Post Academic

Academia as TV, redux (with poll)

Yesterday, one of our bestest blog compatriots Worst Professor Ever put out a call to post/academics to pool our collective grad school/ faculty experiences, along with whatever’s left of our creative energies after our spirit-sucking time in academia, and put together a “FX-style-show about professors.”  So please heed Worst Prof’s “Prof Pitch ’10”:

So c’mon, throw your hat in the ring. We need names, plotlines, dialogue, whatever — and a name for our show, especially, since I’ll be the first to admit Professors On the Edge sucks pretty hard — too soap-y, not scary enough.

Well, this reminded me that we tried to find the best TV analogy for academia a while back, though our goal wasn’t to come up with a treatment or a pitch, but more just an excuse to write about TV.  So here’s our first contribution — hopefully of many to come — to Worst Prof’s worthwhile and ingenious project.

"1950's television" by Zaphod (Creative Commons license)


Below are some picks we offered as to what might make for the most compelling dramatic, comedic, or reality TV reinterpretation of academia.  We left off one obvious choice: Seinfeld, seeing as it’s a show about nothing.

1. Top Chef: Take a bunch of talented, competitive grad students, some of whom are total a-holes–but only one will win the title of “top geek.”  Put them through a series of challenges, from “Quickfire” abstract submissions to “Elimination Challenges” that involve convention interviews and teaching demos, and bring on celebrity academics as the judges.  And only one person ends up with a tenure-track position, though I’ll take the 1-in-20 odds over the 200+ applicant pool of any actual job search in a heartbeat.  Bonus points for making these folks live together in the same house.  Of course, we actually turned this idea into our Post Academic “original” virtual reality series, “Top Grad Student”!

More academia-TV analogies below the fold…

2. Undercover Boss: Find a baby-faced dean and put him through the grad school ringer, starting with the actual application, coursework, and teaching.  Make him figure out how to get funding when the department’s budget is shot and force him to find a way to fend for himself when that teaching offer falls through a week before the next quarter starts.  Then give him a series of tedious tasks, from filling out a bunch of grad student paperwork to photocopying class materials as scornful Assistant Profs cut you in line, thinking you’re work study.  Then repeat, one quarter after another.

3. Arrested Development: Like grad school, Arrested Development is all about dysfunction, but doing just enough to get by.  And like grad school, the show is about a reversion to childhood, or more accurately, never outgrowing stunted growth.  Then think of all the hare-brained schemes, where the only thing that’s revealed in the end is that the emperor has no clothes.  Plus, don’t forget the unhealthy dose of psychological trauma–you gotta believe there are at least a few “never-nudes” in your cohort and the faculty.

4. Mad Men: You chuckle at how un-PC Mad Men is when it portrays sexism and racism in a way that seems so quaint because it took place in the 1960s.  (What’s up with all the Chinamen cracks, huh?)  But try updating it in a humanities program where maybe Peggy got promoted and Joan transitioned into the professsion, but it’s still mostly a bunch of Dons and Petes who may be on the make, with a few emeriti Sterlings and Coopers who are getting the fat paychecks and corner offices.  And I’m still not sure where all the minorities are.

What about Professor Colbert? ("Stephen Colbert" by David Shankbone, Creative Commons license)


5. The Colbert Report: Except it would have to be a bizarro world version, where the host is a conservative who plays an esteemed Marxist.  Bizarro Prof. Colbert would espouse proper lefty sentiments about the subaltern and the means of production, while, at the same time, s/he would be cracking down on grad students unionizing and trying to figure out how to get them to do cheap labor under the premise of “mentoring.”  S/he would also have to be sympathetic to racial subordination at the same time s/he questions whether those minority colleagues are affirmative action beneficiaries getting a free pass.

OK, maybe the Colbert analogy doesn’t work so well, since I’m not suggesting that lefty-ism is phony; instead, I’m trying to make the point that many (but not all!) left-leaning academics might lead more socially conservative lives (talking about myself here) and be more politically conservative than their scholarship implies.

Tell us your own ideas in the comments section and vote in our poll!

2 Responses to 'Academia as TV, redux (with poll)'

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  1. Mackie Blanton said,

    Don’t just pick on the profs. They’re all crazy once you get to know them.You’re forgetting about the other half of the university — the half that no one realizes exists until it’s time to graduate, or to stop teaching and become an upper administrator. What about a show entitled “Student Affairs,” which would allow you to bring in as characters deans and provosts of student affairs, of international students and scholars, of sororities and fraternities, of judicial affairs. And then there are the parents and the dorm staff; and the janitors and gardeners, and campus police. It’s all a show that will run on forever.

  2. Thanks for the shout-out! These are all so good I’m having trouble deciding…I’d like to see all of them get produced. I’ll happily play Bizarro Colbert, or maybe Bizarro Ann Coulter.

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