Posts Tagged ‘The Blue Umbrella’

As a college professor, I am interested in depictions of college life. In addition to seeing whether they “ring true” with my own experiences, I like to consider how they might affect the perceptions of the general public regarding academic life. As a movie aimed primarily at children, Monsters University may be the first depiction of college life that many are exposed to. What, then, does Monsters University teach us about college life (other than the fact that imaginary institutions can have better-designed webpages than real ones)? (Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber covers some of this, but focuses more on the institutional aspects of the university.)

Lesson One: College is largely vocational. The students enrolled at Monsters University take courses that are very narrowly focused on particular employment outcomes. While the Scaring program is the most prestigious, there are also programs related to canister design and door making. As depicted in the movie, none of these programs prepare students very well for unforeseen changes in the workplace (such as those that occur in Monsters Inc., as Kieran points out).

Lesson Two: No matter how hard you work, you may not be able to attain your dream. The Scaring program at Monsters University highly competitive even though some students clearly have more innate talent for scaring than others. Applied exams mean that those who are books smart but lack this innate talent are likely to fail the program. It does not seem like there is much room for theoretical work in scaring (Mike Wazowski seems like a prime candidate for a Ph.D. in Scaring).

Lesson Three: You need to go to college to get the job you want, unless you don’t. Despite the applied nature of the courses, the link between education and employment in Monstropolis does not seem very strong. The closest analog in the American higher education system seems to be acting. Some actors undergo years of training at prestigious universities while others are discovered looking cute at the mall. It would have been interesting to see Pixar approach scaring as something more closely aligned to college athletics, with most monsters using college to continue doing something that they enjoy but a few in high profile programs using it to hone their skills for the big leagues and an even smaller number going directly from high school to the pros.

Lesson Four: Coursework is unimportant (especially courses outside of your major). Students at Monsters University are shown attending two courses during the movie. For a large portion of the movie the characters do not mention anything about class at all, focusing instead on an extracurricular competition. Since this competition takes place during the semester, I assume that these students were attending other classes. Of course, in a vocational system like this breadth doesn’t seem to be that important.

Lesson Five: College life revolves around the Greek system. The aforementioned extracurricular competition has the highest profile of all campus activities (it is sort of like the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter). Students must be affiliated with a fraternity or sorority to participate and even the Dean is heavily involved in the organization and outcome.

Lesson Six: Things will be okay even if you cheat. Without giving too much away, some of the students at Monsters University cheat. They are punished for doing so, but not to the extent that they are unable to fulfill their lifelong dreams.

Lesson Seven: Computer graphics are getting really good. Okay, this is not a lesson about college, but the level of technical detail in Monsters University is incredible, especially in the lighting and textures. The Blue Umbrella, the short that precedes the movie, is similarly impressive.

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