Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Clancy, over at Culture Cat, tagged me with this one, and I couldn't resist.
She tried to peg her administrative persona based on some television characters, and wondered aloud how other folks (including yours truly) would peg themselves.
I did a variation on that some years ago – who would play you in a movie? -- in which I opined that John Cusack could do a pretty good job, or a taller Matthew Broderick. Maybe Matthew Perry, in his puffier moments. (In the interest of honesty, Rainn Wilson without the glasses and minus a few pounds could get disturbingly close.) It's tough, since there are so few good roles for thirtysomething white guys.
Ah, but characters. That's much more interesting. Who would capture the style in motion? (And I'll concede upfront that I'm uniquely oblivious to how other people read me. I've been floored at some of the ways some people expect me to act.)
The screamingly-obvious one is Bob Newhart. Particularly in his 60's albums and 70's tv show, he did a great job of engaging absolute absurdity while maintaining surface calm. (“The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back.” Exactly.) If there's a better description of the role of dean, I haven't seen it. Even the banter his character had with Suzanne Pleshette's is pretty close. I howled at his portrayal of the put-upon principal in In and Out.
Kermit the Frog, from his Muppet Show days, is close, too. The need for the show to go on, no matter how insane Gonzo's stunt or how cantankerous Statler and Waldorf were, rings true. I also like the obligatory, if strained, public enthusiasm for weak performers, the shoestring budget, and the light melancholy in quiet moments (“It's Not Easy Being Dean”).
Geoffrey Rush's character in Shakespeare in Love has a similar quality. “It's a mystery” how the show will go on, but it will. He's surrounded by creative types, everything is chaotic or insane, yet he somehow manages to get the show staged. He doesn't pretend to understand how it will all come together, but he has faith that it will, and it does. And the creative folks shine.
The common denominator, I think, is that these characters are all about helping other people do what they do, better. Sometimes that involves arranging funding, sometimes it involves cheerleading, and sometimes it involves helping people get past unhelpful delusions or fixations. They're all relatively sane, relatively vanilla characters – not humorless, just vanilla -- who surround themselves with creative/crazy people and work with them to make things better.
If you were a character, who would you be?
Okay, so for me. This will reveal as much about my personal cultural fixations as it does about my own administrative personae.
I would say that my earlier academic self had a little bit of Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie--bossy, outspoken, into everything, a little bit of a tomboy, sure of her rightness and yet willing to tearfully admit when her thinking was self-involved or strained. She also fights for the underdog and speaks even when she shouldn't sometimes.
My more recent incarnation as tenured administrator may be Piper from Charmed (minus the kids)--still bossy, but a little more sense of balance. I also think I could be a little bit "Maude," in terms of being a little cynical but funny, but may not yet be old or cynical enough to carry that off.
Actually, looking WAY back, I have a little bit of the "Rhoda" quality. Jewish, a little loud, a little cynical, never the small pretty girl, but with a lot of warmth, energy, heart, and a willingness to be pushy. Yeah, I may stick with Rhoda as my choice--minus the headscarves and heterosexuality.
In my role as prof... I'd like to say that I'm a little more humane (before confronting my own mortality) than Emma Thomson's character in Wit, but every bit as exacting and sardonic, and that I've borrowed the style page of Thora Birch from Ghost World. That's not going to last much longer though -- I'm just too old to pull off enormous boots and miniscule skirts anymore. I think I'll aim for something more substantial, like Bacall's pant-suits from The Big Sleep...
a lay down the law Mighty Favog