I was in a bar recently when the World's Strongest Man competition came on television. For those who have never seen this world-class event, hulking men with names like Ab Sanders and Magnus Ver Magnusson prove their might by pulling several-ton tractors across snowy fields, hurling boulders and performing other Herculean feats. As I sat on my uncomfortable bar stool, I thought about all the scintillating drama I was missing by not having cable television in my dorm room.
To be able to put ass to cushion and finger to channel-changer flip through nearly 100 channels is as American as apple pie. Cable Television is a staple in nearly every household and college dorm room in America. Why should the Harvard houses be the exception? Every Harvard resident should be able to watch Ab and Magnus hoist compact cars over their heads or buy a limited edition Joan Rivers hairpin on the Home Shopping Network. Fiddling with the antenna for five channels went out of style with the rotary phone and leaded gasoline.
Having cable television in dorm rooms would offer more than the chance to watch World's Strongest Man Competition in bed. Some of the cable channels and programs are worth watching. There are quality film channels like Bravo and the Independent Film Channel, educational channels like the History and Discovery channels and several 24-hour sports and news channels.
But even if cable TV aired only mind-numbing drivel, students should still have the choice to waste their time. Harvard should not deny students cable based upon what they think of the quality of the programming. Such paternalism is not the administration's role. More importantly, a cable wire to every dorm room at Harvard would provide a great opportunity for media-inclined Harvard students to inform and entertain their colleagues through television.
Harvard-Radcliffe Media Network (HRMN), an organization relatively few students on campus know about, produces several television shows, including a news magazine program, a sketch comedy show and a Harvard-based soap opera. These program, are screened at Loker Commons once every few weeks to a small crowd, but HRMN's programs should be broadcast. Cable wiring would give HRMN (formerly HRTV) the opportunity to broadcast their television shows to thousands of students instead of a few dozen. With this sort of exposure and airtime, Harvard's television production organization could reach out to provide opportunity for more people interested in media.
In addition to broadcasting student-run television shows, the 24 hours of potential programming time could also be used to broadcast Harvard sporting events, UC meetings, IOP and other on-campus lectures, student films and announcements, to name a few. Television is still the world's most powerful medium of communication and could become another outlet for Harvard students' creativity and interest. It should not have to take Conan O'Brien to put Harvard on the airwaves.
Cable-wiring the houses would also prepare Harvard for the future of communications technology. Soon, the appliances we consider to be separate technological entities--the television, the VCR, the computer, the telephone, and the fax machine--will condense into one "super-appliance." This tele-compu-video-fax-phone will change technology so that all tele-communications, from logging on to the Internet to talking on the telephone to receiving cable television, will take place through a new type of fiber-optic cable wire now being laid by cable and telephone companies. Laying this cable wire would provide students with cable television now while keeping Harvard ahead of the technological times.
The lack of cable TV in Harvard's dorm rooms is indicative of the administration's comprehension problem when it comes to student quality of living. Facilities such as the MAC, with its decrepit weight room and lack of basketball court space, and Loker Commons, which failed as a student union, show how far out of touch the administration often is with how students wish to use their leisure time. Administrators do not seem to understand how much students enjoy being able to hang out in a comfortable union or work out in a nice gym. Providing cable television would give students another way to use their leisure time.
Cable television is a pleasure that the University should provide. Many students want to take a break from their busy days to watch HBO, ESPN, Encore or Comedy Central. Or maybe even the Harvard Channel.
Marshall I. Lewy '99 is a Crimson editor living in Leverett House.