Remembering ‘The Professor’

Russell Johnson, who died this week at 89, played the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. The_Professor_(Gilligan's_Island) The Professor could build anything from coconut and bamboo, except a patch for the boat, writes the Los Angeles Times.”He used bamboo, the ship’s horn and radio batteries to create a lie detector; he made a battery recharger from a coconut shell and a helium balloon made from raincoats sealed with tree sap.”

The Professor was a high school science teacher with a PhD, not a university professor, writes Jon Marcus on the Hechinger Report. Long before a chemistry teacher became TV’s finest meth cook, a science teacher showed the power of knowledge,

“At a time when science became mistrusted for having brought not better lives, but pollution and the fear of nuclear annihilation, he was a rock of reason, patience, and precision, level-headed and respected,” writes Marcus.

Also he was good looking.

In recent years, TV has rediscovered smart people, writes Marcus.

There has been a television series called Eureka, about a town populated by geniuses, where the whiz kids pick on the jocks. Smart people also star or have starred in Fringe, The Mentalist, Alphas, Bones, Touch, Breaking Bad, The Big-Bang Theory, and other hits. They’re newly hot (and very, very rich) in real life, too: Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg.

These people, real or imaginary, represent the promise of science and the constancy of truth.

Does popular culture value science, truth and intelligence?

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  1. PhillipMarlowe says:

    And there is Sherlock and his brother Mycroft.
    Sherlock describes himself as a highly function socio-path, usually in response to those call him a psychopath.

  2. Sonysunshine says:

    There’s certainly a part of our culture which values science. My kids love Top Gear, Myth Busters, Gizmag, Crash Course videos. My older daughter loves Sherlock. There are tons of young adult lit out there which deal with dystopian societies and their consequences. Plus, we have all the fan fiction websites where writers share and critic each other’s works. There is an intellectual world out there even if it has to compete with reality TV.

  3. Jon Marcus thinks The Professor from Gilligan’s Island is the shepherd who’s called the wayward flock back to the comforting fold of science? Cripes, I’m really going to have to look into an advanced degree because on the basis more then a few similarly stellar “insights” it can’t be that tough to get one, provided you choose your discipline carefully.

    Marcus, it turns out, has a Masters in journalism from Columbia so it’s understandable that he’d confuse The Professor for someone even remotely like a scientist. After all, more then a few journalists operate under the charming misconception that science is done by consensus which tells anyone who’s paying attention a lot more about journalists then it does about scientists.

    In fact, there’s bags of evidence that the public never came to distrust science and there’s even evidence of that view in popular culture if you’re not wedded to the idea that you’re ever so smart and “the masses” ever so dumb.

    At the “kiddie” end of the pool, historical division, there was “Watch Mr. Wizard” which after running from 1951 to 1965 was reincarnated as “Mr. Wizard’s World” from 1983 to 1990. A slightly more adult program was Walter Cronkite’s “The Twenty-first Century”.

    More recently there’s been “Bill Nye, The Science Guy” and since the advent of cable there are a number of channels devoted exclusively to science and “sciency” content.

    The Professor, as evidenced by some of Mr. Marcus’ references to the program was, like all the characters, an affable dope viewers could easily feel smarter then. His dopery was just tarted up with psuedo-scientific jargon and ludicrous gadgetry so obviously phony that their construction was more a joke then an accomplishment the better to feel superior to The Professor.

    Backhanded evidence of public confidence in science can be found most recently in the political issue of anthropogenic global warming.

    The political left, ever on the lookout for ways to extend their political power, has tried to cloak themselves in scientific credibility by trying to substitute a large volume of unsupported assertions for demonstration proof. But when you try to put science to political use, and you don’t have the proof, the clock is against you.

    If you can’t get law passed while you’ve got the public sufficiently confused you probably never will so every effort has to be focused on trying to create the appearence of scientific proof in its absence. Gratifyingly enough, if the effort to stampede the public falls short the lack of scientific verification erodes the political momentum as is happening to the politics of anthropogenic global warming.