Emerson College's student newspaper

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College's student newspaper

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College's student newspaper

The Berkeley Beacon

Forsake minimalism, embrace the Max

The+Maximilian+Mutchnick+Cafe.
Photo: Ashlyn Wang
The Maximilian Mutchnick Cafe.

The Max, formally the Maximilian Mutchnick Cafe, underwent its now-infamous remodel over the summer. Gone are the homely red tile, oil-slick couches, and lived-in decor, replaced with abject minimalism and Bezosian interior design.

The Max’s walls have been stripped of their charm, left ghost white. Gone too are its sight and sound partitions, leaving patrons to endure everyone else’s conversation and mastication at once. It’s like being naked. Eating at the Max and listening to freshmen chow down on grease makes my breakfast sandwich taste like profound sadness.

To the disdain of condiment enjoyers, the communal sauces have been restricted from the masses. If you want ketchup, they conveniently sell it for $5.89.

As a rare defender of the Dining Hall, I rue the day when its walls run white. Color is the essence of life. Architecture without texture is morose. The blank walls feel unfinished, and its dining experience seems like an afterthought. The Max is different now and its walls are banal and everything sucks.

But change is inevitable. There’s already a creed of students (freshmen) who have never eaten at the “old Max,” and believe it was always a hospital food court. They may even love the Max for its genuinely valuable amenities—being open late at night, facile fast food offerings, meal swipe capabilities—without ever considering what the Max was or could be.

However, change is not an inherent good—progress is. The changes to the Max fall somewhere in the ballpark between mildly controversial and utterly inconsequential. These modifications point to Emerson dining locations’ foray into nonsense.

Next thing we know, the Max employees are replaced with robots. First a cook is going to lose their hand in the chicken griddle and return from the backroom with a bionic hand. Then burgers are being flipped at threefold the rate—it’s a slippery technological slope from there.

There has been a lot of fearmongering lately about the prospect of AI. It helps that AI has no set definition, especially not colloquially. Under the umbrella: the Photoshop magic wand, Ken from Street Fighter, and the program that beat Garry Kasparov in the 90s.

It’s easy to point our fleshy fingers at AI boogeymen, since so much of popular media positions them as humanity’s most imminent threat. Fear of manmade men goes back before the advent of computer science—a straight line from Mary Shelley to James Cameron.

But to the media illiterate, these parables about man’s tendency to destroy itself informs technophobic and anti-progress viewpoints. These same functions negatively connote the word “radical” and allow the world to complacently slide into disrepair.

Machine learning programs are not a pressing threat to the state of human affairs. Nor are they the saviors that Silicon Valley lackeys purport them to be. They are a distraction from real issues we need to think about.

In four years, this is the Max. In ten years, all currently-human Max employees are robots. And every unsober late-night conversation and greasy portion of grub shared will never have occurred once all participants are gone.

Think about it. Old world philosophers were only ever faced with conceptual fears. Their philosophies were informed by the rarefied facts of death and god and the cosmos, framing their ideas around that agnosticism. They lived for the prospect of legacy, and the lucky ones died and earned it.

Today’s patrons of the Max are faced with tangible threats on human civilization, whether wittingly or not. One poorly cooked chicken finger and the Max will have to be rebuilt from the ashes.

The truth is no one wants to think about the climate crisis or the state of nuclear affairs, as pertinent as these issues are. We want to consume grease. The Max is greasy in spades, but more importantly it is localized. When effective change is out of reach, we change the facilities at hand, making insipid and unnecessary modifications to perform progress.

The cynic’s take on the Max renovation is that it’s a feeble attempt to impress investors, an overt indication that change is happening and that the school is moving in any direction at all. To relive the glory of the 2019 Little Building project, the Emerson Mafia moves their ambitions to new ventures, even if no one benefits from them.

Sure, the Max seats more people now and robot workers might be more efficient than humans. Sure, the design is “modern” and “functional” and “investors” will like it. But now I can’t have my burgers with mayonnaise, and before I die I want to experience the sauces of life.

Ultimately, the Max was never real. Like Joni Mitchell said, we’re all living on nerves and feelings. The only real things are the human connections we make and the emotions those people make us feel. Spend some time with the people in the Max, and stop thinking about its walls.

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About the Contributor
Ryan Yau, Assistant Living Arts Editor
Ryan Yau (he/him) is a first-year journalism major from Hong Kong. He writes and edits for the Living Arts section, normally feature stories on artists and arts events in Boston, usually film-related. Occasionally he has an opinion. He recreationally play saxophone.

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