Bad Things To Do Three Thirty Five
MY ROOM in Washington, D.C., where I am sitting now (enjoying air-conditioning and unlimited quantities of Breakstone cottage cheese), is full of junk. Books of baseball statistics, ten-year-old issues of Mad, and half-finished cigarette packs. Crap from phases of my life so distant that I might as well be in a stranger's house. Was this how I lived? (I look around and see at least a dozen pencil sharpeners.) God, who knows anymore.
But if I want clues to how I functioned with all this stuff, I can always turn to my high school yearbooks, neatly stacked on one of my shelves. I went to a large and intellectually shoddy public high school, but somehow we always had a pretty good yearbook. Mine is full of "autographs"-cutesy inscriptions from friends promising a wonderful future and at least two marriages. I don't know where these fellow Woodrow Wilson graduates are these days, but at least I can piece together the never-never-land existence I shared with them once upon a time.
Harvard, too, has a yearbook, and I'm glad it does. Everyone may not share my feelings, but I feel there's a place here for a book which those who so desire can pick up and use to refresh their memories years and decades from now. So, I am more than sorry to point out that Three Thirty Five, this year's example of the genre, is utterly worthless as a chronicle of Harvard's 1970-71. It is neither comprehensive nor interesting. It is also boring past the point of no return.
First things first. For a graduating senior, the most important part of the book will always be the individual pictures of the members of the class, along with the accompanying descriptions of what each senior did here. Three Thirty Five has a section on this, but it is a miserable one. For one thing, all the men were required to wear jackets and ties, thereby draining the personality out of the portraits of a large percentage of the class. Secondly, about one-third of Harvard-Radcliffe '71 (or about 500 classmates) do not even have their photographs in the book-presumably because they did not want to spend the two-and-a-half bucks the yearbook charges for the privilege. To add insult to injury, the yearbook did not bother to print biographies of the half-thousand seniors who did not have their pictures taken. It would perhaps be easier to forgive the rest of the inanities of this opus if it had at least lived up to its basic function of providing a record of the class of '71.
THE foolishness of the rest of Three Thirty-Five is all-pervading. From the table of contents, one can see that it is divided into five sections. Reading the book itself, though, it is generally unclear where different secions begin and end, and this gets at one of Three Thirty Five's major problems: design. For a coffee-table book, which is essentially what a yearbook is, this one is unremittingly ugly. The headline typeface is unattractive and unvarying, as is the body type. Photographs are thrown on the page with only the slightest attention given to notice of esthetic balance. The layout and typography make the thing look not unlike an oversized stockholders' report from a large corporation, and, as such, it provides a grim reminder of graphic art circa 1945. You'd think someone at the yearbook would have noticed recent developments in the field, which are easily accessible in the design of such magazines as New York, Rolling Stone, and, for that matter, the Harvard Alumni Bulletin.
As for content. Three Thirty Five includes a complete record of only one activity: sports. Reading the book, one would hardly know that Harvard has a drama center, film makers, other publications, blacks, or any interesting Faculty. As far as I can tell, the book's motif is patterned after the Whole Earth Catalogue -but, in reality, Three Thirty Five is a tawdry collection of unrelated odds-and-ends.
There is the obligatory Love Story put-down, complete with stale jokes, and the author's defensive bid for us to accept him as a hip sophisticate. ( His stories, he quickly points out, are Humphrey Bogart and Dennis Hopper... whoopee-do!). There's a biography of Nathan Pusey, which explains the "bitter man" as an evangelical rationalist; it is followed by a rogue's gallery of Pusey's administrators that includes some very outdated photographs and uncritical thumbnail biographies (MacGeorge Bundy's "academic speciality was American foreign policy," we are told).
IN THE section called "Good Things To Do"-presumably about extra-curriculiar activities-we get, among other goodies, an article by a first-year B-School student about the unfulfilled promise of the Coop. The other "good things to do" are political campaigning for liberal congressmen, skiing, hitch-hiking, visiting the countryside (illustrated by third-rate Sierra Club-style photographs adorned with Whitman quotes), and the Hasty Pudding Show. This latter good thing is a perfect demonstration of Three Thirty Five's lack of editorial credibility and clarity. I, for one, don't feel that a drag show put on for half-dead alumni deserves space over the worthier enterprises around Cambridge that have been left out of the book (e.g., the women's movement). But, assuming for a moment that the Hasty Pudding Show is representative of an important part of Harvard '70-'71, it is still a waste in this presentation. Six pages of pictures from the show are labelled simply with the word "Rhinestones." Period. There is no copy to relate the simple message that this is the Pudding show we're seeing-or even that the full title of the show was Rhinestones in the Rough -or exactly what the Pudding is-or what the show was about. Since Rhinestone was hardly a hot item, in this year's calvade of Harvard entertainment, one would think that the yearbook would be considerate enough to explain for the uninitiated at least in a cursory fashion the event they've devoted so much space to.
PHOTOGRAPHY is always an important aspect of the yearbook, and Three Thirty Five has a lot of pictures. Most of them demonstrate the adolescent (and elitist) fascination of the Harvard photographer with Middle American and, especially, with fat people and children who carry American flags. There are also shots of people sitting on beds and the aforementioned odes to Nature. There are very few photos, relatively speaking, of scenes around Harvard; many of those that are there do not have people in them (e.g., the section entitled "Pusey the Builder").
Near the end of Three Thirty Five there are aspirations to the higher reaches of the imagination in a section called "Fantasia," which is illustrated with cartoons that are dull imitations of Don Martin and the "Wizard of Id." The high point of the book is here, a very decent and troubled look at four years at Harvard by a senior named Alex Swistel. So is the low point, a piece called "On Love" by someone named Anne Segal who shares with us an alleged Harvard student's musing on that all-important subject. The author approvingly quotes her friend as saying, among other embarrassing maxims, that "It's hard for you to imagine, when you're in love, ever being in love with anybody else." So, I guess, it is-but, if you're in the market for this kind of drivel, you might as well dig out your high school yearbook and get the real thing.