Post Academic


From US Magazine’s 25 Smartest Stars list

Coming on the heels of the great comments and suggestions for actors as fake academics, I was tipped to US Magazine‘s list of “25 Smartest Stars”.  Sorry, Rachelle, it doesn’t look like any Cusacks or members of the Six Feet Under cast made it, but the list basically includes any celeb that went to an Ivy League school, plus business smarts types, as if bank was a sign of intelligence.  We’re not reproducing the whole list because who really cares that John Krasinski and Masi Oka went to Brown or that US thinks Bono, Jay-Z, Will Smith are whizzes because they’re media moguls or that Alicia Keys was a valedictorian in high school.  Then there the obvious picks that everyone would guess, like Jodie Foster (Yale alum), Meryl Streep (the best actress, like, ever), Matt Damon (went to Harvard), Ben Affleck (because Matt Damon is on the list), and so on.  Instead, we’re listing a few highlights below:

"A Ford Escape Hybrid and David Duchovny" by Ford Motor Company (Creative Commons license)

David Duchovny (US reason: “Princeton and Yale graduate”) — Yeah, this one is pretty good for real and fake reasons.  This reminds me how a friend and I once skimmed a copy a X-Files fan bio that describes how the future Fox Mulder was a grad student at Yale studying with J. Hillis Miller–now that’s some kinda detail for pulp paperback.  If you look him up his Wiki page, it explains that his undergrad thesis was titled “The Schizophrenic Critique of Pure Reason in Beckett’s Early Novels” and that he was working on a diss called Magic and Technology in Contemporary Poetry and Prose at Yale.  James Franco ain’t got nothing on him!

As for the fake academic angle, doesn’t his character in Californication play a sex-addicted writer who’s also prof of some sort?  (I wouldn’t know, since I don’t have pay cable and haven’t seen the show.)  So maybe the show is a case of art imitating reality in more than one way.  I want to believe!

Dolph Lundgren (US reason: “awarded Fulbright scholarship”) — Post Academic readers know this already, but it’s good that Drago gets his props.

More smart stars below the fold…

John Lithgow (US reason: “Harvard, class of 1967”) — Lithgow is obviously a great acting talent who’s won awards in dramas, comedies, musicals, which alone would make him smarter than the average Hollywood bear.  But didya know that he’s probably not even the brains in his family, since he’s married to UCLA Econ Prof Mary Yeager?  He could definitely play a prof and an alien serial killer one on a Broadway stage at that.

"Mayim Bialik at the rehearsal for the 1989 Academy Awards" by Alan Light (Creative Commons license)

Mayim “Blossom” Bialik (US reason: “PhD in neuroscience, UCLA, class of 2007”) — That’s right, Blossom is a brain scientist!  And according to her Wiki page, she’s totally a Post Academic, deciding not to go in academia after getting her Ph.D.  But Blossom charting on the smartest peeps list is totally a slight of Winnie Cooper from Wonder Years, Danica McKellar, who has a mathematical theorem named after her (the Chayes-McKellar-Winn theorem) for her work as a standout undergrad at UCLA.  Maybe there should be a sitcom or even reality show about late eighties/early nineties child stars as grown-up geeks; after all, McKellar’s co-star Fred Savage went to Stanford too.

Natalie Portman (US reason: “Harvard, class of 2003”) — What list of smartest celebs is complete without she of double consciousness?  We mentioned this way, way back, and my inclination as an academic and someone who has written on and taught Du Bois would be to snark for her using the concept of double consciousness to describe her own overexposed celebrity status.  Here’s what I could dig up about the context for the now-infamous 2004 Allure interview:

In an interview published in the August issue of Allure, the “Closer” star described how growing up on the big screen had made her self-conscious, declaring, “I was reading [African-American sociologist] W.E.B. DuBois’s stuff in school, and I was like ‘Oh my God! I’m not black, but I know what it feels like!'”

This prompted what seemed to be a heartfelt apology that strikes me as a case of digging a deeper ditch for herself:

According to the actress, “The ‘it’ I was referring to when I said, ‘I know what it feels like,’ was not intended to signify that I know ‘how black people feel,’ but rather that I know what DuBois’s concept of double-consciousness feels like, in variation. Had my quote included what I actually said preceding that statement, perhaps my meaning would have been clearer.”

In my mind, it’s tough to separate what Du Bois is explaining from the historical and social contexts in which he is writing and a real stretch to generalize it to explain how someone feels “self-conscious” every time s/he is looked at.  But I’m gonna stop here before I get nostalgic for teaching.  While it’s hard not to see what Portman is saying as anything but pompous, maybe we could cut her slack for youthful exuberance, since couldn’t you totally see her like an undergrad student earnestly trying to apply what s/he’s learned from class to something else?  It’s just that the something else in this case seems somewhat banal.  Oh well, she gets points for referring to Du Bois, which is probably what got her on this list actually.

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3 Responses to 'From US Magazine’s 25 Smartest Stars list'

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  1. Oh, yeah, I had a prof who was at Yale with David Duchovny, and his looks drove otherwise mild academics wild. I cannot imagine how the typical academic gossip flourished with his very presence.


  2. Much better rationale than Us! And now I’m snickering imagining the scenario at Yale when DD was there…


  3. Oh, and Jon Stewart is hella smart. Just ’cause.


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