Bad Teacher(s)?

As one who reads reviews of movies far more often than seeing the movies themselves, I must point out that “Bad Teacher” was not on my list of must-see movies; not only is it a movie that at this point in my 42 years I feel I’ve moved “beyond” being entertained by, but it seemed at most a very lazy attempt to make money with very little effort, and it rated a decidedly Rotten Tomato among reviewers.

However, I was interested in the timing of the release, however, as teachers and unions are being attacked by the Privateers (be they Ass or Mastodon). In this review at ThinkProgress, the reviewer asserts that the depiction of the “value” of incentivised standards achievement is presented in a balanced fashion.  So, it seemed I might learn something–how a pop culture artifact might convey a cultural understanding as regards public education.  But on reflection I won’t lay this at the door of the “people” (as in “we the”) whose views one might try to represent in a movie,  but rather I should offer credit where it’s due–the filmmakers; they either 1) think very poorly of all education or 2) think very poorly of women, or both.  (Of course the denigration of the “fairer” sex as only viable in the “labor market” that is education and the underclass of health workers–or as bodies for sale in marriage or prostitution–did I say that out-loud? This is inextricably linked to the male presentation of that “valuation” in society.)

The movie is really rather vile and it fails as a film as much as it fails to be a “balanced” presentation of anything unless it’s facile stereotypes. Or if by balanced we simply mean all teachers are terrible and all methods suspect. I suppose the last line of the ThinkProgress review, that these types of movies conform to a “teacher as hero” trope, is likely the truest as it does seem that movies about teachers are only about a “savior”. That is interesting in itself as regards the Christian land called America.

But title character (at least I assume she is the teacher referred to) who is named Elisabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is never anything but a “bad” apple: she “wins” in every situation by nefarious acts such as pushing her “rival”, the “over-achieving” teacher, Amy Squirrel (played by Lucy Punch–I’m not sure which name is more of a gag), into a kind of madness of competition (while the movie hints that Squirrel is mentally unstable prior to this); she plants evidence of drug use against Amy; she also creatively gives Amy poison ivy on her face; she seduces Amy’s boyfriend, a substitute teacher with family money (Justin Timberlake in a ridiculous part conforming to no kind of actual person); nothing redeeming here, no heart of gold hidden in the lazy, vulgar, selfish, shallow persona created by Diaz and the filmmakers.

What’s worse from the beginning is imagining this woman as a teacher in the first place.  We begin with Diaz quitting, after one year of “coasting” and not making any friends or even knowing anyone’s name in the small middle school, in order to marry money.  Suffice to say the marriage falls through and back she goes to the school’s detriment.  The placing of this type of character in a middle school environment must be the actual judgment on education by the filmmakers.  Schools and teachers are unworthy of anything but ridicule.  And I guess especially English teachers.  Useless pursuit.

Then there is the drug use: the film offers the utterly asinine idea of teachers getting baked in plain sight in the gym at a school function. While some of us might think marijuana laws are utterly ridiculous and hypocritical–it would be career suicide to be found out and worse to be discovered on school property. The wisdom on offer here is, from Diaz’s mouth, that “marijuana is AWESOME!” as she peer-pressures the reserved shy overweight teacher into taking a puff.

Elisabeth begins her new year watching only movies but discovers a reason to try to teach her students; if her class scores best in the school on the Illinois standards testing she will get a bonus of $5,700.  She really needs the money, you see, if she’s going to get “new tits” (though they cost $9,400.00–so I was a little confused by this).  Here is where Elisabeth excels; she curses and punishes her students to remember facts about To Kill a Mockingbird…then because she knows she has little chance of beating Amy’s class, she goes to Springfield (the state capitol) to steal the test answers.  Of course she has to seduce, drug and physically assault and ultimately blackmail into silence, the state’s director of the testing program–with success.  Epic win!

Predictably, her malfeasance is discovered by Amy but she still wins by framing Amy.   Amy is of course mocked and shown to not be good but rather somewhat unhinged. She is an achiever–and perhaps this is where the “balance” comes in–her drive to be “number one” and losing that place to the cheating Elisabeth pushes her to extremes of spying (she doesn’t come close to matching Elisabeth’s evil ways) in order to discover the truth of Elisabeth’s cheating. She is RIGHT about everything. Why would we want to be against her? Because she’s a “goody-good”, I guess. I am trying to be somewhat complete and professional in considering this film, but it is hard when every scene deserves to be criticized and denigrated as vile pap.

Finally, I think there are two revealing insights into the “mind” of the movie’s creators.  In one scene Elisabeth is alone, I think drinking on this occasion rather than getting high, and her male roommate (who I don’t have any clue how to characterize), comes in and asks why she’s home instead of “out with your nurse friends”. “I’m not a nurse, I’m a teacher.” “I thought you were a nurse.” Boom! Is this now a brilliant social commentary using texts such as Friedan’s Feminine Mystique to show the narrow career possibilities for women? I honestly don’t know how to read it, but it was interesting at least.

The other “most interesting” thing was that the over-achieving teacher, due to being utterly demeaned, demoralized, and tormented by our “anti-hero” is re-assigned “at the request of the superintendent”–played, I believe, by the lone black actor in the film–(after being arrested for drug possession, remember) to “take her special brand of teaching to the worst district in the state”…wait for it…”Malcolm X High School”. Hmm…

Some movies are just plain wastes of time (Green Lantern, anyone?); Bad Teacher is not only just a terrible movie as a movie, but it is also a disgraceful denigration of one of the most important occupations in our society and a demeaning of the very gender that makes up nearly all our elementary school teachers.

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