Monday, June 26, 2017

Pet Professor in Film Peeve

I saw a tweet about a movie about a prof, and, of course, it is about his relationship with a student.  FFS.  So, I tweeted thusly:
I got lots of agreement and some pushback, with some saying that there is still plenty of profs pursuing all kinds of relationships with students.  I get that, as that has been a source of much Spewing here.  Indeed, predatory sexual relationships with grad students have been a central plot line in two of the four places I worked.  still, the norms have changed--this stuff is not seen as ok as it used to be, even as some profs can end up marrying their students even in the present day and so forth.

But, damn it, isn't there another story to be told about professor life besides this one?  I guess the fundamental problem is that our professor lives are just not that interesting.  Sure, the story of a bumbling chair and the divide between junior and senior faculty would have made for a better TV show than movie--Hogan's Heroes in Lubbock!?  There has been a movie or two about department politics and tenure that have not focused on sleeping with students, but these are rare.  Oh, and tenure politics are so obscure for mainstream audiences that such movies have to do heaps of explaining or do stupid stuff like making tenure seem like a zero sum game between two profs.

When is it ok to focus on prof-student relationships?  Obviously, when it is done creatively, intelligently and entertainingly is the right answer.... but since that does not happen much, I'd say I don't mind it so much when:
  • When the movie is set in an earlier time, when the norms had not yet changed.  Also, when the butt you see is Donald Sutherland's.
  • The target of the romantic attraction is a student of roughly similar age as the prof, so it is not so skeevy.  Indeed, when the woman is played by Marisa Tomei, I can't really get upset.
  • Perhaps when the skeevy prof faces serious consequences?  Nah, that would be too unrealistic.
One of the problems with having so many prof movies focus on this dynamic is that it may reverse the taboo--that it makes normal that which should not be normal. 

Anyhow, perhaps Hollywood should learn that the most successful professor movies of all time did not involve any sex/romance between professor and student:

Ok, some profs were incompetent, corrupt,
or murderous, but no sexual stuff here.
Sure, students crushed on Prof. Jones,
but that is as afar as it went.
Sure, he puts his students in harm's way

To be fair, a bit of this is confirmation bias as various lists of best movie profs have plenty that don't sleep with their students (Good Will Hunting, etc). So, it can be done, but, lazy writers can rely on this trope... I just don't have to watch.

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