Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Who's Afraid

The playwright  Edward Albee passed away earlier this month at the age of 88. I had never actually seen any of his plays so I took the opportunity to watch the 1966 movie Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? based on the play.

The play has four characters, George, a history professor in his forties and his wife Martha, the daughter of the University's president. Joining them for a late get together is a young biology professor and his wife. The movie had an incredible cast: Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, George Segal and Sandy Dennis. All nominated for academy awards. The women won.

The movie covers many themes, mostly revolving around the disintegrating relationship between George and Martha. George did not live up to his potential as a drunk Martha did not hesitate to point out in front of all of them.
I actually fell for him. And the match seemed practical too. For a while Daddy thought George had the stuff to take over when he was ready to retire. Anyway, I married the S.O.B. I had it all planned out. First he'd take over the History Department, then the whole college. That's how it was supposed to be! That was how it was supposed to be. All very simple. Daddy thought it was a good idea too. For a while!
Until he started watching for a couple of years and and started thinking it wasn't such a good idea. That maybe Georgie-boy didn't have the stuff! That he didn't have it in him! George didn't have much push. He wasn't aggressive. In fact, he was sort of a flop! A great big, fat flop! 
So here I am, stuck with this flop, this bog in the History Department. Who's married to the president's daughter who's expected to be somebody. Not just a nobody! A bookworm who's so goddamn complacent he can't make anything out of himself.
The movie reflects an earlier time in academics, when all the professors were white males and success was measured by taking charge of a department.

Nevertheless Albee captures a fear many academics have. That one day we may wake up and realize we've become that bog. Stuck in our job because we can't afford to give up tenure, but just going through the motions. It's a fear that motivates us, to make us continually try to do new things and achieve new heights. But it's also a reminder that academics is a long career and one that could bog down before we even notice.

Edward Albee writes a play incredibly uncomfortable to watch yet impossible not to. So rare to see that in mainstream plays or movies today.

1 comment:

  1. ``Did not live up to his potential as a drunk''
    So- you are saying he was not as drunk as he should have been

    You claim that the play takes place in a time when all professors
    were white males and success was measured by taking charge
    of a department. While YES, at one time all (or at least
    99%) of profs were white males, was it the case that success
    was measured by (say) being dept chair or dean or something?
    The profs we remember now (Godel, Einstein) were known for
    their work, not for anything in admin. So I ask non-rhetorically- was it ever the case that profs success was
    measured by admin promotions? Or maybe just for those that
    were not Einsteins? Or what?

    There was an episode of Law and Order Criminal Intent titled
    Anti-thesis which reolved around a power struggle to be chair of a history dept. Looked so odd to me since most people do not want to be chair.