Saturday, October 24, 2009

A «Mid-Term» Assignment …

My husband teaches English in a local university. This Fall he chose to use the upcoming «2012» movie and its trailer as a takehome mid-term exam. The following is a response to a student's comment that she would just give up and die, and since she felt that way, she didn't believe she should/could write about it.

"… what the essay addresses is the concept of genre, and the movie 2012 will be in the genre of other doomsday movies--and the expectations of the genre are that the protagonist survives despite all of the hardships, despite the end of the world coming upon civilization. In both Mayan and Greek thought, the end of the world did not mean the earth would become an astroid belt, but that the age (civilization) would end and a new one would begin that was unrelated to the first. And it is in this genre expectation that I want you to place yourself (this is also the expectation of native American narrative as well as biblical Scripture).

You might well be a person who, if a disaster were to occur, would roll over and die because living becomes too difficult. You, I suspect, know how difficult living can be. So what happens when it becomes much more difficult? Do you quit, or do you keep on enduring, adjusting to what you previously thought was impossible to endure?

If I remember correctly, you have been out on your own since you were 16 … I, too, have been on my own since I was 16; Marion County District Court (Oregon) ruled I was an emancipated minor when 16. I drove without a driver's license for two years; I drove all over the West because parents had to sign a form so that anyone under 18 could get a driver's licence in Oregon. It didn't matter that I was an emancipated minor. Same for getting a job using machinery. So I went to Reno where no one asked how old I was, and I worked in Reno for two summers. worked running a chainstitch sewing machine. A person does whatever the person has to do to survive. And this is what I want you to explore in the midterm.

My motives for the assignment are two-fold. First, popular culture carries within it the idea of living for the day (capre diem -- Latin for "seize the day"), for with the nuclear bomb and everything else (including the Mayan long calendar prophecy), we don't know what tomorrow will bring, or even if tomorrow will come. And second, many people live with the idea that the end can come, but they live without really thinking about what that means.

An athlete will visualize what he or she will do in certain situations so that when in the situation, reaction becomes the application of what has been visualized.

Why should I not do the same to you? Cause you to visualize what you would do if in a certain situation--the assignment certainly relates to a facet of popular culture. It relates to movie genre, as well as all forms of apocalyptic narrative. It dosn't require of you as a student to do too much outside research; it requires, though, thought and writing skills. And if a doomsday scenario were to truly occur, who knows that the assignment might not cause you to endure beyond what you previously thought possible, with that little bit of extra effort carrying you through the situation.

Think of the movie Forrest Gump, with Forrest representing "Everyman": the movie is subversive for it conveys that message that if you do what you know is right, everything will turn out all right--and you know this not to be the case. You know that things don't always turn out well, even when you are not at fault and have done nothing wrong. Why do you suppose that is? Now take your answer and move it to a doomsday scenario: what did you do wrong to bring about the scenario? Anything? Or more than you can imagine because your thoughts are imprisoned in a spacial reality from which you cannot escape (this is a concept addressed in the essay about movie trailers). So are you going to "just take it," or are you going to fight back against the injustice that has come upon you (the injustice of the world ending)? And if you fight back, how will you initiate that fight, for your body needs food and shelter? Will you be like Jenny (in Forrest Gump) and try to reinvent the wheel, or like Forrest, doing what you know is "right" when each opportunity arises? When does it pay not to be too smart, for dying would seem logical in a doomsday scenario. Not-dying is illogical, but is what Forrest would do. Would he not continue, running from one coast to the other because he didn't know what else to do? And that is what surviving would be like, living day by day because you [the person] doesn't know what else to do.

Why do we work every day? Because we don't know how else to live other than to work? And is this not the problem with gang drug dealing? The gangs have figured out another way to live day-to-day other than working? And is society not angered by drug dealers and white collar thieves because they live day-to-day without working the way most folks do? Both groups would seem to have the "good" things that this world offers without working in a mundane job that has no more meaning to the worker than running from coast to coast.

You are in college to do more than just bodily survive in this world. If you are only here to get a job so you can survive in the outside world for, how long, forty, fifty years, why bother? But if you are in college to do more than just survive—to do more than run from coast to coast—then break out of the mental space that presently confines you and think about what would be required of you to survive in a scenario when most will not survive for most will quit because this "most" will be without hope and with be mentally defeated by the situation. Are you not tougher than "most"? Or has your will to survive already been extended beyond its elastic limits?"