Tag Archives: academia

Is It Time To Stop Reading Shakespeare?

I never really liked Shakespeare.

Never hated the guy, mind you- downright enjoyed a few of his plays (The Tempest, Coriolanus, Hamlet). Still, I never really could bring myself to relish the bard’s works with the same zealous enthusiasm of the drama geeks and English majors.

With that in mind, you might spare me perhaps a little of the horrified gasping when I ask:

Is it time to stop reading Shakespeare?

And I ask that with all sincerity. I’ve made no secret about my general dislike of the theater and the culture surrounding it, but I’m not here to talk about those guys.

You know the type. Melodramatic airheads who’ll actually only refer to this as “the Scottish play”…

I’m talking about the actual works of William Shakespeare here.

Why still read ’em?

After all, with every passing year, we drift further and further away from those stories. In spite the film industry churning out one or two adaptations or modernizations of Shakespeare’s plays, there’s only so many ways to re-imagine Romeo and Juliet.

Continue reading

Can Video Games Make Thoughtful Social Critiques?

Just to be clear, I am not a gamer. The only video game I ever successfully completed was Jill of the Jungle, which we owned on floppy disk when I was a kid.

I’m pretty sure I only liked this game because Jane was a super cool tough girl,

In fact, up until this past year I would have argued that video games don’t really have any redeeming qualities. At worst, they are a hotbed of misogyny and xenophobia, as chronicled by female gamers on websites like Not in the Kitchen Anymore and Fat, Ugly or Slutty. At best, they are like a bottomless pit where the lives of children and adults disappear, never to resurface.

Although I suppose the same could be said about pretty well anything.

This year a good friend convinced me to try a Digital Humanities class at my University. For those of you who haven’t heard of the field before (I hadn’t either), Wikipedia defines it as the “intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities”.  If you want to see some examples of the kind of research being done in the field, you could check out two of my past posts describing DH scholar Lisa Nakamura’s guest lectures at my university.

While this class has challenged the way I see technology in general, it has particularly challenged my very negative perception of video games. In fact, Ian Bogost, one of the DH scholars we studied in the course, argues that games can form powerful arguments and unique social critiques. In his book, Persuasive GamesBogost describes arguments made by a game as “procedural rhetoric“, or, more simply as “the art of persuasion through rule-based representations and interactions, rather than the spoken word, writing, images, or moving pictures”.

Below, I’ve included four examples of persuasive games my DH professor shared with the class. Each of these games make relevant and thoughtful arguments that wouldn’t have been as effective if they didn’t appear in their procedural form.

The Parable of the Polygons

Vi Hart and Nicky Case preface their simple browser game by stating that “This is a story of how harmless choices can make a harmful world.” Hart and Case explain that the triangles and squares are “slightly shapist”. This means that the shapes prefer some level of diversity around them, but will become unhappy if they feel isolated in their community. Players are then asked to drag and drop the shapes until all of the squares and triangles are happy with the community of shapes around them.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 1.28.02 PM

Click on the image to play the game

Once the player begins moving the shapes, it becomes apparent that even a slight bias will lead to large scale segregation. Continue reading

Fame Day: Sigmund Freud

freudThere’s a reason why I’m offering the spotlight to the most iconic psychologist (barring Hannibal Lecter) of all time. You’re probably wondering, “Why? Everyone knows Freud!

True, but to echo every girl dating a scumbag, “You don’t know him like I do.

Even with all his fame, Freud is nevertheless the butt of plenty of jokes. He’s often looked on not so much as the founding father of psychology, but a weird Austrian doctor who managed to touch off something huge in his twisted speculation on primal, sexual urges and Oedipal complexes. He’s essentially the equivalent of the crazy 80s hair-band- popular in its time, and now looked back on as a stupid stage of music needed as a simple stepping stone.

The cost of progress is steep indeed…

Now this thought I’m about to reveal isn’t my own, but nevertheless merits echoing.

Imagine if we treated every scientist and inventor the way we treat Freud.

Think about it.

Imagine putting down Galileo for all the stuff he got wrong. Imagine assuming that because 90% of everything Newton knew about the universe was incorrect, he really isn’t worth more than a foot note in scientific history. Heck, Einstein rejected quantum mechanics, yet the guy remains the standard of genius in our age (an honor that should belong to Tesla, but that’s another story).

Tesla Coils: I like to think of ’em as big “**** You, Edison” Towers

Heck, I’m willing to wager that if you juxtaposed everything Freud got wrong about his field, and everything Darwin got wrong about his field, Freud would come out ahead. Yet Darwin is a respected, if not revered, icon of academia and a poster boy for exploration and discovery.

This was the coolest (and only) Darwin gif out there…

Why can’t Freud get the same deal?

That’s all I’m really trying to get at here- the man practically pioneered an entire field of (soft) science. He deserves more than yo momma jokes. His legacy should be more than the stereotype of a bald, bearded psychologist sitting behind a couch (did you know that pretty much no psychologist uses those couches anymore? What a rip-off). Let’s give this guy respect for all he discovered, credit for all he got right, and a shred of leniency for all he got wrong.

It’s only fair. A person who has contributed so much to the world deserves at least that consideration.

Evan and Gordon Talk: The Purpose of College

EVAN: This week on E&GT we take a break from scrutinizing film to look back about seven or so months to a different time of our lives: college. Now that we’ve both graduated we find ourselves in a different stage of life, and it begs the question of what those four years did for us, and whether or not that’s what we wanted or expected.

GORDON: Throughout my college career, especially towards the end, I heard a recurring argument:

“College is a scam,” they said, “It’s a trap or, at very best, a waste of money. You don’t learn anything you can actually translate into a job, so either drop out while you can or don’t sweat the grades and party your buns off.”

EVAN: Wait, who is the “they” that was saying this?

GORDON: I’ve read it in various Cracked articles, I’ve seen it covered in webcomics and in comments, I’ve heard it on the radio. Not always the same tone,  but it always boiled down to that essential idea. “College doesn’t teach you what you really need to know, it just puts you in debt and wastes your time.”

EVAN: Well, I guess that really begs the question of “What is it that we’re really supposed to know?” If college is the great institution to prepare us for our lives, what should it have taught us?

GORDON: Some would argue that technical and vocational skills are what we really need. Stuff that’s meant to train us for jobs. Wrenches, not Whitman.

EVAN: Which is the sort of thing you see advertised on television late at night or in the middle of the day; schools for electricians and dental assistants and plumbers and what have you.

GORDON: Which always come across as propaganda films from a dystopic alternate timeline. They can claim to be breaking the mold all they want- I’ll still always just see Orwellian Factory-Schools designed train the subservient masses for laboring in name of supreme leader and glorious fatherland.

EVAN: Heh heh.

The contrast to this idea you brought up when first introducing this topic, that the two sides could be seen as college prepping us for our careers or making us more well-rounded individuals.

There’s obviously more to it than that, but how would you boil the latter option down to its essence?

GORDON: I’d probably cite our own alma mater’s (for me more just “mater”) slogan of “global mindedness.” The idea is to create people who are, first and foremost, thinkers. Logical and critically minded thinkers with strong creative abilities and appreciation for art and wonder. A noble enough sentiment to be sure.

EVAN: To really engage with this topic I feel like we should have equal footing, and I’ll have to give our readers a little bit of context-

I’m currently unemployed, and chose to live the latter part of 2012 living with and taking care of my grandfather, whose wife [my grandmother] passed away in September. My job hunt has only very recently started up again.

I say that because as it stands one of us is currently working and knows how his education has aided him and the other is not.

GORDON: I, unlike my Canadian counter-part, am currently employed, having worked two jobs simultaneously for a while there. Having vainly searched for a job the entire summer and most of the fall, I am now working a job helping unemployed people find work, the irony of which is not lost on me.

EVAN: And did you, my Employed-American friend, find that a degree helped you in your search for work?

GORDON: In all honesty, I’m not sure.

On one hand, I can say that certain classes I brought definitely assisted me in securing a job, but those classes really more on the whole “applied” spectrum of education. I definitely didn’t need to go to a top 3% college. People, it turns out, don’t give a crap about where you went.

EVAN: Again, I can’t comment from experience, but I’d like to say that it depends on the job.

GORDON: This is probably true. However, if you were looking for a job, which is gonna look better on a resume? Four years of college, or four years of experience in that field? From everything that I’ve seen, I’d take experience every time.

EVAN: And I agree with that entirely. I can’t count the number of want ads I’ve seen [and this is for stuff like janitorial work, and dishwasher] that require “minimum 2 years work experience.”

It’s like, heck, what was I doing in school when I could’ve been out working this whole time?

GORDON: But of course, that brings up the first question: what’s the point of college? Are we expected to choose a career path and be trained like the mindless, dehumanized proles that we are?

EVAN: Well, for me personally my career goals were more tailored to an academic setting. My personal interest in writing and editing is definitely something that can and is fostered in that environment.

That being said, if I had skipped my four years of college to simply freelance as hard as I could out there in the real world, would I be a better writer today? I honestly couldn’t tell you.

GORDON: The problem is that both sides have really, really big flaws.

On the one hand, turning college into a simple vocational training course does truly rip the soul right out of academia. It makes it just the place you go to get a desk job instead of a manual one.

On the other hand, college as it is now, while fostering intellect and creativity, is as unhelpful as it is expensive. Why put yourself over a hundred thousand dollars in debt to not get employment?

EVAN: I guess in the bigger picture, what is it that we want to do with our lives?

There are plenty of jobs out there that don’t require a college education, and that certainly benefit from hard work at an early stage.

On the flip-side, there are jobs that you simply can’t get without a degree.

GORDON: We also can’t imagine that we can simply get any job we want to begin with. It’s all a gamble. I can get a degree in biology, but that doesn’t at all mean I’m gonna get a job in biology- heck, I’d probably be lucky if I got something even close!

EVAN: Like a janitor in a pharmaceutical company. Or the guy who delivers mail to a biology professor’s house.

GORDON: Exactly. So is that it, then? It’s the whole dang system?

EVAN: I mean, yeah. I feel like more often than not that’s all it really boils down to.

GORDON: So let’s talk about an ideal universe. Or at least one that ain’t quite so screwed up. What’s college look like? Give me your take.

This does not count as an ideal college…

EVAN: It’s tricky, man- Because I would like everyone to be well-read individuals who think about the media that they access and have a fuller understanding of what makes us who and what we are as a culture, I mean, that’s the dream-

But at the same time I acknowledge that there are people who don’t care a whit about any or all of that.

And with so many people who enjoy poetry and the arts, while those are debatably important parts of society, what happens when they need to find work? How many playwrights can any single country sustain?

GORDON: My response would be “how many playwrights are there actually out there?”

EVAN: I think there’s a difference between the actual number, and how many individuals would actually like to be a part of that number.

GORDON: Touché, but we can blame certain jobs being glorified and others suffering from unwarranted contempt.

But let’s move on. College. Your college- what’s it look like?

EVAN: A thorough exploration of the ideas that created Western civilization, the one most of us live in today, because it’s extremely important to observe our origins before we can look at our present and then ahead, after that.

A strong emphasis on writing with the reason that without the ability to properly communicate our thoughts how can we even really fully think them to begin with.

GORDON: Sounds to me that you’re still leaning more towards the side of academia.

EVAN: Well, like we’ve discussed, I have a slight bias. And I suppose we haven’t really defined the question as far as the purpose of college.

GORDON: My take would a combination of both sides, with the end goal being application. We’re talking about the study of English for the purposes of applying the principles in same, either in writing or screenplays or entertainment or communication of some kind.

I feel this would allow for all the creative and academic elements while keeping the whole process grounded. No ivory towers.

EVAN: I don’t think my take discounts the possibility of lining up with what you said, but that’s a really good description of how college could and maybe should be.

That being said, we are actually overtime.

GORDON: You wanna talk about drugs and culture next time?

EVAN: I think at some point we could hand this back to the viewers, actually. We’ve really gotten a handle on this whole E&GT. I’m just not sure when or how to do so.

GORDON: The readers are slack-jawed cattle who would eat their own shoes if we told them to.

EVAN: I should probably edit that out of the final post.

GORDON: Nah, we can let ’em vote. My subject would be Drugs and Culture.

EVAN: Mine would be . . . um . . . huh. About SNL. How to fix SNL.

GORDON: Nice. Let it be so.

EVAN: Tell the nice people to have a good Wednesday, Gordon.

GORDON: Have a good Wednesday, Gordon.

EVAN: And don’t forget to vote, readers! Thanks for putting up with my co-writer!