Friday, October 1, 2010

What I learned about college from the movies

One of my freshman comp assignments requires the students to pick a movie set on a college campus and analyze how it represents higher education. I've been using this assignment for six or seven years, ever since I was a grad student, and cheerfully grading paper after paper about movies I'd never seen. But now that I am a person with a middle-class income and a Netflix account, I decided I was going to watch all the movies. It was quite an experience. I kinda thought I knew a little bit about colleges, having spent almost half of my life studying and / or working at them. But now I see I had much to learn from the movies:

1) At all colleges, there are exactly two fraternities, one of which is populated exclusively by obnoxious, uptight preprofessionals, and the other by likeable underdogs. (N.B., the underdogs remain underdogs by definition, even though it is obvious from the beginning of the movie that they will win all competitions and the obnoxious guy's girlfriend. It's magic.)

2) Harvard Law School is very very very very hard. Unless you are blonde, in which case it is easy.

3) You can have a complete college experience without ever setting foot in the classroom or interacting with a faculty member. But you cannot have one without football.

4) All deans, presidents, provosts, and other authority figures are alumni of the college where they work, and have unfinished business from their undergraduate days. Most of them also have attractive female relatives.

5) Sometimes, your RA turns out to be an undercover Secret Service agent.

6) All classes are held in massive lecture halls with tiered seating.

7) Everybody who is not in a fraternity lives in the dorms, even grad students. All roommates dislike each other at first sight, but become bestest best buddies by mid-semester. (In the unlikely event that your roommate befriends you immediately, you should seek psychiatric help, because there is a good chance that you are actually schizophrenic and have hallucinated him.)

8) All colleges are either Harvard, Princeton, MIT, or imaginary.

9) The janitor is way smarter than you are.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

When I first saw that you were writing about colleges in movies, the first thing I thought of was the movie "Back to School" with Rodney Dangerfield. Two things about that movie stick out in my mind: 1. Rodney's character hires Kurt Vonnegut to write one of his English papers about one of Vonnegut's books (I think he gets a C on the paper), 2. the big "test" that he has to pass English is that he has to recite "Do not go gentle into that good night." I wish my undergrad career were so simple.

Sisyphus said...

Wait, #6 isn't true?

I am impressed by your fortitude and willingness to undergo some really bad movies!

(btw, I haven't seen it, but there's a show "Community" on tv about community colleges, if you want something same-yet-different)

Dr. Virago said...

I can tell you which classroom at UCLA is most often used for those tiered lecture hall scenes (when it's not a set)!

And Sisyphus, you need to watch Community! It is *hilarious*! And I'm pretty sure it's intentionally stupid about what actually goes on at a community college (though at least there are classroom scenes and non-traditional students).

Renaissance Girl said...

Hee. And Sis, I saw _Community_ on a plane once and laughed my butt off. Glad to be reminded of it--I should go try to find it somewhere.

moria said...

A+ to this.

All colleges are either Harvard, Princeton, MIT, or imaginary.

That is more or less true. (My SLAC was and is certainly imaginary, in the best sense.) It also accounts for why my "party Ivy" students are the way they are. Sigh.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Sisyphus -- Well, to be fair, they weren't all bad movies; I thought The Paper Chase was excellent, and I also enjoyed A Beautiful Mind, The Great Debaters, and (to my surprise) Rudy. But, on the other hand, there may not be enough bleach in the world to erase National Lampoon's Van Wilder from my brain...

Dolly Paolucci said...

Ahaha! I know what you're talking about in #2. Legally Blonde, right? If this post were made a bit late, you might have included The Social Network. Its depiction of college life (or at least Mark Zuckerberg's) was quite stereotypical, but it still seemed realistic and compelling. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why the movie merited tons of accolades.