Discoveries both Strange and Wonderful

Oddly, last night, one of my students asked me the other day whether I’d chosen to teach the book and movie V for Vendetta in our Media English class because I wanted to preach anarchism to the students, or for some other reason. She was surprised when I responded that believing unquestioningly in anything that has an -ism or -ian at the end is dangerous, and that mostly I’d chosen it because it seemed like an interesting book and one that had been recently adapted to film format. She said she got the impression from me that anarchism is something I’m urging students to believe in. Amusingly, nobody seemed to get the impression I was for totalitarian state-authority when I taught the class about the comic book hero Superman, even though we discussed the very interesting process whereby Superman moved from being for the underdog to being a kind of deputized crimefighter and maintainer of the status quo.

Anyway, during that same discussion, we talked about teaching, about learning how to teach in a healthier way than our teachers have taught us in the past, about definitions of “society” and “power” and “control” and how what Alan Moore had to say in V for Vendetta complexifies all of those words and ideas in potentially useful ways.

I would love, seriously love, to teach a semester on Frantz Fanon’s works. Too bad he wasn’t writing in English. After reading Black Skin, White Masks, I thought he was a genius, if a bit given to exaggerations and generalizations. But I recently read The Wretched of the Earth and found the book a revelation. Though Fanon was describing African postcolonial struggles and mentality, I find a number of ways in which his theses map onto Korean postcolonial society in interesting ways — seemingly following patterns he suggests, and differing in ways that seem to match the historical differences from the processes he describes. Anyway, more on that later.

Last wonderful discovery: I finally received Alexis Kienlen’s She Dreams in Red. (Here’s Alexis’ own site about the book.) Alexis was a classmate of mine in Saskatoon: we studied with Tim Lilburn together. It’s great to have her book in my hand, and I’ll be getting to it soon, though a week of grading and (for my conversation class) final exams looms ahead.

8 thoughts on “Discoveries both Strange and Wonderful

  1. A lot of the oomph behind Moore’s rep as a spinner of political fables was lost (at least for me) when I read that under Thatcher the big, heartless, mean spirited Tories cut about 1% of state spending. Nuclear proliferation is rampant now, but he chooses to write Lost Girls rather than revisit or rethink the Watchmen.

    And yeah, I know the next argument is an ad hominem one, and doesn’t invalidate the argument that Moore has to make. I just can’t help but think that any political points made by a man who worships a snake should be taken with a generous helping of salt.

    I still love the stuff that he did on the Swamp Thing. He can really jazz up second rate silver age characters and deliver clever comic book stories with a nice O. Henry twist ending.

    Which Superman comic book did you use in class? I had comic books with me in Japan, but I didn’t have any that would have been useful teaching materials. I’d pass some around while I was doing my self intro, but that was to keep any kids that were bored by my bio or info about Canada occupied.

    I found the economics lesson I used with my high school students in Japan was well recieved. I used some sections from The Undercover Economist and Supersize Me to make some points about retail mark ups, nutrition etc.

  2. Mark,

    Having not read Lost Girls, I can’t comment about that project. In fact, I’ve only read V for Vendetta and Watchmen (though I have a copy of From Hell on my shelf as well). I will say that I don’t think authors are always obligated to write about the issues that seem most relevant. Kierkegaard wrote, at one point, that things had all looked religious in the past, but had turned out to be political issues in the end — and predicted the opposite for the future. So what I’m saying is, we’re none too good at diagnosing the real problems of the present, and Moore’s discussion of Anglo-Saxon culture’s attitudes towards sex elsewhere have been intelligent and political enough that I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt till I read it.

    As for the Thatcherites, I think the issues were much less about cuts in spending than in reallocations. The 80s were a hard time for many English people, as the popular music there attests. Listen to Marillion, and you get a look into a bleak, collapsing society with a widening gap between rich and poor — something that is matched by patterns in North America, by my (limited) understanding. My British co-worker says after visits home that he feels the collapse has gone much farther since then. Right now, Korea’s in such a stage, too — post-IMF, meaning post-Asian Financial Crisis, most creative or vibrant underground or counterculture here has ground to a halt, and as a few people have observed, “All the interesting people are just leaving.”

    And as for worshipping Glycon or not, what I think is weird is that worshipping deities in general isn’t seen as questionable. I mean, really, Glycon isn’t any more questionable to me than any other god, including the most popular one(s). At least Moore acknowledges the ridiculousness of it, and I think we can look to him for a kind of religious tolerance not seen in most “mainstream” religionists, who tolerate some religions but nothing too odd. Yes, snake worship’s dumb, but so are tons of other religious ideas which aren’t openly acknowledged as such. Shrug. It’s people who invoke Jesus and build bombs or argue for war who make me reach for the salt.

    I didn’t use any Superman comics in class, though I’m considering trying to find one to use for later. I’d like something early, though: something where he beats up industrialists and stuff. I ended up summarizing the past, and then showing them some of the first Reeve movie, and Smallville. (Superman was only supposed to be a topic for a week, and it ended up being a topic for 3 or 4.)

    However, I think V was too difficult to grasp for over half the students. It’s too bad, because while I don’t want to convert my students to anarchy, the message about questioning “the way it is” that Moore all but screams is a very worthwhile one, especially among the young people I know here, and something Korean friends of mine agree is desperately needed among young people today over here.

  3. If you think the eighties were a rough time for the English, I suggest you look up “winter of discontent” on Wikipedia.

    With an inflation rate of 26.9% during the mid seventies and even grave diggers going on strike, I’d assume that the eighties under Thatcher were at the very least a moderate improvement on what had gone in during the seventies.

    The collections of the really early Superman comic books (the ones where he is beating up industrialists) are $$$. They only release them in hardcover with very slick, matte paper.

    When you consider that a “normal” rate of inflation is about 3% to 4%, than any government that lets it rise to about 26% is doing a really lousy job of managing the economy. There are some economists who would argue that it should be closer to 0%.

  4. Truth be told, what I find more interesting then the relative merits or demerits of Margaret Thatcher’s fiscal policy would be your thoughts on the Superman movie.

    I hadn’t seen it for years, and what struck me while I was watching it was all the biblical references. The director noted on the commentary that it caused him a lot of trouble – Jor El, says something like “I sent my only begotten son…”

    I’d read essays before about the parallels between Superman and Moses, but it wasn’t until I saw the film as an adult that they really became obvious. Spaceship=basket, The Chosen One, Sent to Redeem His People etcDid that come up in class discussion? I know that quite a few Koreans are Christians, and if they picked up on it, how did they feel about it?

    I can remember my Japanese high school students discussing the Da Vinci Code film, and the whole Judeo-Christian thing was pretty alien to them, so class discussion wasn’t the least bit charged or polarizing.

    I found older films ususally went over very well with students because they were seeing something they hadn’t seen before, and it never failed to get their attention. How was the Smallville recieved? I’ve shown The Sopranos and Gung Ho to students, and those lessons are always very popular.

  5. It’s funny that the director found all of that problematic, since in the new Superman movie it’s so explicit, over the top, and such a bastardization of the roots of Superman. After all, Superman was created by a couple of young Jewish-American/Jewish-Canadian guys. The parallels, though, were with Moses (and, non-Biblically, Heracles) more than with Jesus. I think the meta-Christianization of Superman is one of those things that happened when Supe bled into the popular culture — around the same time he began to stand for the status quo and not for the common workingman.

    In the artwork, too, there were parallels that got lost. Superman was much more mortal in earlier versions, and he wore red sandal-boots, which looked very ancient Near-Eastern.

    Since I teach at a Catholic Uni and since Christianity is pretty common here in Korea, most people were familiar with the Bible stories related to Superman. Our discussion of Nietzsche is a different matter, mind you. Anyway, the resonances were interesting to them, and since we linked it over to copyright and adaptations and derivative creative works, we had a lot to say about it all. That was cool, for the class members who chose to participate, anyway.

    They weren’t too into the old Supe, though. Nor was I. It hasn’t aged well, but they found Smallville okay… not great, but okay. I, too, have considered showing The Sopranos in class. I think my next Media English course might be on either Season 1 of Lost, or Season 1 of The Sopranos. (Parts of, not the whole season.)

    Gotta go, I have a class.

  6. Mark,

    I forgot to mention: there’s more to excavate about a Superman/Judaism link than just the Moses-like backstory. In my class we discussed anti-semitism in the English-speaking world in the era when Superman was created (since whatever awareness my students have of it mostly is associated with Nazi Germany) and then discussed things like Superman’s difficulty in his love affair with Lois, his secret identity being necessary in the world, his unique Achilles heel that severely disempowers him, and so on. If his backstory is Mosaic, his adult life is arguably a kind of allegory for being a Jewish-American in mainstream Anglo-Saxon America in the mid-twentieth century. Somewhere in an earlier post I linked to Adam Roberts discussing the pattern in [American?] SF of Jew-as-alien.

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