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Fictionalized Cornell

In last week's CSI episode on CBS, a chess tournament between the Cornell University Chess Club and the Las Vegas Detention Center was featured prominently, with over a minute of air time dedicated to a Cornell student check-mating an inmate.

The relevant scene can be found at 9:13 of this clip. Here's a screen shot:

Why in the world would Cornell students be playing chess in Nevada? Well, some alums might have something to do with it.

At least the Cornell Image Committee should be happy, as "cool hoodies" were featured prominently.

This clip ties in nicely with a recent article in the Alumni Magazine about fictionalized Cornell and Cornellians. The article showcased a lot of fictional Cornellians in a positive light, but also explored the phenomena of negative Cornell images in the media:

But Cornell-educated protagonists seem to be matched in nearly equal numbers by less desirable characters. For every Gabrielle Ashe (a U.S. Senator's aide who courageously ends her corrupt boss's career in Dan Brown's thriller Deception Point), there is a Bobby Earl (a rapist and murderer played by Blair Under-wood in the movie Just Cause). For every Eric Erickson, a Swedish industrialist who masquerades as a Nazi sympathizer to spy on the Germans during World War II in Alexander Klein's 1958 novel The Counterfeit Traitor (William Holden played him in the movie), there is a Taro Seki, a Japanese engineering grad who grew to love America while in Ithaca but changes his tune upon joining the Japanese army during that same war (in the propaganda film Behind the Rising Sun)...

...Cornell also seems to be occasionally used to put an exclamation point on a character's odiousness. Neil, the smarmy grandson of the Catskills resort owner in Dirty Dancing? He attends the Hotel school. Nick Pepper, an obnoxious assistant on ABC's hit show "Ugly Betty"? He tells an equally unappealing mentor, "I've been following your career since I graduated from Cornell."

Perhaps the best example of this comes from NBC's Emmy-winning sitcom "The Office." Andy Bernard, played by actor Ed Helms, is a sycophantic blowhard who works at the Scranton branch of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company and uses every opportunity to pompously remind everyone, "I went to Cornell . . . Ya ever heard of it?" It is an integral element of his character, a means of revealing his insecurity while trumpeting his self-importance. Rarely an episode goes by without a reference:

Personally, I always have suspected that characters like Andy Bernard or Sideshow Mel are just pranks being played on Cornell by screenwriters who happen to have graduated from other Ivy League schools... namely Harvard. After all, Harvard has a reputation for producing a lot of Hollywood screenwriters for shows like The Office or The Simpsons.

But it is nice to know that Cornell screenwriters are looking out for their alma mater too... by having the chess club beat a bunch of Las Vegas prisoners. Now they just need to start taking pot shots at Harvard.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on May 08, 2008 (#)

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