Build Your Own Rumor Mill
Those of us who watched Monica Lewinsky's interview on 20/20 last week were treated to a series of denials about various aspects of her personal life and affairs. There have been rumors circulating about her, Lewinsky insists, that are simply untrue.
An objective viewer might respond to Lewinsky's claim with a shrug of the shoulders. A more skeptical viewer might have doubted it as much as she doubted the so-called "rumors" themselves. But if you're not just an objective or skeptical viewer, but a genuinely imaginative one, then perhaps another thought crossed your mind: Where did those "rumors" come from? Who started them? Why were they believed? And, if that many people really do believe rumors, couldn't you have started one too?
If you've ever been fooled by a false rumor, you know that the strongest impulse is to build your own rumor mill, preferably out of common household items. So why not start a local Harvard rumor? Not a rumor about an individual, of course, since that would be far too simple for skeptics to confirm or deny--and if it ever got back that you were the one who started the rumor, it could mean trouble for you indeed. No, if you're going to start a rumor, don't just make it gossip. Make it legendary.
Starting a believable rumor is much easier than the web of idiocy spawned by such rumors would imply. Rumors succeed because even the most brilliant people are surprisingly unskeptical, particularly if the rumor bases itself on a premise that one should be skeptical of something else. It's simple. All you have to do is sit down in some very large survey class and start talking to a friend, softly enough so that it's clear you don't intend to be overheard but loudly enough so that you know you will be, about how of course the administration likes to tell everyone that housing assignments for first-year blocking groups are completely random, but since it's a known fact that more people are graduating this year from Pforzheimer. Cabot and Currier Houses than from any of the other Houses, the computer program that assigns housing this year will automatically select out blocking groups with 12 or more people and make those groups five times more likely to be placed in the Quad. Then sit back and enjoy the show.
By including "facts" (like the size of the graduating class in Currier House) that are so easy to determine that no one in their right mind would lie about them, then juxtaposing them with the latent skepticism that all students mindlessly direct toward the administration, and then coupling them with a bogus "computer program" whose workings are sufficiently ambiguous, you have just started a rumor that requires no more effort from you whatsoever. Before you can say "I'm not sure if it's true, but..." at least four hundred students will start looking for ways to cut those extra five people out of their blocking groups, destroying friendships and wreaking irreparable heartbreak all over Harvard Yard. You've just condemned scores of 18-year-olds to rejection by their closest friends, just by opening your mouth in class. Fun, ain't it?
That said, one of the following rumors is true. Can you guess which one? As for the rest of them, well, let's just say I didn't make them up. (That doesn't mean, of course, that somebody else didn't.)
As the pre-law junkies among us are probably aware, Harvard Law School suffers from the lowest student satisfaction rate of any law school in the nation. To brighten its image, the school has hired McKinsey to determine its own real customer satisfaction rate. Four full-time consultants have been hired on a two-year fact-finding mission to collect "objective and systematic" data on why the Law School has failed its students of late. If you don't believe it, check out their office on the second floor of Hauser Hall.
The sixth digit in your Harvard ID number indicates your projected academic rank, as determined by the admissions office upon your acceptance. Since the admissions office must by definition select 800 students each year to form the bottom half of the class, administrators try to predict student performance, keeping careful tabs on actual performance to maintain its impressively high accuracy in such predictions. The fifth digit in your Harvard ID number indicates whether you were home-schooled.
During Pre-Frosh Weekend in 1995, two Harvard Medical School students lured a prospective College student to a party near the Longwood campus. Slipping heavy sedatives into the prefrosh's drink, the physicians-in-training then dragged him to a laboratory classroom, removed his kidneys for sale to an illegal organ-donation agent, and placed his kidney-less body in a bathtub packed with ice in a motel room in Allston. The unsuspecting high school senior woke up just in time to follow the instructions, written in lipstick on his chest: "Call 9-1-1 or you will die." The two medical students were promptly expelled and later convicted in Massachusetts state court. But for fear of bad publicity, various administrators at the Medical School wrote up the story in the form of an unsigned and unbelievable-sounding e-mail message, which they then circulated to several thousand randomly-selected America Online and university domain-name addresses nationwide. The story lives on today only as legend.
Don't believe everything you hear.
Dara Horn is a literature concentrator in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.