January 30, 2007

Andy Bernard, Cornell's TV Ambassador

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No one doubts the reputation of Cornell University as an institution of academic integrity and excellence. Countless Cornell graduates have done, are doing and will do great things in all facets of life after leaving our alma mater. However, one area sorely lacking is the school’s representation in the fictional worlds of television and film. Too many characters have come from those other Ivy League schools which shall not be named.

That’s not to say that no one on the silver screen or in TV land has come from Ezra’s lauded institution. For instance, there’s the larger-than-life Charles Foster Kane who attended, even if it was just for a short while. There’s Tara Reid’s character from the American Pie series which, I must admit, doesn’t bode too well for our reputation.

Perhaps the best representative of Cornell in the university’s pantheon of fictional alumnae is Sideshow Mel from The Simpsons. Before you ask how a shirtless, hula skirt wearing man with a bone in his hair for the past 18 years could be Cornell’s greatest ambassador on television, I’ll explain. Mel replaced Krusty the Clown’s previous sidekick, Sideshow Bob, after Bob attempted to frame the illiterate clown.

Since then, Mel has stuck by Krusty through thick and thin despite the constant humiliation dealt upon him as sidekick. Who didn’t tear up a bit during Mel’s duet with Krusty when they sang “Send in the Clowns” on “Krusty’s Comeback Special”? Is not loyalty a virtue this institution prides itself upon?

Appearances aside, Mel carries himself as an educated man with his patrician voice and talent for playing the slide-whistle. He’s also an amateur detective as when he cleared Wayland Smithers of shooting C. Montgomery Burns. Sideshow Mel, I am proud to call you a fellow Cornellian.

Sideshow Mel embodies the best our institution can instill in its students, but the same cannot be said of a new member to Cornell’s TV family. His name is Andy Bernard, Regional Director in Charge of Sales at the Dunder-Mifflin paper company.

Andy is first introduced in The Office’s third season as Jim Halpert’s coworker at Dunder-Miflin’s Stamford branch but is transferred to Scranton after the two offices merge.

In one of the show’s many interviews, Andy informs the camera of his Cornell background but boasts he “graduated in four years,” “never studied once” and “was drunk the whole time.” He’s also a proud member of the a cappella group “Here Comes Treble” and on numerous occasions displays his skills for his fellow coworkers.

This alone would put him on the shortlist for worst fictional Cornellian, but there’s more. Andy’s also a conniving coworker and has made enemies of pranksters Jim and Pam. His scheme in sucking up to his boss Michael Scott to a psychotic degree orchestrates Dwight Schrute’s resignation. Not only is Andy a generally awful coworker, but he also has anger management issues as in the last episode when he punches a hole in the wall out of frustration for not being able to locate his cell phone. This guy is scary. When Michael Scott thinks there something off about a guy, you know it’s serious.

Andy Bernard is giving our beloved university a bad name, and he needs to go. With Michael Scott awakening to Andy’s true nature and Angela’s boiling hatred over the Dwight incident, it seems likely that Andy’s days are numbered. However, if and when this does happen, Andy’s presence will be missed. He’s been a great foil for both Jim, who he nicknamed “Big Tuna” after one tuna sandwich lunch, and archrival Dwight.

My favorite Andy moment has to be his misguided attempt to woo Pam by serenading her with “The Rainbow Connection” while strumming the banjo. Not only does his falsetto voice sound horrendous, but he manages to throw in a few pig Latin lyrics much to Pam’s “delight.”

If Andy Bernard is the most visible Cornellian on television, this is a problem, and something must be done. I vow in the future that if I ever write a screenplay or for television at least one character will be a Cornell alumnus and a positive representative of the University.

Cornellians have been underrepresented in fictional realms for far too long. If we don’t act soon, people might think the over privileged only come from those little known schools in Cambridge and New Haven. That would be a shame.