Italian city of Padua. This city, which hosted the second-oldest Italian university after Bologna, boasted a large concentration of intellectuals. In Burke's phrase, Padua was "the MIT of the fifteenth century". An episode of his later series Connections 2 (1994) uses a similar shorthand to characterize the seventeenth-century Royal Society.
The TV show Numb3rs has several different connections to MIT. The pilot was shot in Boston. Co-creator and Executive Producer Cheryl Heuton says, "We originally tried to choose MIT for the show. We originally set the show in Boston, and Charlie [Eppes, one of the main characters,] was going to be a professor at MIT. We contacted MIT, and their answer was they're not in the film and TV business..." . Multiple episodes of the show mention that Charlie studied at MIT. Dylan Bruno, the actor who plays Colby Granger, has a degree from MIT.
Films set at MIT are less common than those which use the MIT name as metaphor. Nevertheless, MIT has been part of movie settings, in such films as Blown Away (1994), Good Will Hunting (1997), A Beautiful Mind (2001), and 21 (2008). Most of the scenes for these movies, especially indoor scenes, are in fact filmed elsewhere. Although portions of Blown Away were shot on the Institute campus , the film still makes several geographical errors about MIT and Boston in general . The film Real Genius (1985) is set on a mythical technology campus which is a combination of MIT and Caltech, including for example Laslo, who lives in the basement on campus, a reference to MIT personality Richard Stallman. An incidental scene in The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) was shot on location outside of MIT Baker House.
Some cinematic references to MIT betray a mild anti-intellectualism, or at least a lack of respect for "book learning". For example, Space Cowboys features the seasoned hero (Clint Eastwood) trying to explain a piece of antiquated spacecraft technology to a rather whippersnapping youngster. When the young astronaut fails to comprehend Eastwood's explanation, he snaps that "I have two master's degrees from MIT", to which Eastwood replies, "Maybe you should get your money back." Similarly, Gus Van Sant's introduction to the published Good Will Hunting screenplay suggests that the lead character's animosity towards official MIT academia reflects a class struggle with ethnic undertones, in particular Will Hunting's Irish background versus the "English aristocracy" of the MIT faculty. Help!, the Beatles' second film, ties MIT to the mad scientist stereotype when Professor Foot (Victor Spinetti) declares, "MIT was after me, you know. Wanted me to rule the world for them!"
HBO's television miniseries From the Earth to the Moon (1998) contains segments set at MIT, most notably in the episode covering Apollo 14. The series portrays the Institute's denizens as very slightly eccentric engineers who do their part to keep the Apollo program running successfully.
"Inside" MIT references also appear in film without attribution. In Stir Crazy (1980), the opening close-up shot of Grossberger, played by Erland Van Lidth De Jeude (MIT Class of 1976, S.B. in Computer Science & Engineering), clearly reveals his actual "Brass Rat" class ring. In The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000), a background image of Whassamatta U. is recognizable as a main MIT building.
MIT is even referenced in some Japanese anime: the sci-fi series Neon Genesis Evangelion mentions MIT as the location of one of the replica MAGI supercomputers; the comedy series Pani Poni Dash! revolves around an 11-year old student who graduated from MIT and travels to Japan to become a high school teacher.
In the pilot of the tv show Gilmore Girls, Rory and Lorelei visit Lorelai's parents for the first time in quite a while. Upon seeing Rory, Lorelai's father comments several times that Rory is tall. He says this so many times that Lorelai comments "Yes, they're doing a study of her at MIT." (or something to that effect). Regardless, MIT made it into the very first episode of Gilmore Girls.
Dr. Thomas Louis Magliozzi and his younger brother Ray are "Click and Clack, The Tappet Brothers", the hosts of National Public Radio's comedy car advice show Car Talk. Both are MIT graduates, Tom's in chemical engineering in 1958, and Ray's in general science in 1972, and they regularly use that fact in their self-deprecating attempts to establish their credibility on technical matters. After campaigning on-air for years, they were finally invited to speak at MIT's 1999 commencement exercise
Nonfiction works have been written which examine MIT, its history or its various subcultures. In addition to books like Nightwork which recount the Institute's hacking tradition, Benson Snyder's The Hidden Curriculum (1970) describes the state of MIT student and faculty psychology in the late 1960s. On the fiction side, the novel The Gadget Maker (1955, by Maxwell Griffith) traces the life of aeronautical engineer Stanley Brack, who performs his undergraduate studies at MIT. Ben Bova's novel The Weathermakers (1966) about scientists developing methods to prevent hurricanes from reaching land, is also set in part at MIT. Patricia Vasquez visits (or comes from) MIT in Greg Bear's Eon (1985). Neal Stephenson coyly hints at MIT in Quicksilver (2004), and other books of the Baroque Cycle, by having Daniel Waterhouse found the "Massachusetts Bay Colony Institute of the Technologickal Arts" in the 18th century.
Noted physicist and raconteur Richard Feynman built up a collection of anecdotes about his MIT undergraduate years, several of which are retold in his loose memoir Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! Some of this material was incorporated into Matthew Broderick's film Infinity (1996), in addition to Feynman stories from Far Rockaway, Princeton and Los Alamos.
MIT is also a recurring motif in the works of Kurt Vonnegut, much like the planet Tralfamadore or the Vietnam War. In part, this recurrence may stem from Vonnegut family history: both his grandfather Bernard and his father Kurt, Sr. studied at MIT and received bachelor's degrees in architecture. His older brother, another Bernard, earned a bachelor's and a Ph.D. in chemistry, also at MIT. Since so many of Vonnegut's stories are ambivalent or outright pessimistic with regard to technology's impact on humankind, it is hardly surprising that his references to the Institute express a mixed attitude. In Hocus Pocus (1990), the Vietnam-veteran narrator Eugene Debs Hartke applies for graduate study in MIT's physics program, but his plans go awry when he tangles with a hippie at a Harvard Square Chinese restaurant. Hartke observes that men in uniform had become a ridiculous sight around colleges, even though both Harvard and MIT obtained much of their income from weapons R&D. ("I would have been dead if it weren't for that great gift to civilization from the Chemistry Department of Harvard, which was napalm, or sticky jellied gasoline.") Jailbird notes drily that MIT's eighth president was one of the three-man committee who upheld the Sacco and Vanzetti ruling, condemning the two men to death. As reported in the 7 June 1927 Tech:
Palm Sunday (1981) a loose collage of essays and other material, contains a markedly skeptical and humanist commencement address Vonnegut gave to Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. Speaking of the role religion plays in modern society, Vonnegut notes
Kurt Vonnegut was friends with fellow humanist and writer Isaac Asimov, who resided for many years in Newton, Massachusetts. During much of this time, Asimov chose the date for the MIT Science Fiction Society's annual picnic, citing a superstition that he always picked a day with good weather. In his copious autobiographical writings, Asimov reveals a mild predilection for the Institute's architecture, and an awareness of its aesthetic possibilities. For example, In Joy Still Felt (1980) describes a 1957 meeting with Catherine de Camp, who was checking out colleges for her teenage son. Asimov recalls
Asimov's work, too, trades on MIT's reputation for narrative effect, even touching upon the anti-intellectualism theme. In "The Dead Past" (1956), the scientist-hero Foster must overcome the attitudes his Institute physics training has entrenched in his mind, before he can make his critical breakthrough. Several jokes in Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor and its sequel Asimov Laughs Again hinge upon MIT, its reputation for scientific prowess, and the technocentric focus of its students. In a similar vein, the satirical newspaper The Onion published an article entitled "Corpse-Reanimation Technology Still 10 Years Off, Say MIT Mad Scientists", among many others in the same general tradition.
Several comic strips make use of MIT. In Doonesbury, Kim Rosenthal almost earned her Ph. D in computer science, dropping out because it was "too easy". In the fall of 2006, Kim and Mike Doonesbury's daughter Alex entered MIT as a freshman. (The 3 October 2006 Doonesbury strip satirizes the "MIT of" snowclone; Zipper Harris declares the fictional Walden College to be "the MIT of southern Connecticut".) Dilbert received a degree from Course VI-1. Bill Amend's FoxTrot has also made MIT allusions, in keeping with the strip's genial satire of nerd subcultures. On Christmas Day 2005, the comic strip Baby Blues featured a character reading the instruction manual accompanying a gadget that he has given to his child as a Christmas present. The first volume of instructions begins, "Assembly Instructions — Step 1: Obtain a master's degree in mechanical engineering from M.I.T. Step 2: ..."
Some genres of computer and video games have characterization requirements like those of movies. For example, a game involving a team of commandos might require a member who can break into computers, crack security systems or work with explosives. This character's background would typically have to be established very quickly and efficiently, perhaps within one screen of introductory text. Stating that a commando or top-secret operative "graduated from MIT" is one way to accomplish this.
The Infocom game The Lurking Horror (1987), written by MIT alumnus and interactive fiction pioneer Dave Lebling, is set on the campus of the George Underwood Edwards Institute of Technology, which strongly resembles MIT. Its fictional culture also parodies the MIT culture. For instance, G.U.E. Tech's class ring is known as the brass hyrax, parodying MIT's Brass Rat.
In the musical Rent (1996-ongoing), a major character, Tom Collins, is an MIT drop-out, "for my theory of actual reality".
The song "Etoh" by the electronic music group The Avalanches describes MIT as "the home of complicated computers which speak a mechanical language all their own". This lyric can be taken literally, or it can be read metaphorically as a description of MIT student culture. Allan Sherman's paean to initialisms, "Harvey and Sheila," notes that Harvey "works for IBM; he went to MIT, got his PhD." Rhythm and blues group Tony! Toni! Toné! mentions MIT in the song "Born Not To Know," from their 1988 debut album Who?. In the song, a pretentious individual rattles off a long list of his impressive academic credentials—culminating with a "Ph. D from MIT"—only to then ask, "so, can I get a job?" Tony! Toni! Toné! responds with a resounding "No!"
"Nerdcore" rap artist MC Hawking's song "All My Shootin's Be Drive-bys" (1997) takes tropes associated with gangsta rap and plays them out in a more academic setting. He speaks of taking revenge for the death of a friend, part of his Cambridge, UK crew:
"Weird Al" Yankovic's "White & Nerdy" (2006) riffs upon MIT, along with a plenitude of other geek culture references — The Star Wars Holiday Special, pocket protectors and editing the Wikipedia, to name a few. Yankovic claims that he graduated "first in [his] class here at MIT"; however, the Institute does not assign class rankings or confer traditional Latin honors upon its graduates.
Over the years, the students and faculty of MIT have produced their own share of musical material. For example, the mathematician and satirist Tom Lehrer taught for a time in MIT's political science department, lecturing on quantitative methods and statistics. This experience led him to write a song called "Sociology", played to the tune of Irving Berlin's "Choreography". The lyrics conclude,
Students have also written their own songs during their tenures at the Institute. This tradition, which goes back at least to The Doormat Singers of the 1960s, continues with several present-day groups.
Maine's Fourth: Where to have a blast ; On July Fourth, Portland will once again host its popular, crowd- pleasing fireworks show.
Jul 05, 2012; Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetodaycom Staff Writer Portland Press Herald (Maine) 07-05-2012 Maine's Fourth: Where to have a...
Kataeb Party marks 3 years since the martyrdom of late Minister Pierre Gemayel amidst an official and popular crowd presence.(Obituary)
Nov 21, 2009; Kataeb Political Party and the Gemayel Family commemorated today 3 years since the assassination of late Minister and Deputy,...