Steve Hays and Oliver Sellman

Previous Issue

View the Archives!


Contact Us

Lee Capristo
Director of Publications
Anne Arundel 100

How Distorted ARE The Movies? Five Professors Grab Some Popcorn and Find Out

Written by Robin Bates, Professor of English

No doubt you thought college professors were dry-as-dust academics. Then you went to the local Cineplex and learned the truth about us. “Indiana Jones” informed you that archaeologists take up fedoras and bullwhips and go out in search of the Holy Grail. “A Beautiful Mind” let you know that brilliant mathematicians are one step away from full-blown schizophrenic hallucinations. “Final Analysis” got you wondering which patients your therapist was sleeping with.

Or maybe movies served to make us less interesting. Perhaps you were disappointed that your biology teacher wasn’t on the front lines saving the world from the Ebola virus. Perhaps you thought your English prof should be doing Marlon Brando and John Wayne imitations of Shakespeare monologues and having you stand on your desk and deliver Walt Whitman’s “barbaric yawp.”

If you want to get faculty to laugh, ask them about a movie that features their discipline. But since we see everything as a teachable moment, we may then use the occasion to share our knowledge. If “Dead Poets Society” gets people talking about Tennyson and Thoreau, I’m not going to knock it.

In this issue of the “River Gazette,” we address questions you may have had as you watched movies about our fields of study. Can biologists really stop a viral outbreak like the one in “Outbreak”? Can a brilliant janitor like Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting” solve a math problem that is stumping the best minds at MIT? Is it effective therapy for analyst Robin Williams to grab him by the throat and throw him up against the wall?

You will learn that the answers are mixed. Hollywood gets a lot wrong, starting with the way it passes over the arduous aspects of mastering and pursuing a discipline. And yet surprising grains of truth can appear. Mathematicians can be a little nutty. Literature teachers do fantasize about poems changing their students’ lives. Archaeologists dream of great discoveries (well, maybe not the lost Ark of the Covenant) as they sift through bucket after bucket of dirt.

On the other hand, your analyst is probably not a Hannibal Lecter with designs upon your liver.