Classroom Curiosities

The last few days (from around the end of last week) have been ceaselessly amusing. In my Media English class, we’re looking at Superman in some of his different incarnations, which means I have to do a Powerpoint up for next week, when I’ll do a talk on the stuff students aren’t likely to have been exposed to. We’ve been watching the pilot episode of the series Smallville and it’s been interesting, but their background seems limited. In my lecture, I’m going to broach the subject of “alternate history”, of adaptations, of continuity, and of course some of the basic assumptions we Westerners have about superheroes, which will set us up well for the viewing and discussion of V for Vendetta which is to follow. (I’m also planning on at least a single class discussing the role of music in film and story telling, looking at the music used in the pilot episode of Smallville as a springboard. We’ll talk about the differences (whatever they are, besides legal ones) between “adapting” stories from one medium to another, and “remixing” extant media within a single medium (remixing a movie, like the hilarious and very clever trailer remixes found here, and of course going back to look at the “hacker” approach of early rap and hip-hop in “remixing” music.)

Anyway, another thing we are touching upon is the cultural origins of Superman — not the “origins story” about the alien who grew up as a farmboy, mind you, but the literal origins of the character. I asked two groups of students to go read up about the time period and world situation (and American situation) when Superman was created, and about how the character has changed and shifted over time; I asked a second group to go back and look at the Nietzschean idea of the übermensch and compare it the American notion of Superman. Interestingly, we found that the Nietzschean übermensch apparently had a lot more in common with Lex Luthor than he did with Superman.

The best line from the presentation was the line at the beginning of the presentation about Nietzsche, which was, “He was a very crazy man!” This, the student insisted, was the most important thing to know about Nietzsche.

In another class, my advanced writing class, I’ve given the students a group assignment focused on two things: judicious use of details to create an effect in the reader’s mind, and careful consideration of a specific audience. The actual assignment is to create a single full-color sample travel brochure for any destination, real or imagined, for a very specific subset of Korean tourists — teenagers, college students going abroad for the first time, elderly retirees, middle-aged couples, or whatever. The effect they’re supposed to go for is to make a member of the target audience want to go to the destination. (And the conceit of the exercise is that only one group can be selected by the fictional sponsor of the exercise, a Canadian businessman operating out of Mexico who will hire one group to write pamphlets for him in Korean, advertising his company’s travel booking services.)Some of the destination choices have been staid, but acceptable, like Paris or New York City. Others have been quite shockingly imaginative: one group was considering Middle Earth for a while, and another asked whether a Time Machine would be a possible example — they decided to write a pamphlet for an imagined ‘Futuropolis.’The most surprising was the group who told me they’d selected “Brokeback Mountain” as their destination. If you live in Korea, you know that homosexuality is still not really afforded as much tolerance as it is in the West, and the religious affiliation of my employer is such that one should at least be careful in discussing the subject. It was only after a little careful prodding of the group’s plan that I figured out they didn’t really mean they were advertising Brokeback Mountain itself — and not aiming at a target audience who’d feel inspired to visit because of the film — but they just meant the American state in which the film was set. (Which one, none of us happened to know, though I guessed wrongly that it might be Montana or North Dakota… it turns out it’s Wyoming.) But I tell you, I sure was curious to see what three Korean students — one of them a middle-aged housewife — would have thought would be the best way to target the audience of young, wanderlusting gay men in Korea. That would have been one really interesting assignment to read.

4 thoughts on “Classroom Curiosities

  1. Have you seen Tom De Haven’s “It’s Superman!”?

    Surprisingly well-written, and relevant to the subject under discussion.

  2. Nope! But having looked into it just now, it looks entertaining. Not usable in class, this time, but maybe a tiny excerpt, next time. But the range of references might be too much. Looks like a neat book, tho’…

  3. Gord, I wish I could attend your class. It looks to be very very interesting. I just finished putting together a lesson on piracy which I’ll probably blog tomorrow or Friday and will be working on a lesson for the pilot episode of Heroes.

  4. The best thing for that upcoming lesson is that NBC has put up a comic book extension of each episode for download on the official site. I’ll probably have students doing something with that as well.

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