Apocalypse in Asia (2): Yet Another Idiot Video Portrayal of Academia…

No one in academia talks this way to undergraduates…


In this website’s continuing tradition of reducing difficult issues to ridiculous YouTube videos (here, here, here ), the above is a nice follow-up to my previous post on teaching the Apocalypse in Asia. Didn’t you know that American academics regularly berate their students’ beliefs, plot against Christians on campus, and openly criticize students’ parents to their faces? Enjoy the above for the ideology, but maybe the director should sit in on an actual class sometime…

Back in the 1990s, I worked for moderate Republicans and donated to GOP candidates; my 1996 vote for Bob Dole for president is still the most heartfelt vote I ever cast. So I still get the occasional right-wing email, and none better than this recent one pitching the movie above:

Fellow Patriot–

I wanted to forward this message about The Genesis Code, the conservative movie of the year! It deals with some important conservative issues that deserve to be discussed: the intersection of faith and science, the right to life, and discrimination against people of faith in American higher education.

When paleontology student Kerry Wells is told by an academic advisor that she’ll need to choose between her faith and her career in academia, she begins a search for truth that will touch the hearts and minds of everyone around her.

Despite the fact that university studies are purported to be a marketplace of intellectual diversity, Kerry’s constant inquiries in class and involvement in Christian campus ministry lead the faculty to consider her unfit for a life of science. Can her determination and academic talents overcome the department’s prejudice against religion?

For the actual website, try here. To be fair, I have not yet seen the film.

For Asian readers, I post this stuff once in awhile just so you have a sense of where the bizarre US stuff you see in the news comes from. I get lots of questions out here like, wth Palin is about, what is up with loopy Tea party, why do Americans think Obama is Hitler, etc. I have warned before that the American Right’s extreme reaction to Obama’s election is delegitimizing America’s global leadership. Why would anyone follow the US when 1 in 3 Americans think Obama is a Kenyan imposter or something? Not only is all the paranoia unnerving in itself, but it has real foreign policy consequences – namely that the rest of the world – which US conservatives claim we lead – thinks we are batty. The above vid is yet another demonstration of the kind of creationist idiocy that Asian science institutions simply would not tolerate.

I also feel compelled to note the unbelievably ridiculous portrait of academia yet again on display in film. That Chinese professor ad (plus Dr. Strangelove, Wargames, and Fail Safe) got people thinking we are fascists; network TV shows show us regularly sleeping with our students; Indiana Jones and Michael Crichton make us into skilled gunmen and adventurers; Bret Easton Ellis thinks we’re lazy druggies (also sleeping with our students); Michael Bay apparently thinks we can rant out authoritarian sexual innuendo without students/faculty noticing or caring;  the Social Network treats us as behind-the-curve prigs; in Animal House, we’re tedious ballonheads; Tom Clancy turns us into lefty traitors; and of course the absent-minded professor is a stock character across media. In the Christian apocalyptica genre, we are written in as postmodern stalinists responsible for tyrannizing our conservative students (while secreting pining to sleep with them presumably) and de-Christianizing America.

Yet none of this even close to accurate; I am still waiting for a movie with professors who actually look and talk like what I know. I’ve been in academia for more than decade and my father’s been in it for 40 years, and I can’t think of one good movie that actually shows what professors really do and how we really interact with our students. Sure, individual professors do dumb things, but I challenge anyone to find quantitative data to support the classical stereotypes listed above, much less the Christian right view that university is some kind of liberal concentration camp. The portrayal of the professor in the media is so routinely inaccurate, I feel compelled to say something, especially to the Christian righties who are convinced we’re tenured atheists stripping patriotism and faith from students. To see what we really do, in all its boring, nerdy scholasticism, take a look at the sort of dry, Tylenol-PM-in-print articles that fill the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The vast majority of our time is spent in fairly mundane office work – meetings, grading, research. Most of the professors I have known take this stuff reasonably seriously, and come to work on time and dressed properly to do their jobs with no more or less level of commitment than other knowledge workers. Yet almost no movie portrayals of academia actually show this; the most realistic portrait of higher education I have seen in the last few years in a film was in Knowing. I have never known a colleague who slept with a student or schemed against them, lost his a glasses on his forehead, got in wild adventures in the field, or fought ideological wars against student groups. The latter can get you in a lot of trouble, as students have grievance recourses the above vid clearly doesn’t show.

Very rarely do we get students coming to our office to simply to talk about ideas and life and what not; the Kerry character described in the third quoted paragraph is extremely rare. Far more common student behavior, and real issues that universities grapple with, are illustrated here or here. When students do come to see us, it is usually some need or grievance: grades (why did I get an F even though I never bought the book?), attendance (can I get the last 4 weeks of classnotes?), recommendation letters (how can I get into Yale on 2.5 GPA?). And we certainly don’t get into personal criticisms and harsh career counseling like in the vid above. The professor’s behavior is shockingly unprofessional, and I dare the director to find real evidence that this is common.

My point is that, yes, we are usually secularist, not Christian, and cosmopolitan, not nationalist. But students almost never come to our classes to fight for God and nation against us. Their needs and concerns are far more banal and everyday. Far more of our interaction with students is coaching them through hard material (I know you loathe the book, but Wikipedia is not really a substitute), trying to professionalize them (you can’t just cut class for a week or two and expect a bailout), begging and pleading with them to read (cliff notes are a high school gimmick you have to give up now), encouraging them to study and not just party away the four years (even though we did that too). It’s a lot more about management, mentoring and helping than about ideology. And if students raise their hand to discuss God and evolution, our response is to rejoice that students want to participate on a meaningful, exciting topic, not to stomp on them like some KGB of atheists.

So please, before yet another insulting, idiot, ideological, or conspiratorial portrayal of academia, someone make a movie that actually looks like college. That would be a real ‘revelation’…

12 thoughts on “Apocalypse in Asia (2): Yet Another Idiot Video Portrayal of Academia…

  1. Just last week a poll showed that 51% of GOP voters in Iowa think Obama was not born in the US, 21% are not sure, and 28% think he was. These are the people who will vote in the first presidential contest of 2012.
    On a Sunday morning news program John Boehner was asked if he would speak out against this ignorance. He acknowledged that the president was born in the US, but that he (Boehner) will not tell people what to think.
    One has to wonder how these statistics will impact the number of people who will campaign in Iowa and what they will tell the 51%.


    • How Americans claim to lead the world when polls return those sorts of numbers? I see this all the time living abroad: foreigners can see CNN and catch the tea party/birther/Palin stuff, and then they think Americans have just lost their minds… That ain’t the basis for enduring superpower status.


  2. I just heard Libyans cry for help from the US. Not France or Britain but the US. They didn’t care about Palin, Tea Party or Michael Moore. Nor did the Egyptians demonstrators. I put forth to you that how the US handles these events will have a far more lasting impact than any Tea Party or poll. How the US handles Iraq and Afghanistan will have far more lasting impact than anything the Tea Party can do.


  3. Dr. Bob:

    Also, I am confused. Numerous times in your blog you lament that the US is a super-power. Now you seem to want the US to continue as a super-power. I find your positions odd.
    Also, just curious but the “foreigners” that have given you these impressions, are they people of note? In that do they influence their respective countries relations vis a vis the US? Are they Chinese generals, diplomats, ministers, captains of industry? People who affect diplomatic change or negotiate treaties? Just curious.


  4. You think you have problems? Just because Hollywood doesn’t portray your job correctly? I’m a pilot, you should try walking in my shoes! I’d like to see one movie where planes fly using physics that even approximate the actual laws real planes use….. What does this inability for movie script writers to understand even basic aerodynamics, when their movies are about planes, say about our country? We’re supposed to be the preeminent movie makers in the world! Just kidding, sorry for the digression….

    I agree with Julio’s sentiment that the real perspective shifting actions America makes are what define it most, but I disagree with him that the opinions of citizens of foreign countries don’t matter. If you know Korea, you know the role the citizens play in a car market which is uncompetitive for US automakers, and the role the citizens play in effectively shutting down US beef imports for the last 5 years. They definitely matter.


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