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The Dartmouth
June 16, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Better than Cornell: Dartmouth in pop culture

Cheers erupted in the Collis Center last Thursday as students tuning in for their weekly viewing of the popular Fox television series "The O.C." heard Adam Brody's character, Seth Cohen, praise Dartmouth at Cornell University's expense.

Cohen quipped that another character might have been told her chances were better at Cornell than they were at Dartmouth.

Dartmouth's appearance on "The O.C." is just one of many popular portrayals of the College that range from the partying fraternity members of "Animal House" lore to the academic reputation that has earned the College a place among the top 10 universities in U.S. News and World Report's annual rankings.

In the 1972 film, "The Godfather," Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, is sent to Dartmouth as he builds the foundation for a political career. More recently, a church singer on a February 2000 episode of "The Simpsons" said she was "drinking like a Dartmouth boy," and President Josiah Bartlett of the Emmy Award-winning "West Wing" series taught economics at Dartmouth before running for office.

Dartmouth features prominently in other media, as well, recently landing on the front page of The New York Times' science section after Dartmouth researchers developed the smallest maneuverable robot.

Roland Adams, the College's director of news and public information, expressed satisfaction with Dartmouth's place in popular culture.

"Certainly you can find Dartmouth represented in many novels, films, TV shows and plays for a period of decades, and I think that's a reflection of the College's standings in the public mind and the College's strength," Adams said. "There wouldn't be that much interest in representing Dartmouth one way or another if it wasn't a name that many people recognized."

Although Dartmouth's name tends to creep into popular culture, film and television studies professor Bill Phillips said the inspiration for artists who include Dartmouth in their work is less about the College's national image and more about its personal connections.

Phillips, himself a member of the Class of 1971, wrote and directed the 1992 film "There Goes the Neighborhood," which features a bumper sticker from the Tuck School of Business on one of the character's cars as a simple acknowledgment of Phillips' Dartmouth connection.

"I think we sort of recognize what are cultural icons and what aren't. Harvard means a certain thing. It sounds like heresy to say it, but I don't think Dartmouth rises to that level," Phillips said. "When I put [Dartmouth] in my movie, I wasn't doing it for anyone but me. I think that's what it's about. I don't think anyone says Dartmouth wanting to get an effect the same way they say Harvard. They do it more for sentimental reasons."

In fact, Dartmouth connections can be found behind the scenes of many television shows and movies, including the hit ABC series "Grey's Anatomy," written by Shonda Rhimes '91. The main character on Rhimes' show is a Dartmouth alumna and medical intern who often wears Dartmouth clothing.

This past summer, Jon Stewart made a joke on Comedy Central's "Daily Show" suggesting that the new SATs will determine whether students will be "successful or Dartmouth graduates."

While some students were offended by the comment, others saw it as a playful joke directed at one of Stewart's interns: Charlotte Heleniak '06.

"There's definitely a Dartmouth mafia in Los Angeles," Phillips said, referring to the circle of alumni currently working in the film industry. "If you are a wannabe filmmaker going out there, you can probably get in touch with 25 or 30 people who will in some way welcome you into the circle."