Monday, November 07, 2011

Bad, bad teacher!

I watched the movie Bad Teacher on DVD. A few thoughts:

- The movie is laugh-out-loud funny. Even watching it alone, as I did. Cameron Diaz's portrayal of a shameless goldigger / deadbeat middle school teacher barely phoning it in subverts all the education movie clichés about caring teachers that challenge and motivate their students.  Instead, Diaz’s Elizabeth Halsey spends the first semester showing these movies while she sleeps at her desk.

She finally finds her niche though:

Bad Teacher (2011) – “I love Chase Reuben Rossi!”

The following year (SPOILER ALERT) she becomes the school guidance counselor, with all the school’s nerds lining up outside her office, presumably seeking similar transformation.

- The movie is politically incorrect, an observation Steve made in his reviews.  The old-money SNAG* (Justin Timberlake) that Diaz seeks to ensnare is, like most SWPLs, a dilettante in diversity, holding up his taste in ethnic food as a bold political statement; this is subtly mocked by Jason Siegel’s cynical gym teacher.  Diaz’s vanquished rival is ultimately sent to “bring my zany energy to the underprivileged students at Malcolm X Middle School.”  The audience doesn’t even need to have explained to them the implications.

- The movie is dirty.  Diaz emits a steady stream of vulgarity as in the clip above, plus there are a couple of truly cringe-inducing sexual situations (if you can call them that).

- The movie is, at a philosophical level, a little disturbing.  Diaz is lazy, promiscuous and conniving; a liar, a thief and a cheat.  With the exception of the scene above (and even this is obviously not without its moral downside) she shows absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever . . . and yet she is the character we are asked to root for!  On comic value alone we are expected to cheer as she blackmails silence from the bureaucrat from whom she steals the state’s standardized test and then frames fellow teacher Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch) for her own drug use.  What makes this worse is that Amy is a inspirational and successful teacher whose students routinely outscore the entire school on that standardized test.  Now, Amy’s sing-song, affected pedagogical style is easily recognizable from my own childhood, and the comic effect comes from seeing her use that style – probably more appropriate to a lower elementary school context in any case –  in her adult interactions as well.  Still, she (and Justin for that matter) clearly try really hard at being good at what they do, so why are we supposed to hate her and love Diaz?  The movie never really explains this.

* Is SNAG still a separate personality type from emo?  Or maybe I’m dating myself; I haven’t heard it used since the ‘90s.


LDiracDelta said...

In case you doubt it, award-winning teachers do use their pedagogical, sing-song teacher persona in their everyday life--at least in the case of my cousin. In our teen years, my brother and I used to laugh directly at my cousin, who is 2 years my junior, just as soon as she started her matronly, sicky-sweet greeting upon opening the door her parents' house on Thanksgiving. And she continues to treat everyone as her pupil to this day.

Anonymous said...

the scene above has already been taken down by youtube. So it doesn't help to illustrate your points.

Justin said...

re: the type of woman who can't turn "teacher" off - there is a reason for the old stereotype of the spinster teacher.

However, I must say that in my experience as a school teacher (6 years), near the majority of teachers honestly and truly hate their students and cover up their hatred of their own lives with alcohol and/or drugs (pot being hugely popular).

For whatever reason, men continue to leave the profession. It is now rare to see even one man on an sub-high school staff.

Dr. Φ said...

Prof Hale: the video can be accessed on youtube here.

Justin: That's . . . depressing. Do you think it applies at all schools or just "bad" ones?

Dr. Φ said...

Well, how about that! It turns out that the video plays fine for . . . me, when I'm logged in to google. When I'm not, the video is inaccessible.

Let me work on this problem.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why removed for copywright grounds" would be different for you than for everyone else, unless google crossreferences your stock purchases and finds shares of Sony in your portfolio.