Does this insight apply to law professors as well?


Some years ago (I’m guessing sometime around 1997 from internal references, as historians would say), I saw in a newspaper a quote attributred to “Veteran horrormeister and Scream 2 director Wes Craven”:

After you stop moaning about being stereotyped as a horror guy, you can say, “I’m employed doing interesting movies that can be called, in some sense, auteur work. Nobody’s telling me what to do, I have final cut and there’s virtually no limitation except my imagination, and I have to stay within a certain subject matter. But you can put as much comedy as you want in the movie, as much romance or philosophy; anything, as long as you scare the bejesus out of people six or 10 times.”

Apparently Craven really means that stuff about philosophy, because his website describes his 2005 movie Cursed as a “postmodern approach to the werewolf genre.” The description on his website continues,

One of the unique aspects of Cursed is that it is as much a showbiz satire as it is a horror film: Ellie works for a talk show, which allows for plenty of barbed jibes at television and cameos by the likes of Craig Kilborn and Scott Baio. It’s also probably the only horror film that has ever depicted a werewolf giving someone ‘the finger.’ That said, Craven never forgets to deliver the scary goods: highlights include the opening attack sequence – in which a werewolf exploits the opportunity of a young woman being trapped in a car wreck – and a tense finale that takes place in a horror

movie-themed nightclub.

Thus, you see Mr. Craven continues to deliver the scary stuff. There is something to this horror-movie as vehicle for serious social critique. Dawn of the Dead is a transparent criqiue of 1970s consumer culture. In fact, it’s so transparent it sort of isn’t effective (in my mind). I prefer the nineteenth-century gothic novel for horror-story as critique of society over contemporary movies. (My favorite in that genre is Edgar Allen Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.)

Based on Craven’s recent work, the collaborative Paris, Je T’aime, it appears that you sometimes can do real work and not even have to scare the bejesus out of people.

kingsfield.jpg The question remains whether Mr. Craven’s insight has any relation to what happens in a law school class? I discussed the quotation with my colleagues at the time, at least one of whom thought that there was a fairly direct connection between law faculty and the scaring the bejesus out of people. Another saw a more distant analogy–we as law faculty have a lot of discretion to teach what we’re interested in (jurisprudence, socioeconomics, whatever) so long as we teach some of what the students came here for (practical skills). Along those lines, consider the person in the picture on the right. I think he was mostly interested in scaring the bejesus out of people.

Finally, perhaps this is the place to ask the question, which I’ve had for a while: is Wes Craven, horrormeister, any relation to Wesley Frank Craven, distinguished New York University historian? (By the way, readers of Dan Solove’s post on courthouse architure may be interested in the beautiful pictures of courthouses from seventeenth-century Virginia in Craven’s book.)

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2 Responses

  1. Stephen says:

    I wish that more law school professors would devote more class time to “mocking the conventions of the genre.” But then I guess all these earnest, well-meaning greedheads might take offense that there might be some kind of normative loophole in their career track.

  2. Dave Hoffman says:

    I hadn’t really thought of the class-room as a horror-movie before, but now that you’ve made the point, I think it will be hard to put out of mind.

    Just as long as the students aren’t packing heat, I suppose no harm done, right?