Remember when action heroes could be archaeology professors?
The liberal arts have gotten a bad rap lately—or, if you believe the cover line on the September 17 issue of The Weekly Standard, are dead. A mere month and a half before a presidential election, the conservative publication took time out of voicing support for Mitt Romney's business-minded ticket to have writer and retired lecturer Joseph Epstein lay out a paean to Epstein's own days first as a student and then as a teacher of liberal arts. In praising Andrew Delbanco's book College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, Epstein spends thousands of words arguing that a liberal arts education isn't what it used to be—though he provides little hard data to support this claim—before concluding that professors' willingness to politicize and expand core curricula is to blame. Whether or not you agree with the arguments presented, the tone is decidedly dour.
What's fascinating, though, is the way that pop culture seems to be just as bearish on the liberal arts as The Weekly Standard is. Two new films offer their own slightly negative take on this academic field and the people who are drawn to it. Those movies, along with a slew of other works, contribute to the impression that the entertainment industry's on a professionalism kick, glorifying start-up CEOs and humanizing otherwise villainous corporate types while leaving its portrayals of the humanities decidedly one-dimensional.