Web Exclusives:On the Campus...

August 7, 2001:
Audio visual on my mind
Life without TV is like going to school at PU. Thank goodness for the Garden.

By Kate Swearengen

The Garden movie theater is back in business, and it's about time. With the exception of a trip to South Brunswick to see Charlie's Angels, I spent my freshman year of college drowning in a sea of print media, relieved only by the occasional Japanese-subtitled, Internet-downloaded bootleg.

Now, of course, things have changed. It's summer, and I've making up for the nine months of movies that I missed during the school year. Memento. The Steven Spielberg movie about the robots. Caddyshack, on videocassette. And lots of Monty Python.

You see, Princeton has made me smarter. It's given me new friends, not to mention a new appreciation for corn-fed Midwestern boys. Sadly, it hasn't allowed me to maintain the level of cultural literacy to which I am accustomed. Sure, it's great to live on a campus that houses a Picasso sculpture and Toni Morrison. But where's the multiplex?

It would be disingenuous to give the impression that I saw only one movie last year. After all, the University Film Organization regularly screened movies at the Frist theater, but they just weren't the same. For one thing, the films were heavily subsidized by the Trustees' Alcohol Initiative, which meant that if you wanted to see a movie on Thursday or Saturday night, you had to wait until 11:30 p.m. I've been told that this measure was designed to restrict the time that students spend drinking; in reality, it requires Street-goers to condense five hours' worth of drinking into three. Moreover, popcorn isn't served at the Frist theater. That's the biggest blow to the American cinema tradition since the Ragtag Cinema, an art house theater in my hometown, replaced Milk Duds with hummus-and-focaccia.

Happily, now that the Garden is making its glorious return, all this is in the past. Yet, while a $7 movie ticket may buy happiness, it won't necessarily bring me up to speed with the goings-on outside the FitzRandolph gate. For that, I'll need a television.

I know, I know. I should read the newspaper, right? Having grown up in a university town and having lived in Princeton for a year, I can confirm that these places are filled with the kind of people who drive around with "Kill Your Television" bumper stickers on the backs of their Volvos. Well, I have a subscription to the New York Times, but by the end of the day, Section A is sopping up grease from a Zorba's gyro, and I still don't know what's going on in the Balkans.

I tried explaining this to my friend Nate a couple of days ago, but he wouldn't have any of it. A film student at NYU, Nate evinces a surprising lack of regard for television, the demigod of the audiovisual hierarchy.

"It's not just the movies," I said. "I'm completely reliant on audiovisual stimulation. I need television. Without it, I feel cut off from the rest of the world."

I explained to him that the whole thing had really begun when I was eight years old. Brought up on a steady diet of CNN, it was only natural that I would become smitten with Larry King. Never mind that he had already been married four times, or that he was consistently upstaged by Kermit-the-Frog during his annual interview with the green puppet. Larry King was golden, and although that attraction eventually dissipated, my love affair with television continued.

"It's interesting that you say that," Nate told me. "I'm reading Amusing Ourselves To Death, by Neil Postman. It's about how society has forsaken print media for movies and television. This is it, Kate. I'm giving up television for good."

"Even the WB?" I asked, referring to the popular network. "You told me a couple of weeks ago that you were finding Jungian themes in Buffy The Vampire Slayer."

"Especially the WB," Nate said. "No TV at all."

Nate says that I should give it up too. I'm not so sure, though. He may have a point, but then again, he may not. After all, this is the guy who's trying to make a living by playing chess for money in Washington Square Park.

Eager to solicit another opinion, I questioned Sam, a student in my summer microbiology class. Sam is an EMT, as well as a self-avowed movie and television addict. He works more than 60 hours a week, lives without air-conditioning, gets only three hours of sleep a night, and bitterly resents that these factors impose severe restrictions on his free time.

"What did you think of that special on plastic surgery?" I asked him. "I couldn't believe that woman had 11 nose jobs."

"I didn't get to see it," Sam said. "I had to work overtime this weekend. A woman rolled her car out on the Interstate, and when the roof came off, it sliced off the top of her head."

"Ugh," I said. "Did you have to pull her out?"

"No," Sam said. "I had to look for her brain. It was lying off the shoulder, about 50 yards back."

"That's amazing," I said. "It was still intact?"

"Yeah," said Sam. "Vivid, huh?"

Indeed. I figure that if Sam can deal with disembodied brains, I can improve mine by going another six semesters without a television set. In all honesty, the sacrifice won't be so great, as the prospect of having a movie theater in Princeton will compensate for whatever I'm missing on the networks. Now, if only the Garden theater were just a little closer to campus! At times such as these, I regret that I missed the May submission deadline for the Trustees' Alcohol Initiative "Rethink the Street" campaign. Personally, I think that razing Elm Club and installing a movie theater in its place would be a nice touch. Don't you?

You can reach Kate at kswearen@princeton.edu