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The perils of total TV (Feb. 1999)

Every new year at Yale brings some sort of change to undergraduate life. Some changes, like the decision to limit the number of courses an undergraduate can take with the credit/D/fail grading option, are more significant than others, like the reappearance of grapes in the dining hall this year after a four-year absence. However, next to coeducation, I can think of no change that has shaken the foundation of life at Yale more than the advent of cable TV in student rooms.

When it comes to cable, Yalies have divided themselves into two groups: the hardcore watchers, for whom the TV has become another roommate; and the less crazed among us who are just happy to finally have a decent picture. Certain suites of undergraduates have engaged in the kind of soul-searching that would make any existentialist philosopher proud as they try to decide whether to stick with the basic service package or ante up extra money for the extended service, which includes sports and movie channels. (Seniors who should be working on their senior essays or writing cover letters to potential employers get the extra channels.)

Perhaps as a defense against receiving an avalanche of phone calls from irate, tuition-paying parents concerned that too much TV will rot their children’s brains, the University wisely included seven Yale-only channels in the cable package for educational purposes. So far, these channels carry news programs and instructional videos used by introductory foreign-language classes. In an unscientific study taken among my friends studying languages, it has become clear that only two Yale students actually watch these channels—and they should study their vocabulary cards harder, because they report not having the foggiest idea what the people in these programs are saying.

One odd result of the cable TV revolution is that college common rooms and TV rooms, which formerly were packed with students and resounded with the kind of background noises that arose when 50 undergraduates would get together to watch the World Series while discussing the implications of Nietzsche’s conception of morality, are now eerily quiet. Formerly the locus of much of college life, common rooms have suffered from the average Yalie’s desire for instant TV gratification that cable can satisfy more easily. The college-wide Melrose Place study break is no more—some undergraduates prefer watching the History Channel in their own rooms instead.

Since I live in my college’s annex space, I had to wait, in some agony, about a month into the school year to have my cable installed. Three days later, I turned on my TV, flipped through nearly 60 channels (including the one that shows foreign-language videos), and could not find anything worth watching.

Oh well, there’s always my senior essay.

Filed under television, 1990s
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