Post Academic


Fake academics on TV and in the movies

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on October 17, 2010
Tags: , , , , ,

So didya know that Drew Barrymore plays a grad student in her latest movie, Going the Distance, which assumes you knew that such a film existed?  I have nothing against Drew Barrymore or anything, but “grad student” doesn’t really come to mind when you think of her, does it?  Apparently, she plays a Stanford journalism grad student in a long-distance relationship, the latter of which, oddly enough, doesn’t seem that far-fetched a premise, considering that is actually something folks deal with.  Apparently, though, the film has been a box-office bust and not a critically well-received one, either.  I haven’t seen the film, don’t plan on seeing it, and I’m betting it won’t make it on “The Alcoholic Horndog” series, so you could check out this blog post on it instead.  But we do learn two things: 1. film plots that involve grad school life too centrally aren’t very popular and 2. Drew Barrymore really wants to be a J-School grad — didn’t she play one in Never Been Kissed, too?

Anyway, it got me thinking about other fake academics in TV and film, though I’ll have to rely on my sketchy memory of these things.  This could become a mini-series along the lines of Academic Horndog, if you, our readers, can help us brainstorm…

Ross Geller from Friends (played by David Schwimmer): Ugh–I was never a Friends fan, and the fact that Schwimmer’s character was some kind of prof really irked me.  I never watched the show enough to follow what was going on, except that he was an archeologist (paleontologist), so I’ll have to quote the hilarious Wiki entry about the Ross character’s occupation as a Prof:

Ross later works as a professor at New York University and causes a stir among his colleagues by dating one of his students, Elizabeth. Eventually, he is given tenure, despite that fact that his papers (including a publication on sediment flow rates) are supposedly widely discredited, forgetting a class once, boring his students to sleep and occasionally giving grades without even looking at students’ work.

Awesome!  So Geller gets tenure despite being a horndog, probably getting bad teaching evals, and being a crap scholar.  Hmm…maybe that hits too close to home for some, since I bet we’d like to imagine some tenured folks we know are guilty of all the above, huh?

Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford): With all the swashbuckling in the Indiana Jones movies, it’s easy to forget that Dr. Jones was supposed to be an archeology prof by trade.  According to Wiki, he taught at a fictional college called Marshall College in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I don’t know, the movies don’t really play up the academia angle so much and the ’80s Ford was probably too hunky to be a geek, but you can’t tell me you didn’t feel like jumping out your window during office hours with long line waiting outside your door.  Except your queue probably wasn’t swooning in the hallway waiting to be in the presence of your hot self.

Roger and Virginia Clarvin, AKA “The Lov-ahs”, from SNL (Played by Will Ferrell and Rachel Dratch): Maybe my friends and I were the only ones who thought these semi-recurring characters were great, but remember how Ferrell and Dratch played past-their-primes (in many ways) fifty-something ex-hippies/ex-swingers who loved hot-tubbing on early 2000s SNLs?  You know, they were the ones who called each other “Lov-ah”, usually grossing out random guests like new faculty and other straight-laced folks by hamming up memories of overindulgent sexcapades involving leg of lamb and baklava, if I remember correctly.  Ferrell was definitely the more memorable character with a totally prof-like wardrobe and beard, but Dratch totally reminded me of a real-life prof — you Anteaters reading this might know exactly whom I’m talking about too.  Anyway, lechery, beards, reliving past glories, bad poetry, awkward get-togethers all make for a pretty good facsimile of academic life.  If only they could’ve worked in a Trader Joe’s tout…

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7 Responses to 'Fake academics on TV and in the movies'

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  1. Hey, as the token stylish blonde who still managed to get a PhD, I must object to your prejudicial statement about Drew Barrymore — why shouldn’t she be conceivable as a grad student? Oh, wait, it must be because she has a lot of money 😉

    Otherwise I agree entirely. The whole Ross debacle was pretty bad, and being in a field near archaeology I can testify that there is a lot of love/hate for Indy “professorial” standing.

    • Arnold Pan said,

      You’re right, WorPro, that the post is totally prejudicial, but I think Hollywood actors in general are the demographic we’re slighting here! (Or maybe it’s just that they are more blonde…) With Drew Barrymore in particular, it’s the fact that it’s not clear that she’s ever even gone to any school — how old was she when she in E.T.? — that makes it difficult for me to suspend my disbelief. And yeah, money and lifestyle come into play. I can already visualize the unrealistic two-bedroom apartment in SF Drew lives in that passes for slumming in the movies, kinda like how every college kid on a TV show gets a roomy single.

      That got me thinking: Which actors (besides, of course, James Franco and some schlubby indie type) can we imagine as convincing grad students or profs, if that was worth hypothesizing about? You know Michael Cera is already in production for Ph.D. Comics, The Movie!


  2. True, they never get grad school poverty right. I’m not sure who I’d pick…there an unfortunate number of Michael Caine wannabes in my former profession, but I think I’d want something more subtly menacing. More Lecter-esque. And for grad students, I think a lot of the schlubby dudes from the Apatow juggernaut would work.

  3. Rachelle said,

    John & Joan Cusack could be profs. Science or geography for John. Economics for Joan.

    Lena Olin reminds me of a Kid Lit prof I had as an undergrad. Or law, if you dress her up a bit.

    The entire cast of Six Feet Under, including Ed Begley Jr (Hiram – Philosophy), Frances Conroy (Ruth – ESL), Patricia Clarkson (Ruth’s sister – Law or Commerce), Rainn Wilson (Arthur – Physics), Freddy Rodriguez (Rico – biology), Lauren Ambrose (Lauren – Culture Studies), Rachel Griffiths (Brenda – Neuroscience).

    I’m a bit stumped for a math prof. I’d say Maury Chaikin, but he died.


  4. […] Professors On the Edge sucks pretty hard — too soap-y, not scary enough. On the heels of PostAcademic’s post, we’ll even let people suggest actors (a big no-no in the world of scriptwriting). And this […]

  5. BGE said,

    I have just seen the worst movie about college professors ever: Tenure, starring Luke Wilson. Nothing about it rings true. (I know a little bit about academia, with eight years of grad school in two different universities under my belt.) It gets everything wrong. Examples: A professor up for tenure who shows up at work in a track suit with the school logo to show spirit. Professors who toilet paper a dean’s front yard as a prank and who get involved in an herbal supplement sales scheme. It’s a series of unfunny comedy hijinks grafted onto a campus setting.

    The best movie on academia: Krippendorf’s Tribe, starring Richard Dreyfuss.


    • Oooh … we reviewed “Tenure.” It got a lot wrong, indeed, but it sure did capture the sense of desperation!

      Thanks for the tip on “Krippendorf’s Tribe.” I hadn’t thought of that one … I’m already intrigued by the IMDB description involving “mis-use of grant money.”


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