I’m still on the librarian-image-has-a-deeper-meaning kick (see last week’s post on theories behind — hee hee — the anal-retentiveness of reel librarian portrayals). Now let’s explore more about the librarian as a cinematic representation of an ethical and intellectual leader.
Ann O’Brien & Martin Raish wrote in their article, “The Image of the Librarian in Commercial Motion Pictures,” that “[o]ften a figure of wisdom and benign authority, the librarian was the custodian of positive social and educative forces” (63). Libraries are places where one can access information and all kinds of knowledge; transferring those qualities of wisdom and collected intelligence to the librarian(s) makes sense. Librarians in real life also tend to be master generalists — we know a little about a lot of things. Noah Wyle as Flynn Carson in The Librarian TV movies is a great example of this, with his umpteenth degrees and vast array of esoteric knowledge that helps him get out of all sorts of tricky situations.
The librarian’s role in film has also periodically included being the moral center of the community. This “morality” does not necessarily take on conservative or overbearing overtones; rather, the librarian stands for what is right and good in a society, a highly positive image. Whew, a positive image for reel librarians! Well, we were due. In the article I referenced in last week’s post, “Power, Knowledge, and Fear: Feminism, Foucault, and the Stereotype of the Female Librarian,” Marie and Gary Radford comment that “the library has long been taken [...] as a metaphor for rationality” (254) and “[l]ibraries are segregated places of intellectual activity” (255).
Storm Center (1956) adheres to the notion that librarians represent rationality and ethical judgment, as Bette Davis plays a librarian in a small town who stands up against censorship. And passes out lollipops to kids (not kidding, see left, as well as my post on advertising the reel librarian). But I digress… the censorship issue also emerges in Rome Adventure (1962), and in a more heated environment in Pump Up the Volume (1990), as well. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) features a more benign librarian hero, played by Jason Robards, but he still stands up for what he perceives as right; he literally represents the “good” pitted against Mr. Dark’s “evil” (deliciously played by Jonathan Pryce).
In a more diluted form, the librarian can stand for good ol’ common sense, as exemplified by Katharine Hepburn in Desk Set (1957) or Greer Garson in Adventure (1945). And who doesn’t love a bit of common sense?