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.
A few weeks ago my brother sent me the following video and asked if I could write about it on the blog. He challenged me to defend academia and promised that he would respond by commenting on why this video resonated so deeply with him. So, although I agree with many of the comments Dave from Boyinaband makes in his video, I’m going to offer you several reasons why our education system can be, and has often been, a good thing.
1. Our education system was designed to promote equality
In his video on the history of education, Salman Kahn explains how our contemporary education system was shaped by ideologies that valued class equality. According to Kahn, the Prussian education system, despite its faults, insisted on providing public education for all citizens. Meanwhile, even the “Committee of Ten”, the group of educators who originally introduced standardized curriculum, were motivated by their belief that economic status should not prevent students from having access to “higher order” skills. Standardization of curriculum meant that every student would (ideally) have access to the kind of information that was once restricted to the elite.
I’m currently in the last year of my English undergraduate degree. Well, kinda. I will probably have to do an extra semester to finish off my credits completely, but after next semester I will have finally finished all my English requirements.
Like many students, I kind of fell into my major. In my first year of full time studies I was seriously considering a degree in economics, or anthropology. Until I took a class in those subjects and quickly changed my mind. Once I started figuring out what kind of classes I actually liked, I started talking about doing my degree in Sociology, Political Science, or Environmental Ethics. Then, when I transferred to UVic, I decided I would take their writing program. Well I thought I was decided, until I was invited to join the English Honours program. That invitation totally went to my head and I dropped everything in order to pursue that (very structured) program.
Because of the number of required English classes (and because I blew many of my elective classes during first year), I’ve been taking pretty-well only English classes for the last two years. During that time, I began to ask myself if I had made the best choice. After all, English is really just reading books, isn’t it? Couldn’t I do that in my own time?
Ah, reading for fun/relaxation. Can’t wait until I get to do that again.
Now that I’m getting close to the end of my degree, I’m able to look back and be thankful for (almost) all of the English classes I needed to take. Yes, I still feel like there are a million others I wish I could have taken, but I think I would have felt that way regardless of my major. There are more fantastic courses out there than what you can possibly fit into one undergraduate degree.
Getting close to the end has also allowed me to reflect on the many English courses I have taken and realize just how broad a range of subjects they actually address. I’ve included a few examples below.
One of the texts we are translating for our final project.
I’m currently finishing off a class on Middle English that I did not want to take. Not at all. I’m required to take a class in early English literature, so I chose this class after a friend recommended the professor. I was then pleasantly surprised to find that it was a fantastic class. It was also not at all what I was expecting.
English has evolved considerably since the 12th century, so it’s hardly surprising that trying to read Middle English texts is like reading an entirely different language.
At the beginning of the class our professor touched on many of the other languages that have influenced the formation of the English language. Then, as the class progressed, a lot of the work we did in class involved translating various works. The translation process required a basic understanding of how to parse language, something I had almost no experience with. Like many English speakers, sentence structure is something I know intuitively, not something I’ve intentionally learned. However, if my experience in Quebec this summer taught me anything, it’s that knowing how to break down language is key to learning a new one. So I’m hopeful that the linguistic skills I’ve been struggling to learn in this class will help me with my future language learning goals. Continue reading →
It occurs to me that it’s been too long since we actually had an actual “report” here, rather than rabid opinion piece. To that end, we’re going to be examining the state of Arizona’s recent assault on its Mexican-American ethnic studies programs. This story isn’t the freshest (or a full-on report; baby steps, people), but with relatively new developments, and how little attention the story was given in general, it’s worth reviewing.
In spring of 2010, Arizona decided to ban ethnic studies classes in its public schools for grades K-12 (HB [House Bill] 2281). Of course, by “ethnic studies”, the state of Arizona meant “Mexican-American/Chicano” studies, and as Tuscon school board member Michael Hicks clarified:
“Honestly, this law won’t be applied to any other of our [ethnic studies] courses. It was strictly written for one course, which is the Mexican-American studies program.”
Space marines. I can’t speak for most people, but when I hear those two words two very distinct images come to mind, which have thankfully been drawn together thanks to this image I found on dorkshelf.com:
On the left, a Terran Marine from the popular Blizzard RTS franchise [real time strategy game] StarCraft. On the right, an Imperium of Man Space Marine from the universe of Warhammer 40,000, by Games Workshop. Yes, the are both traditionally depicted as wearing blue armour. It’s fairly common knowledge that Blizzard owes a great visually creative debt to Games Workshop while still branching out on their own, but that’s not the point.
To quickly explain the legal nitty-gritty of all this, in the US Games Workshop owns a trademark on the term that covers “board games, parlor games, war games, hobby games, toy models and miniatures of buildings, scenery, figures, automobiles, vehicles, planes, trains and card games and paint, sold therewith.”
It turns out that in Europe they have a Class 16 trademark, which includes, among a whole slew of other things, “printed matter.” With that in hand Games Workshop brought their complaint to Amazon Kindle Publishing UK, which then caused Amazon Kindle Publishing US to block the e-book in all countries everywhere. A later update states that since the company has since delved into e-books themselves, they own the trademark in that respect as well.
I used to own a registered trademark. I understand the legal obligations of trademark holders to protect their IP. A Games Workshop trademark of the term “Adeptus Astartes” is completely understandable. But they’ve chosen instead to co-opt the legacy of science fiction writers who laid the groundwork for their success. Even more than I want to save Spots the Space Marine, I want someone to save all space marines for the genre I grew up reading. I want there to be a world where Heinlein and E.E. Smith’s space marines can live alongside mine and everyone else’s, and no one has the hubris to think that they can own a fundamental genre trope and deny it to everyone else.
Space marines have been part of the sci-fi cultural landscape for decades at this point, going as far back to Robert A. Heinlein’s 1959 novel Starship Troopers[later adapted into a film in 1997]. While Bungie’s Halo franchise concentrates on their Spartan supersoldiers, fighting alongside these technological titans are members of the UNSC [United Nations Space Command] Marine Corps. In Gears of War the protagonists are infantry soldiers known as Gears, clad in bulky armour and waging war against the same sorts of extraterrestrial terrors the aforementioned servicemen do.
Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2, lines 43-44:
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
Science fiction has long been about exploring what lies beyond the Earth’s gravitational pull, and where there is the unknown there often lies danger. To put together a military force similar to what exists here and now while using the same naming convention simply makes sense.
What Hogarth wants is for science fiction authors, video game creators, etc. to be able to continue use a term that was long made available to everyone. It’s like saying that Blizzard and WarCraft placing a trademark on a term like “paladin” or “shaman,” or Star Wars placing one on “bounty hunter.” Space marines should be free to defend humanity on Tarsonis, Sera, Reach, or Macragge, and go by that title if they wish.
GORDON: Ladies, gentlemen, voices I hear in my head during the dark, long hours of the night, we’re going to deviate from our past record of discussing television to talk about creating a new literary genre.
EVAN: Which is a daunting task, to say the least. I mean, genres have gotten ridiculously specific as of late. There’s a “gay horror” genre now. It’s not something to spook homophobes, it’s literally horror fiction for homosexuals.
GORDON: There are so many terrible, ignorant jokes I wanna make right now, but I’m not going to. But I agree- we can’t just slap two genres together. Poe is credited with inventing the deective novel- is there a particular profession that hasn’t really been explored much?
EVAN: Hm . . . Everything dramatic and even slightly connected to death is out. That includes forensic scientists, doctors or any sort, lawyers, etc. And the thing is, a genre that revolves around a profession requires an exciting one.
GORDON: Would it count if we revived the explorer/exploration novel?
EVAN: Not if the title of this post is “Evan and Gordon Talk: New Lit. Genre.”
GORDON: Touché. Here’s an idea: a “Nietzschean” novel.
EVAN: Go on-
GORDON: Well, to brutally simplify the philosophy, the only “bad guys” are the people who aren’t doing anything. Otherwise it’s more like an epic tale of colliding forces all of whom technically could be the protagonists and antagonists.
EVAN: That’s an interesting direction, but I suppose my issue is how alternatingly broad and specific it is- So in these novels you’re proposing, the only villains are the idle?
GORDON: the idle, the apathetic, those trapped by their antiquated sense of morality, and those enslaved to their brute instincts and empty rationality.
EVAN: I suppose it works, but have difficulty seeing it as the header to a shelf in a bookstore. Which is sort of what I was envisioning we would do in creating our new genre.
GORDON: Huh. What’s your idea?
EVAN: Well, this isn’t my idea, but I recently came across this brilliant new novel put together by Ryan North, creator of the webcomic Quantz.
GORDON: Huh. If we’re going down that track, how about a novel written in such a way where you can rip out certain sections, rearrange ’em, and wind up with a completely different story?
EVAN: It would work, but sounds exceedingly difficult to pull off. I’m trying to think of how exactly one would go about writing one . . .
I think, keeping in discussing literature, we could devise a new medium of sorts- it would be a marriage of the graphic novel and the traditional novel. Heavy on both text and imagery, a seamless integration that showcases both the artist and the author.
GORDON: That’s sounds like your average Alan Moore book.
EVAN:The Watchmen comes close to it, but it’s ultimately still a graphic novel which prioritizes that sort of storytelling over the bits of prose sandwiched in between the panels.
How about we look at steampunk, and see if we can branch out from it? That seems to be the newest sort of genre out there nowadays.
GORDON: Fair enough. I’m just struggling to figure out an era of technology to “punk.” After all, steam power was really the first major leap in technology.
EVAN: And “cyberpunk” is already a thing as well.
GORDON: This is true. But what else is there? Modern tech? “Modpunk”?
EVAN: Well, we don’t necessarily need to “punk” something. We just need to look at what makes/made steampunk so popular and work off of that-
GORDON: It’s the art, the world, the fancy suits. But yeah, it’s the rich world that’s created; it appeals to us.
EVAN: It’s also a union of history junkies and the sci-fi/fantasy crowd, I think that’s a pretty large aspect of it.
Are there two sort of interest groups that we can intertwine? I mean, it’s already been done with horror and romance, long before Stephenie Meyers ever came along.
GORDON: Huh. I’ll admit, I’m having trouble trying to think of one that hasn’t already been covered. As of yet, I think my Nietzschean idea was the strongest lead we yet have.
What if went down that route? Trying to twist philosophies into narratives- the allegory of the cave would make a good story.
EVAN: I think the main issue is how broad it could get- though I suppose it could just be “Philosophical Fiction.” That I could see in a bookstore.
GORDON: That’d be cool. I mean, it all appeals to the questions and struggles we already have. Yet barring Rand (may raccoons urinate on her grave) and LeGuin, I can’t think of any explicitly “philosophical” novels.
EVAN: That may speak for their effectiveness/popularity.
I was thinking about taking a genre that’s immensely popular to this day, and smashing it together with another one. Self-help books.
EVAN: People eat ’em up.
GORDON: I’m just imagining a really sarcastic self-help book.
EVAN: Comedy and self-help has probably been done . . . hm . . . I would love to see a whole line of books that masqueraded as self-help books that you could gift to the naive.
GORDON: Heh, that’d be cool.
EVAN: They’d be excessively over the top, but just believable enough for people to [literally] buy them.
GORDON: That’d be funny, but it’s really not a genre.
EVAN: I think if self-help books are a genre then fake self-help books would be as well.
GORDON: It’s really more of a gag.
EVAN: Yeah, I suppose you really couldn’t have that many of them.
How about an exaggeration of the choose your own adventure book?
GORDON: Like forcing you to branch out into multiple novels?
EVAN: Ooh, that’s an idea! So your choices would determine what novels you get next; that’s brilliant.
GORDON: Ain’t it? You’re welcome, America.
EVAN: And Canada. And the world. Let’s open up our borders here.
GORDON: Except Luxembourg. **** you guys.
EVAN: You don’t even know anyone from Luxembourg.
GORDON: Exactly- what makes ’em think they’re so good they don’t talk to me?
EVAN: We are going to lose the viewership of an entire country because of you.
GORDON: Boo hoo.
EVAN: All . . . possibly one of them.
GORDON: Hey, Luxembourg! Andorra called, they want their quaint charm and history back!
EVAN: And with the slamming of an entire nation done, and with a few very decent ideas about exciting places literature could go, we should look forward to what we talk about next-
GORDON: New film style?
EVAN: Seems like we’d be following very closely the same sort of conversation. Not to mention really most of what can be done has been done.
GORDON: This is true.
EVAN: Hm . . . How about . . . nerd culture, just in general- The Big Bang Theory, the current conversation about “nerd girls,” the whole shebang.
GORDON: Sure thing.
EVAN: Okay, that fully wraps up our time. Say good-bye to the nice people, Gordon.