Jacob Levy and Dan Drezner discuss today the unrealistic portrayal of academics in popular entertainment (in particular, on Friends, where apparently Ross is a paleontologist—not to be confused with a neoconservative, even though he’s Jewish [Ed: groan.]). From Dan’s post:
However, the story line that really frosted me was from a few years ago, when Ross was sleeping with an undergraduate. If the caricature of academia in the Blogosphere is a collection of tenured radicals, the caricature of academia in popular culture is a collection of lecherous white male [sic] who inevitably bed one or more of their students.
This is true across mediums. …
There is no fighting it; if a fictional character is a white male professor, nine times out of ten he’s sleeping with the co-ed.
I suppose this portrayal reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of academics. While it is true that many professors do seem to get romantically involved with students, usually they are graduate students (which don’t fit the popular definition of “co-ed“); there just isn’t enough contact between undergraduates and faculty at most schools for such relationships to take root, particularly considering the ethical issues involved with relationships involving a current student. Grad students and faculty, on the other hand, are expected to socialize with each other and collaborate closely on scholarly projects, but relationships among them are not exactly widespread. That’s not to say they don’t happen, but they’re much less frequent than popular entertainment portrayals would make them appear.
For the record, I have seen exactly one episode of Friends in my life, and found it to be a thoroughly unremarkable experience, despite the fact that both David Schwimmer and Lisa Kudrow are talented actors who have done good work in other settings (Schwimmer had a good, if brief, run on NYPD Blue and Kudrow is a very talented actress, as all six people who have seen The Opposite of Sex know).