Archive for April, 2012

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

I’m thinking today about Facebook and unflattering pictures. Yes, someone I know from high school posted one this morning. Actually, the photo isn’t unflattering, it’s just old, and I look young and innocent and earnest and rather different than how I typically imagine my younger self. That’s the problem with pictures, they combat truth. But they don’t offer a new truth, either. Pictures are just one moment’s truth, which can alter perception and memory.

The picture posted was taken in the age before wide-spread digital camera use, a different era altogether. Honestly, I clung to my non-digital camera much longer than other people did. I am not the sort of person who rushes to buy the next new gadget, what is known in technological circles as an “early adopter,” quite the opposite. I like cameras with actual film because it is impossible to predict what might come out the other side. Sure, some pictures look terrible, but others are incredible and surprising and magnificent.

Now that most people take a lot (a lot) of pictures, they are better at looking good, and only saving and posting the best. Within my friend group there is a code known as the “be a pal” rule.  If a person looks bad in a photo, don’t post it. Some friends are better at following this rule than others (I’m talking to you, Sarah Frink). Why does it matter how good we do or don’t look in one photograph? Alas, it seems to matter a great deal.

A good photo can change the interpretation of an event just as powerfully as a bad one. Take, for example, a picture of me that is quite flattering. I look damn near gorgeous in it, but it was taken on a day that I thought rather irksome.  I hadn’t slept at all (my friends and I were on an over-night road trip). Although I enjoyed the day, I recall feeling tired and grimy. However, here’s this artifact that offers an alternate view.

Is a good photo enough to supplant memory? Certainly not. It is only a moment, like the one I spent inexplicably lined up with other high school girls, many of whom I knew only vaguely, attempting to strike an adorable pose and failing miserably. This photograph has little evocative power since it does not contain a memory. What is remembered, even if not wholly accurate, is a better memento of the past. Most of the fun I have (we all have) isn’t documented because it can’t be captured—good times are too complex, too nuanced, too enmeshed with not just the way we look but what we smell, taste, touch, feel, hear, and see. My best memories are of conversations, laughter, my friends and I talking long into the night. There are few pictures of these good times, and if pictures did exist, they would be poor imitations of the real thing.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Adolf.  What an evocative name. The name itself is almost a taboo.  I feel dirty writing it. It is not used in polite company. At a time when ‘old-fashioned’ names are making a comeback, Adolf is an antiquated name that doesn’t have much hope.   It is marred by darkness, hatred and murder.  Of course, the surname we associate with it is Hitler; our next thought is Nazism; lastly, the Holocaust.

A boy named Adolf.

Why has Adolf retained such a negative aura 70 years after the end of the war that he began?  Other members of the Nazi party who were just as guilty don’t have first names that live in infamy.  If you wanted to name your child Heinrich, not many people would instantly think of Himmler. What about Hermann? Our minds don’t automatically race to Goering.  Well, you may say, Hitler was the face of the Nazi party, and, hence, the face of murder. But, what about Josef (Joseph) or Vladimir?  If you met little boys by those names, most wouldn’t think of Stalin (who killed more people than Hitler) or Lenin.   So, why is Adolf so different? Why can there only be one Adolf?

First of all, the name is still ‘owned’ by white supremacists, and has never been ‘appropriated’ by rational folks. This was shown tragically in 2007, when two white supremacist parents living in New Jersey named their child Adolf Hitler Campbell.  I write ‘tragically’ because it is easy to foresee that child being brainwashed into a world of hatred and violence.  The government of New Jersey agreed with this assessment, and took the young boy away from his parents in 2011.  Though the state’s reasoning was based upon more than simply the name he was given, the moniker was obviously a frightening omen.

Second, the period and ideology we associate with Adolf is still fresh in our historical memory.  This is a good thing. The fact that Adolf is a name off-limits illustrates that people appreciate the evil of genocide and the Holocaust.  Americans are notorious for forgetting things that happened 7 years ago, much less 70, but the horror that Adolf represents is understood as being something that we can never allow again.

This seems all well and good, but perhaps there is a danger here.  Adolf as the symbol for the evil of Nazi Germany distorts and simplifies our understanding of history.  Adolf was not a one man wrecking crew who made some nasty speeches, barked orders, and physically forced Europeans to kill 10-12 million innocents.  His were not the only hands covered with blood.  The attempt to make him into the devil incarnate has actually been utilized by Europeans for decades to separate themselves from what happened in Nazi Germany.  The reason: Making Hitler the lone evil exculpates millions who were also guilty, and hence, buries the most important lesson to be learned from the Holocaust. The moral horror of the Holocaust was not simply Hitler’s ideas; it was that millions of ‘good’ Germans, and ‘ordinary’ Europeans saw little reason to fight against them.  Depressingly large numbers of people idly stood by, pulled levers, pushed buttons, and signed papers that fired the engines of mass death. When apathy and acceptance was the response to Nazi ideas and policies, Adolf had won a significant victory.  By avoiding his name for 70 years, people have tried to make sure Adolf didn’t win the war.

by Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

I recently took my car to Midas for an oil change, and I’d like to note three things:

1. No, I don’t know how to change my own oil. I barely know how to pump my own gas, and I feel like a licensed auto mechanic when I put in my own windshield wiper fluid.

2. It was my first oil change in nearly 20,000 miles. Take THAT 3,000 mile recommendation!

3. After writing me up for an oil change, the guy at the counter asked, “Would you like the complimentary car wash?”

  • The question caught me off guard. I’d never been asked this question before when getting an oil change. Not at Pep Boys. Not at Tuffy. Nowhere.
  • My car was in desperate need of a wash. The once sleek black exterior of my Hyundai Sonata now looked like a dustball dug out from behind a dresser.
  • My immediate response was, “No thanks.”
    • The guy looked up from the paperwork with an eyebrow raised. Clearly, no one dares to reject the complimentary car wash.
      • He asked, “Are you sure?”
        • “Yeah, no thanks.”
          • “Allllrighttt….” he said, nearly following with, “But may God have mercy on your soul.”
  • My dad was parked outside next to my car, waiting to drive us to our weekly bowling outing while my car was worked on. As soon as I got in his truck, he said, “Your car really needs a wash.”
    • “Yeah. They offered me a complimentary wash.”
      • “Well that’s nice!”
        • “I said no.”
          • “Huh? Why?”
            • “Because, I assume that complimentary is never TRULY complimentary.”
              • My dad paused to consider this, then said, “Yeah, you should have taken the car wash.”
  • The bowling alley was only a few hundred yards away, but my inner monologue spent that time trying to convince myself that I had made the right decision:
    • “I bet they increase the price of the oil change if you accept the complimentary car wash.”
    • “I bet they use dirty water.”
    • “I bet one of the dudes goes all Tawny Kitaen on the hood while they wash it.”
  • Bowling lasted about ninety minutes, during which time Midas left a voicemail saying my car was ready.
    • When I returned, I went inside and paid.
      • Amazingly, they just let me pay and said nothing else.
        • When getting an oil change at Tuffy, their complimentary offer is usually a list of 30 falsified recommended fixes:
          • “We changed your oil, but you’re going to need two or three new tires, a hubcap, maybe a muffler or two, a windshield, a couple steering wheels, an airbag for your review mirror, and probably a new engine.”
    • I took my keys and went out to my car.
      • They washed it.
        • It looked really nice.

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty.

So, there’s this lovely couple that comes into the Y when I’m leaving my spin class at 7am.

(Yes, I said “leaving at 7. A.M.” I get up and I work out VERY early in the morning. Yes, it’s crazy. No, wait, it’s not crazy. What I mean to say is that I like to be out in the morning. Things are slower in the morning. Calmer. Quieter.)

Anyways, so this couple. They are adorable in so many ways. First, they have to be about 100 years old. Also, they are tiny and wear the coolest clothes ever.

(Wait, am I being totally condescending? I mean to say that it is AMAZING that they are 100 and still hitting the gym at 7am and that they are way more fashionable than me and most people I know in that they wear classic, worn coats, he wears a brown golf cap and she wears this beautiful scarf.)

Okay, so there is this totally cool older couple, and, at 7am they walk down the stairs at the Y. This matters because at 7am I am racing down those stairs to get dressed and rush to work. I pause and try to be patient while these folks make their way down with deliberation.

(What I mean to say is that this is not because they are infirm, but because they are taking their time. I must admit that I have been known to skip past them a few times with a little irritation. Why do we always want everyone else to move at our pace? Why do I use “we” when I really mean “I”? It just makes me feel better about being jerky sometimes, I guess.)

Well, so this couple meanders their way down the stairs to the locker room doors, which, until very recently, had these locks with keys that were difficult to make work much of the time. Every morning when we get to the Y, a few of us who know each other quite well say a quick hello and exchange a few complaints about the difficulty of the lock on the locker room door, which, easily, takes 30-45 seconds of our valuable time. Why, we ask, doesn’t the Y get its act together and give us keys that work? After all, we are busy people, here! Then, we rush off to our workouts.

(Why do I say “we” when I mean “they”? I mean, it really isn’t that big of a deal to take a few extra seconds to get into the locker room and, frankly, the YMCA is a charitable, not-for-profit organization, whose totally adequate facilities we get to use relatively inexpensively, not some fancy health club that we pay a bunch of money to that can spring for new keys to their eucalyptus-scented locker rooms any old day. Plus, 5am is WAY too early to start complaining. Come on, people! Hmmm, I suppose saying “we” when I mean “they” makes me feel a little less dickish when I rant about my friends.)

So, today, after our group starts the morning together with our suspicions that the brand new key-cards probably won’t even work (they worked fine), I get out of spin class and head down the stairs. Today I decided to take my time and walk patiently behind the couple.

(After all, the slow, calm quiet is what I like about the morning.)

The couple and I get to the locker room doors and the woman takes out her key-card. Her husband stops to make sure she gets in. They both smile when the key-card works and she looks over at him and says “Thank you,” with a smile and absolute sincerity. He says “You’re welcome,” with a smile and a pat on her shoulder. The whole exchange took about 30-45 seconds. My first thought was “Oh! I thought they were married!” My second thought was “Wait a minute, why can’t they be married AND considerate of each other at the same time?” Intimacy seems, sometimes, to allow for terse, efficient interactions often focused on complaints or irritations. We’re all busy and in a big hurry and those with whom we’re intimate with understand that the most.

When I stop to think about it, THAT is what makes that couple adorable. They actually take their time, and they actually say what they mean.

by Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

“Frank Warren is the creator of The PostSecret Project, a collection of highly personal and artfully decorated postcards mailed anonymously from around the world, displaying the soulful secrets we never voice. Since November 2004, Warren has received more than 500,000 postcards, with secrets that run from sexual taboos and criminal activity to confessions of secret beliefs, hidden acts of kindness, shocking habits and fears. PostSecret is a safe and anonymous ‘place’ where people can hear unheard voices and share untold stories” (Source)

I first heard of PostSecret in 2007 while I was an Adjunct Instructor at another university. A student introduced me to the books, because they fascinated her and she wanted to talk about them. I was instantly fascinated, too, for a number of reasons: the ingeniousness of Warren’s original idea, the secrets themselves that range from funny to sweet to shocking, and the somewhat-voyeuristic pleasure readers get from hearing all the secrets.

My student also tried to convince me to let the class make their own postcards as an assignment, but I wasn’t clever enough to think of a way to give credit to students for anonymous work. “Alright class, remember to put your names in the upper right hand corner of your anonymous secrets and pass them forward!”

Her request, however, spoke to one of the most interesting effects of PostSecret: when looking at the postcards written by others, it’s almost impossible not to question, “What would I write on my own postcard?”

That we stop to ask that question tells me that PostSecret is proof that we all A) carry secrets and B) in some capacity or another, deal daily with self-disclosure and self-censorship. Each person has their own boundaries, but no matter how expansive the boundaries may be or what those boundaries do or don’t contain, they are still there.

Take for example one of my favorite authors, David Sedaris, who is best known for his hilarious and revealing stories about himself and his family. At times, what he is willing to reveal seems so private that it appears he has erased all boundaries in favor of telling a good, funny story. But that’s not the case. During one of his readings that I went to at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, he did Q&A to end the show. Someone asked him if his family ever gets mad because of the personal stories he tells about them. To paraphrase, Sedaris said, “No, because I know what stories my family wouldn’t want me to tell, and I don’t tell those.”

All of us have a wealth of stories, experiences, information and even some secrets. In both our personal and professional lives, we have to deal daily with what bits are appropriate or inappropriate, helpful or damaging. We have to make complex choices in a hurry about what to let out into the world and what to keep internalized.

I sometimes give off the appearance that my boundaries aren’t there. If a personal story fits within the context of a discussion – be it with friends, family, students or colleagues – and I think telling the story will do more good than harm, I go for it. As a freshman in college, I gave a speech about my struggles with clinical depression, anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. The feedback from my classmates and professor was that I was brave to be so open and honest about something so personal. I didn’t feel that way at all, because that information didn’t fall outside my boundaries of what is open for public consumption. But, for them, if they were in the same situation, that information would have been outside.

Given that we all have different boundaries, it can sometimes create the illusion that a particular person has no censor, no boundaries. It’s not the spoken – but rather the unsaid – that reveals our boundaries. By that measure, I feel most often like a scene from my favorite movie, Chasing Amy. Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) reveals a secret that surprises his partner-in-crime Jay (Jason Mewes). When Jay asks why he of all people never heard that secret before, Silent Bob responds, “What you don’t know about me I can just about squeeze in the Grand f’n Canyon.”

Whenever I offer up a personal story that seems particularly revealing to my audience, whomever they may be, I think to that “Grand f’n Canyon” of information that few people – or maybe even no one – knows about me. It may seem like I’m revealing “secrets” but my secrets are safely in the canyon.

And PostSecret shows how we all establish our own boundaries and that we all have our own “Grand f’n Canyons,” though they all vary in size and content.

With that said, what would you write on your PostSecret postcard? Leave your name, e-mail address, and response in the comments section.

 

by Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

I spent the weekend watching movies. I watched The Muppets (the new one), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Princess Bride, and Derrida (a documentary about the French deconstructionist). Let’s just say that I have eclectic tastes and the weather was dreary. Derrida suited my mood. Documentaries appear unbound, going seemingly in any direction. Derrida leaves the viewer with more questions and fewer answers, a reasonable result considering the subject.

The director’s agenda must be to unsettle the viewer, or Jacques Derrida himself does, and she follows his lead. Crucial interchanges persist in their uncertainty. The philosopher and his wife are seated on a high-backed loveseat. The director asks how and when they met. Derrida divulges the answers, but warns that he will only provide the facts, nothing more. “Why only the facts?” the director wants to know. He resists, and he and his wife stay silent for a moment. The exchange is uncomfortable; it exposes the artificiality of the conversation. He watches it later with some satisfaction. Derrida is particularly pleased that he and his wife both remained quiet, relating nothing more than the where and the when of their lives together. The director shows the clip of him watching the clip.

Still curious, the director poses a less personal, but still intimate, question to Derrida. She inquires, “Can you speak about love?” He demurs. This is not a good question, or a question at all. He cannot answer something so vague. Why does she ask such an ill-formed question?  From that moment on, I distrust her. She returns to the clip of him watching the clip of himself and his wife. This time it is removed a third time. He is watching himself, watching himself, watching himself. In her attempts to capture Derrida’s point of view, she offers the audience little insight.

Later in the film, a question is posed to Derrida from a man off-camera. The audience knows he must be part of the production team, but nothing else. His question is infinitely more interesting, both to Derrida and to me. Derrida finds the question so intriguing, he contemplates it for a full three minutes, saying every once in a while that it is “a good question”.  The man asks, “What philosopher would you wish to have been your mother?” Once the complexity of answers is understood, only keen questions can compel an answer. Derrida takes the opportunity to attack the patriarchal and phallocentric nature of philosophy while (inadvertently?) accomplishing some rather clever self-aggrandizement. He concludes that only a woman coming after him could be his mother, so his granddaughter could be the philosopher-mother he might choose. Instantly, the mind of a philosopher is revealed, and the world spirals out of control once more.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty

When I discuss urban living with my students, and ask them to compare city living to small-town living, they usually point out the fact that city living is more violent, cold and impersonal than village life.  Now, for people growing up in Chicago, ‘small town’ has a pretty wide range of meanings.  A ‘small town’ for today’s Chicagoans might be anything from a tiny rural community to a major suburb.   To put things into perspective, in 1790, the largest city in the nascent United States was Philadelphia with 42,000 people.  To Chicagoans today, 42,000 people is a single neighborhood, and the fact that social critics in the early Republic crowed about the immorality, the corruption, and bustle of 18th century Philly seems laughable and naïve.

 The question then: Is city life really colder than small town life, or is this just a widely accepted myth?  I actually think it is true, though I think the reason for this is different from what most people believe.  Students usually point to the anonymity of urban living as the reason for the lack of fellow-feeling.  The number of people living in a crowded area seems like the obvious reason, and throughout history, this impersonality has often been pointed out as a source of heartlessness.  Add this to corruption, disease, and poverty, and perhaps it is no wonder that American politicians have often pointed to the city as the center of sin.  Famously anti-urban Thomas Jefferson said “I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries as long as they are chiefly agricultural….”

 Urban cruelty seems most obvious when fellow citizens in need are simply ignored. Everyone has heard the stories about city-dwellers paying no mind to people lying on the street, and instead, stepping over those that requires assistance.  These are stories you don’t usually associate with small towns.  Why is it so different in the big city?

Anonymity is important, but I think just as central is our modern obsession with time.  Time is our most ‘valuable commodity’.  We live in a fast-paced world, which gets faster every day.  The linguist George Lakoff displayed the centrality of time to American’s thirty years ago, by studying the many metaphors we have equating time and money.  Think about all the instances in which you automatically link time and money in your speech: “You wasted my time.” “How do you spend your time?” “Invest some time in me.”

A forty year old study conducted by two psychologists at Princeton University, C.D. Bateson and J.M. Darley, displays how our concern with time can affect our ethical behavior. The two psychologists invited 40 seminary students to present a lecture on the New Testament story of the ‘Good Samaritan’.  The catch was the graduate students had to present this lecture on the far end of their campus.  For some of these students, they were informed they had a great deal of time to get to the lecture hall (low hurry).  A second group (medium hurry) were informed they had to rush to get there on time; lastly, a third group (high hurry) were told they were already late, but still had to conduct the lecture.  Little did these students know, the experiment was actually to see if they would help a stranger in need.

On the way across campus, each student crossed paths with an anonymous man in physical distress. As students well versed in Judeo-Christian ethics, you may expect that they would stop and help the man. Unfortunately, you would be wrong.  63% of the students in ‘low hurry’ group helped the man; 45% in ‘medium hurry’ helped; only 10% in ‘high hurry’ helped.  This was, and still is, a shocking finding.  Even for intelligent, ‘morally educated’, ‘good’ people, the strain of time can cause them to be unethical.

Forty years have now passed since this experiment, and to say that our pace of life has quickened would be an understatement.  We now live in a world in which speed is not just a luxury, it is an absolute necessity. Speed is virtue, and patience is a waste.  In the big city, this is truer than ever, and studies now show that the bigger the city, the faster the pace of life. Unfortunately, with this quickened pace, the “Good Samaritan” seem to be an endangered species.

 

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

I went to Dollywood again recently. I’ve been twice in the past two years. Some friends of mine, Hanna & Kris, are pretty big Dollywood fans, meaning they are willing to drive 10 hours for a glimpse of Dolly Parton. Every year, Dolly Parton is present for a personal appearance on the opening day of Dollywood, the amusement park built in her honor in her hometown of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. This was the 26th opening day for Dollywood. That’s right; Dolly Parton has had her own theme park for over a quarter of a century. The best aspects of Dollywood are the best aspects of Dolly Parton. It is covered in artifice, but deeply honest.

Mostly, I go on these trips because I can. I do “like” Dolly Parton. I suppose most people would recognize her as talented, while the rest of the world just recognizes her. Undoubtedly, she is an icon. Since my friends are so fond of her, they have favorite “Dollyisms” to use when the chaos of the world needs some straightening out, Dolly Parton style.  Her homespun wisdom suits her perfectly. A favorite among these quotable quotes is “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap”. This level of self-awareness makes Dolly Parton admirable for her lack of pretense. And Dollywood, in all honesty, is a rather fun place to visit, even if you are just going along for the ride.

The amusement park radiates charm. The grounds are lovely, and though the park is large, there is a clear effort to make the spaces in the park intimate and inviting, wooden benches and rocking chairs dot the park pathways, and small gardens and water features undulate around thoroughfares. There are different sections in the park—most of which are inspired by life in the Smoky Mountains. Areas in the park boast names with down home flavor: Timber Canyon, Craftsman’s Valley, and Riverton Junction for example. In fact, the majority of Dollywood is sweet and quaint, an extremely well-orchestrated county fair. But the kitsch and camp is there, too.

The Dolly-specific sections of the park are less gaudy than anticipated, unless you make the mistake of stopping in the bedazzled-beyond-belief “Dolly’s Closet” gift shop. I suppose a peek inside the store is necessary, if only to imagine how truly restrained the park’s design is. It could have exploded into a proliferation of shameless merchandising, but the park has only a few gift shops, unlike the endless barrage encountered on a trip to Graceland. The only segment of the park devoted to Dolly’s career is known as “Adventures in Imagination”. This section includes “Dolly’s Home on Wheels” and the “Chasing Rainbows Museum”. Naturally, the “Home on Wheels” is her tour bus, large, but simply decorated, with an abundance of floral décor. The museum is filled with photographs, costumes, and awards. It is a treasure of accomplishment detailed with short descriptions and narration provided by Dolly. The Museum acts as testament to Dolly’s tenacity, versatility, and longevity.

The most touching parts of the museum deal with the history of her young life and her connection to the Smoky Mountains. Among the many philanthropic ventures Dolly supports, the one I most admire is her Imagination Library;  “Founded in 1996, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a nonprofit organization spanning the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada that promotes early childhood literacy by giving free age-appropriate books to children from birth to age 5”. Dolly credits her success to her early education and love of reading, something she shares through this organization. Nestled in the museum is a replica of the one-room school house Dolly attended as a girl. The chalkboard reads, “dream more, learn more, care more, be more”. You can’t experience it without marveling at what she has been able to accomplish.

Dollywood is not what you’d imagine; it’s better. Celebrating the regions arts and crafts, it is proudly rooted in the history of the Smoky Mountains. Thanks to the over-the-top persona of the park’s namesake, glitter and rainbows and butterflies are unabashedly displayed on any trinket in the gift shop. The pathways are lined with treats and toys, rides and games. With destinations no more exotic than the lemonade stand, families and friends happily wander the park for hours. How delightful to realize hidden layers in a person and a place.  As always, discoveries make a trip worthwhile.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

I remember this moment distinctly. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this marked the end of an era for me, and was a sign of the changing landscape of pop culture where the overabundance of information would drastically alter our relationship with movies:

It was 1999 and my older brother and I were at the movies, glued to our seats watching the trailers. It was the year that the highly-anticipated Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was coming out. The trailer opened with a view of space, which zoomed into a space ship as the voiceover talked of an “Empire” while the camera moved toward a figure seated in a chair facing away from the camera. As the camera approached, the chair spun around to reveal Dr. Evil who says, “You were expecting someone else?”

It was the teaser trailer for the sequel to Austin Powers. I was extremely excited, because I loved the first Austin Powers, as almost everyone at the time did. But, more significantly, I had not even heard a rumor of a second Austin Powers film being in development, let alone about a trailer already out in theaters. It completely took me by surprise.

Now, thirteen years later, no trailer is ever a surprise. Between television, social media, and other advertising, we are exposed to films long before we ever see a trailer, and way before we see the movie itself. Rather than be surprised, we can usually guess what movie the trailer is for only seconds into it.

It’s not only trailers, though. I just forced myself to close out one of my favorite movie sites, because so many details are being revealed about one of my most anticipated films of the summer – the Marvel Comics superhero ensemble The Avengers – that I’m fearing if I read anymore, I will know the whole film before seeing it. Between scoops, spoilers, official and unofficial images, and a host of chatter, I’ll only be seeing the film so that I can finally witness all of the details in chronological order.

It’s not unreasonable that details are coming out about a film a month before its release, but film fans know it doesn’t stop there. Related to The Avengers, I’ve already read details about the proposed storyline for Iron Man 3, which will be released May 3, 2013. And I’ve read about potential directors and plotlines for Captain America 2, to be released April 4, 2014. The hype machine for movies no longer is measured in months, but in years.

In some respects, this overabundance of information has its advantages. I’m sure Marvel Studios is thrilled that fans like myself are already excited for properties of theirs that are years away from release. And as a fan, I like hearing all the info.

However, as a fan I wonder if the overabundance of information is stripping some of the joy from the movie-going experience. Not only am I never again going to experience the shock and joy of being surprised by a trailer as I was with Austin Powers 2, but I will likely never go into a major wide-release film again with anything resembling a “blank slate,” which I’d consider to be just a synopsis and a trailer.

Surprise is one of the joys of storytelling. We don’t want the end of a movie being spoiled for us; it robs the story of the excitement that comes from anticipating what will come next and how it will all end. Some people in the film industry understand this, like Christopher Nolan, the director of the latest Batman films, who is known for desperately trying to keep all the most important details of his films a secret until it’s released. Others, particularly in the marketing departments, do the opposite by trying to saturate the marketplace with details before the film ever comes out.

The fans are guilty of creating this problem, too – myself included. While it’s virtually impossible to avoid all exposure to a film like The Avengers (I’d have had to be living in the wilderness for the past two years to do that – even then, there may be some deer and raccoons tagged with marketing materials) it’s my fault for seeking out more information. And it’s the fault of fans for digging up and consuming that information rather than just waiting to see the film.

It is truly a fast food society’s approach to movie-going: we want it and we want it now! Never mind that, like fast food, the approach will ultimately reduce the quality of the final product. It’s the immediacy we crave. But like fast food, I’d be kidding if I said I’m not going to consume it anymore. I’ll still read movie news websites, I’ll still want to know about what’s going on with movies that are years away from release, and I’ll still struggle to keep myself away from spoilers about the films I’m anticipating the most. I know the movie won’t “taste” as good as it could, but my impatience will inevitably beat logic. But I wish it would, because sometimes less is more, particularly when it comes to being told a great story.

by Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty & Chair of the Sustainability Council

“Education should reflect the world we live in.” Who said that? Some famous educator? A successful business person? Oh, it obviously comes from the back wall in Room 303, right?

Nope. It was said by my student, Kayla Moore.

This quarter, I’m doing something new. Not because I, as a professional educator, thought of something new to do with all of my “education” or “experience.” Not because I read about it in a pedagogical periodical or went to a brown bag workshop or webinar. I’m doing something new because my student, Kayla Moore, approached me and said. “I have a lot of thoughts and ideas about education. It must be changed and I think I know how to do it!” Now, as the “professor” in this situation, my professionally acceptable responses would be as follows:

(1) “Well, focus on graduating first. Answer all of the questions, write all of the papers, and take all of the tests, then we’ll talk.” [Subtext: “Think the way I want you to first. Then, and only then, should you start thinking differently.”]

(2) “Change education? You need to be formally educated to understand what needs to change in education!” [Subtext: “Join us here in ‘the system.’ You’ll see.”]

(3) “That’s nice, dear.” [Subtext: “That’s nice, dear.”]

I’m a professor, right? I’m supposed to be doing the educating. I’m supposed to have the answers. I’m supposed to teach my students how to, when to, and what to think, right? Before you quickly (and smugly) claim “I don’t teach them what to think! I teach them critical thinking!” (as I did), consider these ideas, that I’ve been lucky enough to explore with Kayla in our independent study this quarter:

We’ve explored different “landscapes” for education, instead of the classroom.

We’ve explored teaching students to think of terms in the unexpected, instead of anticipating “what’s on the test”.

We’ve explored embracing social media and welcoming it in the classroom, instead of forcing students into a “phone-free” zone.

We’ve explored technology in a way that pushes education forward, letting it evolve into something beyond software that prevents “cheating” and facilitates “course management.”

We’ve explored changing the focus of education from “They need to get these ‘fundamentals’ down,” to “They need to learn how to innovate and develop new ‘fundamentals’ themselves.”

We’ve explored switching up the teacher-student relationship, and that is exactly what happened for me with this experience. I’ve learned that I don’t have all of the answers, or the best career advice, or the right opinion to hold. I’ve learned that there are innovative ways to get students engaged (like microblogging! Yes, Tweeting, in class!). I’ve learned that there are different ways for me to share the awesome stuff that I learn with my students (by interacting with them through social bookmarking, like we are peers who respect each other or something. Imagine that!)

I, a “professional educator,” have learned more about educating from my weekly discussions with Kayla than I have from most of my 11 years of experience because, for once, I relinquished the control.  I didn’t set up “objectives” or “learning outcomes” or “assignments” or “tests” for this independent study. I invited my colleagues to join in our conversation and (gasp) learn from Kayla’s insights as well (Thanks, Paul Gaszak, Gerry Dedera, and Tricia Lunt!). Instead of “teaching” her, I let Kayla’s ideas guide us, and she will be ending this quarter with an active blog on innovative thinking, a video that communicates her blog and draws the world to her ideas, a thesis that is evolving as we speak, focused on changing the educational system to help students become innovative and creative thinkers, on using what she calls “Academic Networking” to get students to learn in ways that mimic the world they have embraced and live in, and a formal plan and proposal for educators, to help us decide that, even though we are the “professionals,” it is time for US to get inspired: to let our students lead the way.