The NU Catalog: Anonymity behind celebrity

    If you still don’t know the Instagram account @thenucatalog, check it out. It could be your closest shot at becoming a campus celebrity.

    Created by an anonymous Northwestern student on Aug. 25, 2015, the account features photographs of students on campus with uplifting descriptions of them. According to the account’s description, it aims to “celebrate notable Northwestern students” in the face of what can be a competitive, critical environment.

    “At Northwestern we often don’t celebrate each other enough,” the account owner said in an anonymous interview over Instagram direct messages.

    Students submit photos of their friends that they would like to appear on the account simply by sending a direct message with the photo and three descriptors, mostly compliments, of the student pictured. The entry then joins the rest in the catalog, viewed by 2571 followers – more followers than the Wildcat Welcome Instagram.

    Though this phenomenon is sweeping campus, the owner of the account intentionally remains a mystery.

    “Ultimately, who I am is the part that matters the least about this account,” the account holder said. “In fact, it bothers me when people talk about that.”

    The owner said anonymity is the account’s biggest strength. People receive compliments on their photos, yet are left to imagine who the kind words come from.

    “Knowing the source of a compliment allows you to dilute it in your mind through rationalization, or possibly even dismiss it,” the account holder said.

    The owner purposely made all photos black and white to make them more visually pleasing and hopes that the monochromatic tone creates a sense of unity and community when viewers scroll through posts.

    “I get kind notes from people via direct message, and I see that as a symptom of positive impact,” the owner said. “I treasure those messages.”

    The account owner chose Stephen Colbert as the profile picture because he is “alumni royalty.”

    “I also wanted to associate the account with the idea of celebrity so as to imply importance and inspire celebration,” the owner said. “I want it to be exciting when you get posted.”

    Many people have submitted photos about students going through hard times, and a post about them on @thenucatalog could make someone’s day, the owner said.

    So far, only one person has nominated herself on The NU Catalog, accompanying her photo with the descriptions, “very humble,” “puts others before herself” and “antonym of conceited.”

    Sometimes students use the account to poke a little bit of fun at their peers. Three friends of SESP senior Shane Mulhern sent in a photo of him accompanied by one word, three times: “baseball.” Not surprisingly, the photo featured Mulhern wearing a baseball uniform on a baseball field.

    Other photos describe students featured as “Lowkey the best friend you could ask for,” “A beautiful soul,” “The best person to dance with to old Disney songs” and “Friendlier than puppies.”

    Although the account is associated with celebrity, the owner was surprised at how fast it was catapulted to campus fame.

    “I see posts about The NU Catalog on Yik Yak, and I hear conversations on Sheridan; I can communicate to a quarter of campus in an instant.”

    And yet no one suspects the account owner’s identity.

    “I’ll continue to walk among everyone anonymously,” the student said. “It’s not about me; it’s about you.”


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