Vanguard February 2011

David Stoloff, Vanguard Media Features Editor,

(also found at Media Review:  Troubled Academics in Media,  Connecticut AAUP Vanguard.   Volume 31, Number 1 (Spring 2011), page 4.)

If you might be interested in reviewing media related to higher education – our life-styles, news, upcoming events on television, films, radio, music – for the online version of the AAUP Connecticut Conference, please contact David Stoloff at .

Troubled Academics in Media: 

Three Films on the Tribulations of Male, White Professors in the 21st Century:

Jacobs, S.; Monticelli, A.M.; & Sherman, E. (Producers), & Jacobs, S. (Director). (2008). Disgrace.  Australia: Fortissimo Films.

Weinstein, B.; Weinstein, H.; & Lucchesi, G. (Producers), & Benton, R. (Director).  (2003). The Human Stain.  United States:  Miramax Films. 

Rosenberg, T. & Lucchesi (Producers), & Coixet, I. (Director). (2008). Elegy.  United States:  Samuel Goldwyn Films. 

also posted at

            Pity the poor male, white professor!  Three movies in the last decade, based on novels by two renowned novelists, feature the challenges of desire, secretive lives, and forces beyond the walls of the academy on the endangered species, once lions in the jungle of intelligentsia, the white, male professor. 

            Going the distance from Connecticut, Disgrace is an Australian film set in South Africa, based on the 1999 novel with the same name by Nobel Prize Laureate (for fiction in 2003) John Maxwell (J.M.) Coetzee.  Coetzee has been a professor on 3 continents.  A native of South Africa, he earned his doctorate from the University of Texas, Austin, after several years in London as a computer programmer in the 1960s.   For 3 years, he was an assistant professor of English literature at SUNY Buffalo, until he lost his visa status due to his opposition to the war in Vietnam.  He returned to South Africa, where he taught at University of Cape Town for 28 years, eventually achieving the rank of distinguished professor of literature.   He immigrated to Australia in 2002, where he holds an honorary position at the University of Adelaide.

            For a trailer on Disgrace (film), please go to [].

            Disgrace (the film) was directed by Steve Jacobs from a screenplay by Anna Maria Monticelli.  It features John Malkovich, as a professor of literature who identifies with Milton’s Satan, alienated from his divorced wife, his daughter, and women with whom he has deep relationships for short periods of time.  When his affair with a student leads to her attempted suicide, Professor David Lurie pleads guilty before a faculty tribunal and is banished to the East Cape home of his daughter, played by South African actress Jessica Haines, who is trying to build an agricultural community in the post-apartheid society.  Father and daughter are attacked by three men from the community, leaving the daughter with child and the father with facial burns.  Both then struggle with finding safety in a new South Africa and rebuilding new lives.  Within that struggle, Lurie attempts to seek forgiveness from the student and her family.  The daughter becomes one of the wives of a local community leader so that she might raise her child and maintain her home in security. 

            In Disgrace, academics are seen as role-players within specific and limited communities.  In The Human Stain, a 2003 American film directed by Robert Benton, from a screenplay by Nicholas Meyer from the 2000 same-named novel by Philip Roth, Professor Coleman Silk (played by Anthony Hopkins) is disgraced after he used a perceived ethnic slur in his classics seminar and is hounded into retirement by a faculty writing campaign.  He begins a relationship with a troubled janitor (played by Nicole Kidman) that leads to his accounting of his life history to a younger writer, Nathan Zuckerman (played by Gary Sinise), a repeating character within the Rothian universe.  It turns out that Professor Silk has been passing as a white, perhaps Jewish man, for most of his adult life.  His roots were in the African American community in Newark, NJ, where he began his path away from his family when he joined local Jewish immigrant boys in a boxing club.  As in many novels by Philip Roth, the pettiness of academia is mixed with the uncontrollable sexual desire of faculty men.  In The Human Stain, the tragedy of always being a stranger to self and to others is magnified as one comes to the end of one’s powers and reasons for living. 

For a trailer on The Human Stain, see []. 

In Elegy, a 2008 drama directed by Spanish director Isabel Coixet and based on a 2001 Philip Roth novel, The Dying Animal, the caring for an ill, young student (played by Penélope Cruz) by David Kepesh (played by Ben Kingsley), also a recurring Roth academic character, and the sudden death of a mentor (played by Dennis Hopper) teaches the aging cultural critic and professor that connections between people make life bearable.  Kepesh is an academic super-star, renowned for his radio programs on literature, but is unable to understand emotional attachments.   Initially, Kepesh cannot reach across the generational and cultural distances with Consuela and loses her when he is unwilling to commit his professional persona and future to her.  Their relationship returns when she is diagnosed with breast cancer. He cares for her during what seems as her dying days. 

For trailer on Elegy, see [] .  

The challenges of connecting with women students for faculty men, their over-estimation of their powers and abilities, and their inabilities to operate in a world where they have lost control due to much larger cultural forces are highlighted in these films.  Your comments would be welcomed at


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