Professors on film were once the bumbling experts or snobs, but now a certain malaise has set in and we see more of the gloomy, hapless types. In a recent article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffrey J. Williams traces the evolution of professors, as portrayed in films:
It seems as if professors have become depressed and downtrodden. For example, two well-regarded 2008 films, The Visitor and Smart People, center on aging, later-career professors who are disengaged from their work and exhibit obvious signs of depression. The Visitor depicts an economics professor, played by Richard Jenkins, who is going through the motions, teaching syllabi from years before and avoiding research.
The celebrity professor might seem to counter the image of the downtrodden professor, but he is merely the flip side of the coin. He represents the “winner take all” model that governs businesses and, progressively more so, professions. Like the CEO who receives 300 times what the person on the shop floor is paid, these professors reap the spoils….The celebrity professor exemplifies the steep new tiers of academic life, in a pyramid rather than a horizontal community of scholars.
Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required)