Real colleges and universities in fiction

I considered this topic for my dissertation, before settling on adults college students in films. From the

Tina Fey studied drama at the University of Virginia. But that genteel Southern collegiate pedigree would hardly suit Liz Lemon, her “30 Rock” alter ego. Instead, we are told that Lemon — Northern and cerebral, but also middle-class and hopelessly dorky — attended Bryn Mawr College and the University of Maryland, “on a partial competitive jazz dance scholarship.”

Real colleges pop up all over our fictional landscapes, their names invoked to breathe life and depth into characters. The universities of Minnesota and Virginia serve as backdrops in “Freedom,” Jonathan Franzen’s celebrated novel. “The Simpsons” caricatured the Seven Sisters in an episode touching on the collegiate aspirations of bookish daughter Lisa. (“Come to Radcliffe and meet Harvard men,” they beckon. “Or come to Wellesley and marry them.”) And the Oscar-winning film “The Social Network” essentially stars Harvard University — although the campus we see on-screen is actually that of a stand-in, Johns Hopkins University.

A citation in fiction means an institution’s brand is sufficiently familiar to help define a fictional character: Princeton preppy. Penn State party boy. MIT brainiac. Harvard kingmaker. Berkeley radical. Notre Dame jock.


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