May 5, 2010

TV Cannot Capture College … And Maybe It Should Stay That Way

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TV cannot manage to get college right. Flashback to my youth (the start of TV shows failing to capture college and the college process correctly) and a fascinating episode of Saved By The Bell where Zack Morris (swoon) does surprisingly well on his SATs, receiving an astonishing 1502. Um, I don’t know about the SATs you took, but all of my scores came with nice even numbers with zeroes at the end.

After Zack aced the SATs he went off to film Saved by the Bell: The College Years that flopped after one season. I watched — obviously — and what I can remember doesn’t seem all that logical. For one, the boys and the girls all lived in one dorm room with a common area. How convenient for the show and progressive of California University (other schools are finally following suit) but it was certainly nothing I experienced here at Cornell.

I also remember an affair between Kelly (who should have been with Zack) and her professor. I remember thinking that this had to be the norm on college campuses. And while this possibly realistic, I can’t say I know anyone who has had a scandalous affair like that. The other odd thing I remember about this show was a dorm advisor / RA character who was incredibly involved with the students’ lives. My RA was nonexistent and when she did appear it was to yell at us to shut up. We were not friends. Maybe that was just Balch…somehow I doubt that though.

This phenomenon of TV shows failing to capture college years is not unique to Saved by the Bell. Don’t even get me started about the downward spiral of The O.C. post-graduation. Currently Gossip Girl is doing a miserable job of showing its viewers the best four years of your life. The show should have done like One Tree Hill which was forced to make a jump from high school and ended up fast forwarding their characters to the age of 22. Gossip Girl could have had a lot of success with this move.

Looking at the unrealistic factors in Gossip Girl — Serena van der Woodsen doesn’t even go to college? Hello — she is the daughter of a Columbia alum and got into Brown! Not exactly bum material … but she has no job and despite stints in politics and PR seems to do nothing more than hang out with her boyfriend Nate. And while you can’t blame her, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Blair Waldorf, ever the overachiever doesn’t even speak about NYU other than complaining about it. Not to mention the fact that it is weird that she goes there in general. There are far more schools between NYU and Yale (rejected!) that would have been a better fit. Dan and Vanessa seem to be the only ones concerned with school, but even they don’t do that much. Chuck is running a company without any higher education, something that baffles my mind. How the board of directors allowed this I’ll never understand. I guess that’s the magic and mystery of television.

Finally Nate, who goes to Columbia and plays on the lacrosse team seems to never go to class or practice. College athletes, is it really like that? I didn’t think so. And now Blair is transferring to Columbia because of Chuck applying on behalf of her. Definitely realistic.

OK so maybe watching Chuck struggle through a Freshman Writing Seminar wouldn’t be the most interesting thing in the world. And as aesthetically pleasing as watching Nate practice lacrosse, preferably shirtless, would be, it might make viewers a little bored. But watching Blair navigate through a legitimate fraternity party would be hilarious. Do TV writers think college is boring? Or is it in actuality too risqué for their audience? In a world where just about anything merits a TV-14 rating, can the realities of college not only be difficult to captured by writers who forgot the best four years of their life, but inappropriate for the bigwigs at the major networks?

MTV made a valiant attempt at capturing college with their reality shows in the early 2000s — Sorority Life and Fraternity Life. The shows led to disciplinary action for many Greek houses on the shows — both schools on Fraternity Life received disciplinary action from their respective schools (University of Buffalo and UC Santa Cruz) — and the show inevitably led to some bad PR for the schools. No wonder they didn’t last long. Fraternity Life lasted two seasons, whereas Sorority Life lasted three seasons, but angered a lot of people during that time.

In Alexandra Robbins’ book Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities she explains:

“The show had infuriated sororities nationwide, who believed that MTV had overly sensationalized life in a sorority house and concentrated only on the girls’ drinking and catty fights. ‘Because of the MTV show,’ the executive director told me, ‘all of the national sororities have decided on a blanket policy not to cooperate with any members of the media. It’s just not appropriate at this time.’”

So then there is the factor of lots of organizations — the NCAA, Panhellenic, the Interfraternity Council, the universities themselves — not wanting their precious institutions to be exposed.

This is just one factor that contributes to the continual struggle with major television shows to properly capture this amazing time. So maybe you just have to experience it to understand. No show could have captured my experience these last four years.

So while this isn’t my last blog, it makes me incredibly sentimental about my four years at Cornell, which truly are un-capture-able. From my first Orientation Week to the upcoming Senior Week — with the good and the bad, everything from sorority rush, compet at The Sun, Slope Days, Statler salad in between class, rushing with my roommates and friend to finish everything on the 161 list, wine tours, living in Balch Hall to making the Olin-Uris migration on rough studying nights — I know for certain that nothing could have properly shown the world what an amazing time I had here. So to everyone who made all of the experiences above happen, enhanced my experience at Cornell and who made me the person I am today, thank you; you know who you are. I am the luckiest.

I don’t need a television show to remind me of my time at Cornell — so to the shows scratching their heads on what to do after the cast graduates, fast forward them to 22 if you can. It kept One Tree Hill going this whole time, and that is quite a feat …

Original Author: Cara Sprunk