William Deresiewicz, who teaches at Yale, has written a thought-provoking piece about the intense bond that often occurs between professors and students. He points out the curious trend in films and novels to depict the professor (most often male) as a failed writer who tends to sleep with his students. The old stereotype of the 'bumbling professor' has now been replaced by the 'sexualized academic'. The crux of Deresiewicz's piece, however, is that we've got it all wrong. While the relationship between professors and students can be intensely intimate, it's a relationship popular imagination has a hard time understanding because "it begins in the intellect" and it "involves a form of love that is neither erotic nor familial, the only two forms our culture understands". So you see, it's not all about sex sex, but rather, about brain sex. Ok, well he says it better by calling it "intimacy of the mind".
From The American Scholar:
The absentminded professor, that kindly old figure, is long gone. A new image has taken his place, one that bespeaks not only our culture’s hostility to the mind, but also its desperate confusion about the nature of love.
Look at recent movies about academics, and a remarkably consistent pattern emerges. In The Squid and the Whale (2005), Jeff Daniels plays an English professor and failed writer who sleeps with his students, neglects his wife, and bullies his children. In One True Thing (1998), William Hurt plays an English professor and failed writer who sleeps with his students, neglects his wife, and bullies his children. In Wonder Boys (2000), Michael Douglas plays an English professor and failed writer who sleeps with his students, has just been left by his third wife, and can’t commit to the child he’s conceived in an adulterous affair with his chancellor. Daniels’s character is vain, selfish, resentful, and immature. Hurt’s is vain, selfish, pompous, and self-pitying. Douglas’s is vain, selfish, resentful, and self-pitying. Hurt’s character drinks. Douglas’s drinks, smokes pot, and takes pills. All three men measure themselves against successful writers (two of them, in Douglas’s case; his own wife, in Daniels’s) whose presence diminishes them further. In We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004), Mark Ruffalo and Peter Krause divide the central role: both are English professors, and both neglect and cheat on their wives, but Krause plays the arrogant, priapic writer who seduces his students, Ruffalo the passive, self-pitying failure. A Love Song For Bobby Long (2004) divides the stereotype a different way, with John Travolta as the washed-up, alcoholic English professor, Gabriel Macht as the blocked, alcoholic writer.