So yesterday I was discussing Thomas King’s “How Corporal Colin Sterling Saved Blossom, Alberta, and Most of the Rest of the World” (from King’s collection One Good Story, That One), which is, well, sort of SF. “Sort of” because it’s not taking itself seriously as SF, but plays with SF tropes about aliens and spaceships.
(Which, you know, is better than the kind of thing you see a lot of “mainstream” authors do — writing SF, and claiming it isn’t, because it’s not silly or dumb, or whatever. Yes, Margaret Atwood, I’m looking at you. Come over here and say that, Maggie.)
Anyway, the interesting thing about discussing this kind of story is how much of the cultural references are missing. I was trying to impress upon the students how much of mainstream North American culture was encapsulated in, or referred to, in the story: the Indians who get petrified (some of whom end up like cigar store Indian statues in someone’s living room). A few people got it, which was weird since I’ve seen cigar store Indian statues
The doughnut munching cop RCMP officer… and then the regional stuff, like what a coyote is, or how they figure in Native Americans’/Canadians’ mythology. We talked about how they’re trickster figures (yes, I thought of you, Charles) and how they fit into First Nations literature.
But there’s stuff that’s so far in the background that one forgets, briefly, that students have no idea about. For example, the Lone Ranger and Tonto. So I was showing them videos and I ended up finding an interesting — in the sense of yuck, that is — clip showing their interaction:
… which is the kind of depiction of “Indians” that I feel certain King is almost quietly riffing on in his story, among many, many other things.
Now, I know there’s a comedian — was it Bill Hicks? — who did a routine about the day Tonto finally had enough and told the Lone Ranger, “No way, kemosabe. You go first. Me tired of doing all your dirty work…” I would have loved to find a clip of that to add to my classes webpage, so students could get the response. All I could find was this amateur video:
Next time, we’ll be discussion a couple of actually-SF stories: Nalo Hopkinson’s “Tan-Tan and Dry Bone” (which is a tough read for EFL students!) and Larissa Lai’s “Rachel” (which, I’d argue, requires that they at least be familiar with Blade Runner, so I offered them my copy of the Director’s Cut. Which prompted a complaint that the (approximately ten) students were too busy to get together with classmates to watch a movie.
“We all have different schedules, and I have a job!”
“Okay, fine, track it down yourself and watch it alone, then. Or, you know, watch it in smaller groups and pass it from one group to the next. I don’t care, as long as you’ve all watched it by the time we discuss this story next Thursday.”
I don’t really think it’s an unfair complaint — I can imagine someone being so busy with a part-time job and with homework, and enough schedule conflicts, that a class-wide get-together would be impossible — but I also felt pretty surprised at the whining tone of it, as if I’d asked something ridiculous. I mean, “watch a movie and discuss it with classmates” isn’t such a big piece of homework, is it? And I could very well have said, “Track it down yourselves,” from the start, instead of loaning out my DVD. I should note, though, that it was only one student who complained loudly. Most of the rest of them happily got busy arranging a movie night.
Well, except the one or two who said, “Can’t we watch the movie in class instead?” Ha. Ha! No, we’ll save that for films we’ll be discussing directly, like Such a Long Journey and, if I can get a copy, Dance Me Outside.