With today's release of the latest installment in the Jason Bourne franchise, the new Screen Junkies honest trailer will have you ready for the weekend. Enjoy!
I'm not sure when this commercial first appeared, but I caught it for the first time this weekend. The little girl is super cute, and it's pretty funny. Take a look...
I use commercials a lot in my English classes, because they are short and offer a variety of interesting messages. Any course that studies communication can analyze rhetoric easily this way. When I watch this clip, however, I come away with a tough question: what if the genders in the commercial were reversed?
Imagine if this ad featured a little boy approached by his mom, and he told her that dad was the boss. And when she said that actually men and women should work together as parental equals, the boy reiterated that "Nope, dad's the boss." And mom reluctantly agreed.
Would that commercial ever see the light of day? Take a minute to consider what message is overtly transmitted in this ad, but also what is not explicitly stated. This isn't just a promo for yogurt. Is it possible that women often times get some pretty special treatment--dare I say, privilege--in the media?
Studies continue to show that many of today's young voters don't actually know what important economic and political terms mean. One of those terms is "progressivism." In an amazing new book by Princeton professor Thomas C. Leonard, Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics, the historical foundation and evolution of that worldview is examined. This is not a book on politics, but rather a history of ideas, as the Progressive Era came about by way of an expanding belief in science and intellectualism.
While many today think of progressivism as a vague belief in tolerance, increased freedoms, and forward thinking, such a definition belies its origin as a truly frightening perspective on how societies should be organized. Leonard does a brilliant job of explaining that progressivism was not founded in a particular political movement--all sides of the political spectrum became adherents, with the two most prominent figures being Democrat President Woodrow Wilson and Republican President Theodore Roosevelt. Leonard maintains his dispassionate examination throughout the book, highlighting ideas and policies and avoiding political smears. So what exactly got everyone so excited about progressivism?
The notion that smart people could devise policies for government and other forms of social organization followed from a form of Enlightenment, a belief that science holds the keys to an improving world. What biological evolution showed us was possible in the 1800s, social evolution could bring about in the 1900s. The difference being that biology is slow and prone to mistakes, while experts in sociology and economics have the education and influence to guide citizens to a more productive and more safe society. Intellectuals became advisers to the powerful, effecting political change through countless initiatives aimed at the preservation of American purity. This purity, however, became the sticking point.
Progressivism, Leonard shows, gave us a scientific rationale for racism and eugenics, as well as anti-immigration and anti-labor political movements. Progressivism hindered women and the disabled. And it marginalized--through excluding, imprisoning, or even killing--anyone who was perceived as a threat to "improving" our nation. The realities of the ideology are truly tragic.
To repeat, this is not a political book, but a history of ideas. And while this text itself is just shy of 200 pages, Leonard painstakingly presents his information with dozens of pages of citations and footnotes. The book is titled Illiberal Reformers because the Progressive Era at the beginning of the twentieth century signaled a move away from the individualism and personal freedoms that arose from classical liberalism. It marked, on the contrary, a methodological movement of control through social and political elitism. The facts are here for all to see, showing us how placing our future in the hands and minds of a few select smart people can lead to horrifying results. We hear the word "progressive" thrown around by all sorts of people today. Make sure you know where that word came from.
The funny folks over at McSweeney's have a recent post outlining the daily schedule of a writer. Hours of procrastination and neuroticism mostly lead to even more hours of movie watching and alcohol bingeing. Hard to tell whether this is a glimpse at an author's reality or just what the creative grind feels like, but it's a humorous way to kick off the weekend English Champion style. Enjoy!
Tomorrow would've been the 117th birthday of iconic American author Ernest Hemingway. He was a larger than life figure whose mythology only seems to have grown since his passing. Some students dislike Hemingway's style, which is understandable. His work isn't as palatable as Cather or Fitzgerald's, so it takes some getting used to. But the lessons we can learn from him are valuable, to be sure. Here are five ways to introduce Hemingway to your class of young readers and writers.
1. Offer technology. Since young people are so enamored with anything that has the word "app" in it, show your students the Hemingway App. It allows you to enter your own text and gives suggestions for editing your work for clarity and brevity, two of Hemingway's stylistic trademarks.
2. Tell them about rewriting. The best writers are often the most diligent rewriters, and Hemingway was no different. He once told an interviewer that he rewrote the ending to his novel A Farewell to Arms 39 times. The reason? He had to "get the words right." Whether in a creative writing class or a composition class, there is no better piece of advice for a writer.
3. Make them read "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place." Hemingway was a prolific short story writer, and this is probably my favorite. Few pieces of literature demonstrate the divide between the worldviews of the young and the aged. It's a bit depressing and nihilistic (it's Hemingway, after all), but its simplicity is hard to beat. And while young people may not get it at first, it will stick with them long after reading.
4. Have students write six-word stories. Perhaps the most famous piece of flash fiction is attributed to Hemingway, though that legend is highly disputable. No matter, use it anyway to show how a fully developed story doesn't need the bells and whistles to be effective. A character, an event, a consequence--stick to that and word count doesn't matter. Your creative writers will improve instantly.
5. Introduce intertextuality. Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls is a pretty good war novel if students want to take a crack at it. But its title offers more literary exploration. It was taken from a sermon by British poet (and my favorite) John Donne, as he was pretty much on his death bed. It's the same sermon that includes the famous phrase, "No man is an island." Knowing where Hemingway got his ideas on the ominous and inescapable cloud of death helps to more clearly understand his own work. Helping students understand that literary texts constantly borrow from, reflect, and elevate other literary texts is one of the fastest ways to develop appreciation among young readers. Show the links, and the students will follow.
Happy Hemingway Day!
We avoid overt political talk here at English Champion, but since the party conventions will dominate the media cycle and pop culture environment for the rest of the month, perhaps a piece of advice is in order if you intend to listen to some of the speeches.
Politicians from both sides of the aisle will constantly espouse their love for this country and their goals of helping particular groups of people. And perhaps they are both telling the truth. But what they will tell you from their respective convention stages is with a simpler goal in mind. In fact, their aim of helping you is actually WAY down their list of priorities. They might say they will do x and y for you, but that's not entirely true, is often not actually possible, and is likely simply a means to achieving a more pressing concern.
When considering whom to vote for this election season, and when you watch the conventions, you should be thinking of three things:
1. This candidate cares most importantly about getting elected.
2. This candidate then cares about getting re-elected.
3. This candidate then cares about getting their friends elected.
Trust me, your personal concerns are not even part of their thinking until those first three things have been accomplished--number 47 sounds about right to me. And even then, that might be a stretch. It doesn't matter which political party you see on stage, these three rules are consistent across all ideologies.
This is not to say that politicians are bad people. Like everyone else, I have a few that I find interesting and worthy of such a leadership role. And I will have to make my voting decisions for this fall just like everyone else. But when you first consider the short list above of a candidate's priorities, you can become more discerning, and a smarter voter. "Is she just saying that to win my vote?" "Will he ever actually do what he's saying?" "Is this person just saying that because it sounds nice and people will cheer?" Yes, who knows, and yes. And there's a simple test: if that candidate were to lose the election, would he/she still work to enact that policy? For example, if Donald Trump loses, would he personally donate the several billion dollars required to build a wall along the southern border? If Hillary Clinton were to lose, would she use her vast personal wealth to pay for poor students to go to college or offer her personal time to go teach Pre-K? The answer to those questions is a clear no. Therefore, getting elected is automatically more important than actually doing any of those tasks.
When you think about politics as the rhetorical game candidates play rather than actually advancing a philosophical agenda, it becomes easier to avoid the emotional back and forth that often accompanies elections. They all care about themselves first. And that's not necessarily an indictment--in fact, it's human nature. But let's not be naive in believing these politicians are so altruistic that your personal life is their top priority. It's just not.
That's why I avoid any politician who wants to "do" anything for me. I'm waiting for the candidate who steps on the stage and says, "Don't physically hurt each other. Don't steal from each other. Otherwise, you're on your own. You figure it out." Mic drop. That dude (or dudette) would be my hero.
I know this all sounds quite cynical, but it should also be helpful when it comes time to make your personal voting decision. When you realize what politicians' real aims are, everything else becomes clearer. Both conventions could turn out to be a huge trainwreck, so watch at your own risk. Remember to be a smart viewer, and you just might survive.
Being a good educator doesn't just mean teaching kids about subjects and verbs, multiplication and division, or the difference between the American and French Revolutions. Teaching is also about inspiring people to be proactive in their lives, to discover passions, and perhaps most importantly, to think about their future productivity. Helping to instill an entrepreneurial worldview in students is vital in our increasingly evolving career climate, so they can be ready for whatever they encounter and keep earning a living no matter what.
On yesterday's Question of the Day podcast, Stephen and James tackled one of the most practical and useful topics imaginable: "What's the best way for a teenager to make money?" The episode is only about ten minutes long and will be well worth your time. Pass it along to a young person you know, or use the info yourself! And in true English Champion form, one of the best ways for young people to increase their cash flow is to start writing. With tips on publishing, advertising, networking, and building a clientele, there's something here for everyone.
Start making money and doing something you enjoy--you are never too young to start running your own business. Take a listen and have a great Friday.
Very rarely will I describe a film as mandatory viewing, but this will be one of those occasions. The documentary Poverty, Inc. is one of the most informative and interesting films I've seen, and it should be viewed by everyone, especially those involved in academia, students and teachers alike.
I had wanted to see the film for some time, and while it was originally released on Amazon about a year ago, I was finally able to catch it on its recent addition to Netflix. Poverty, Inc. examines the business of international aid and how poor countries stay poor because American and world organizations think they are being helpful by donating to the impoverished. While everyone wants to feel good about helping the needy in third-world countries, many don't realize the harm they are causing by perpetually giving free aid. And, it turns out, being a do-gooder is a profitable business...for the rich and well connected.
Donating shoes means cobblers don't start businesses. Donating clothing means farmers don't grow cotton and factories don't employ textile workers. Donating eggs means people don't raise their own livestock and sell their produce. These and many other examples are vividly portrayed by real people in the film. When we continue to give to these countries, many interviewees plead, they become reliant on outside donations and never take care of themselves.
Celebrities and politicians go on television and proclaim that charity will end hunger, the film shows. But they are actually the ones keeping those less fortunate in those circumstances. Certainly, when a disaster occurs, we should provide whatever we feel is necessary. But it is the long-term subsidies that ruin the lives of the very people we want to help. Charity should be specific, targeted, and most important, temporary.
Poverty, Inc. does an excellent job of laying out the real-world consequences of trying to help others because it makes the giver feel good, with obliviousness toward the actual results of the giving. If we truly want to lift people out of poverty, offer them ideas for starting their own businesses, growing their own crops, developing their own schools. And then leave them alone. They will thank us for it.
Check out this powerful film on Netflix, and share it with your classrooms.
An interesting article appeared in the Science section of the UK Daily Mail over the weekend.
Most of us who spend a disturbing amount of time in the literary arts have probably heard of the various styles of plot and how many there may be. Georges Polti and Carlo Gozzi once believed there were 36 types of stories, Ronald Tobias narrowed that list down to 20, and most recently, Christopher Booker defined just seven basic plots in literature.
But now, researchers at the University of Vermont have used data mining to analyze sentiment and structure in 1,700 famous works of literature, and they have found that stories tend to be characterized by only six fundamental arcs.
The images above may look like some weird EKG reading, but these are actually the six basic plot arcs according to computational analysis: "Fall-rise-fall, like Oedipus Rex; Rise and then a fall, such as stories from Hans Andersen; Fall and then a rise, like The Magic of Oz; Steady fall, like in Romeo and Juliet; Steady rise, like in a rags-to-riches story such as Alice's Adventures Underground; Rise-fall-rise, like that of Cinderella." And nearly every story ever told fits one of these forms.
I'm sure someone out there will write a response article claiming that literature cannot be reduced to squiggly lines on a graph. But it's all fun and informative, I say, and I always enjoy when arts and sciences come together. Take a look at the article, and consider what mathematical patterns some of your favorite books and films employ.
One of my favorite new YouTube channels is Lessons from a Screenplay, and everyone interested in writing and film should check it out. With great video essays, the author analyzes famous films and how they were translated from script to screen. This week's edition is about the excellent 1984 Ghostbusters. With the new version hitting theaters next week, this is a good time to revisit what makes the original so memorable. There is great stuff on this channel each week about dialogue, structure, setting, and other writing concepts. This Ghostbusters examination explores the evolution of story and concept design. Enjoy!
I recently finished the business biography/personal memoir Shoe Dog by Nike founder Phil Knight. The most interesting aspect of the book is its detailed examination of the struggles indicative of so many American businesses. Many people see successful companies--and Knight's personal net worth that approaches $30 billion--and assume that good luck and exploitative capitalism simply continues to create a greater divide between the haves and have nots. But most people don't know the whole story, and Shoe Dog gives us a glimpse inside the humanity and hard work behind one of the world's most famous brand names.
Knight describes the initial idea behind his company, long before the word "Nike" was ever conceived, of importing running shoes from Japan that he would sell to American athletes. He wanted to bring to American runners better shoes at a better price, and conquer the Adidas stranglehold on the market in the process. But for years, his fledgling operation looked nothing like an economic juggernaut in the making. He sold his sneakers out of the trunk of his car on nights and weekends at area track meets, after working other jobs during the day (usually as an accountant, the profession for which he went to school) in case his shoe sales flatlined.
When he could eventually satisfy a growing group of buyers, he was able to bring on a motley crew of hired hands. But money remained so tight that Knight didn’t make a salary for the first seven years of his company. (What many outside the business world don't realize is that this is actually quite common. The owner of a new small business is often the last to get paid. Taking on the initial risk is what allows them to make more later on.) Knight and his partners constantly adapted to needs of consumers, envisioning and then crafting new styles of running shoes. After many years in the development process, he and his team were finally able to start manufacturing their own shoes and solidifying their own brand. But there continued to be obstacles.
Knight faced lawsuits. He faced government overreach and unfair international trade policies. He faced the constantly fickle nature of athletes and their equipment demands. Knight even briefly describes some of the controversy surrounding Nike in recent years regarding foreign labor practices. Knight deftly explains how certain countries actually forbid higher salaries, even when Knight tried to pay workers better wages. (We must also remember that in many countries, making a minimal salary in a shoe factory is actually a better alternative than what is often available. For many workers in poorer countries, making two dollars an hour sewing sneakers is a vast improvement compared to making two dollars a day doing backbreaking labor harvesting crops. Wealthy Westerners often believe everyone around the world deserves the same types of opportunities they have. But people always choose their best available option in their specific time and place.)
Knight's success is a model that everyone can follow. Though no one is guaranteed his level of wealth, there is almost no other way to achieve it. Long hours, tireless effort, personal sacrifice, and market intelligence--that's the formula. Being an entrepreneur, bringing new ideas and products to rest of the world, is one of the bravest endeavors anyone can undertake. And we need more Phil Knights. Unfortunately, it's getting harder than ever. When considering the future of new businesses in America, Knight says, “I’d like to remind them [young entrepreneurs] that America isn’t the entrepreneurial Shangri-La people think. Free enterprise always irritates the kinds of trolls who live to block, to thwart, to say no, sorry, no. And it’s always been this way. Entrepreneurs have always been outgunned, outnumbered. They’ve always fought uphill, and the hill has never been steeper. America is becoming less entrepreneurial, not more. A Harvard Business School study recently ranked all the countries of the world in terms of their entrepreneurial spirit. America ranked behind Peru.” Land of opportunity, not so much anymore.
The book is about 50 pages longer than it needs to be--Knight goes a bit too far with some of his discussions of his family and travel and sometimes drifts away from the more interesting business exploits--so some skimming would be fine. But it's a quick read overall, and whether you are considering an entrepreneurial future or simply enjoy American success stories, Shoe Dog may be for you. And whenever you hear someone giving businessmen a bad wrap or getting on a soapbox against rich one-percenters, remember that many of them have simply worked harder and smarter than the rest of us in order to bring us things we like. Nike is now one of the most prominent companies in world history, but it all started with one man and one idea and the trunk of his car. Phil Knight built that, and my feet and I are glad he did.
Many Fridays I will post something humorous here about English, education, or pop culture. But not today. The following is no laughing matter. And the future of our nation's universities depends upon the words we use in certain situations.
This week at the University of North Carolina, a post on an employee forum warned against microaggressions and offered numerous examples of phrases that might be harmful to others. Complimenting a female on her shoes, asking people if they want to go play golf, using the phrase "Christmas vacation," and calling a significant other "husband/boyfriend" are just a few on the list. Such language, the post said, carries an implicit bias and can create a hostile environment. UNC, most recently in the news for giving students A grades for not actually doing any work in classes, has removed the post for everyone accept UNC students and faculty (in a brilliant twist of exclusionary irony--talk about privilege!). But I think they haven't gone far enough. Here are five more pieces of cautionary language that should be forbidden on college campuses.
"So, what do you do?" Simply awful. While you may think this is a simple conversation starter to learn about an acquaintance's line of work, you are in a danger zone here. You are implying that someone must commit to the hegemonic capitalist practice in which people "do" things in order to earn money to live. Asking such a question is infringing on people's right not to be forced to "do" such things. People's labor, or non-labor, is their own business.
"Have you seen any good movies lately?" Again, this seems like an innocuous query, but its implications are very threatening. You are asking someone to be part of the corporate system of movie-making (which we all know that just using the word corporate is a sign that it's bad) and if they have enough disposable income to see a $10 piece of art. Art should be free. Asking if someone has paid for a movie is tres gauche.
"He's a great teacher." No, just, no. It should go without saying that using such an aggressive pronoun is strictly forbidden. Beyond that, if a student uses this sentence, said student should be reprimanded immediately. Using the word "great" is insulting to all other teachers. Even if one were to judge proficiency in such a way, the requirements for doing so would need to be run through various committees, task forces, and governing bodies in the university administration. Such a policy of recognition would necessitate a three-year waiting period before a ruling could be offered. Besides, anyone on a college campus should already be aware that a male (so cis!) is not allowed to be commended in any way. The very thought of such sexism disgusts me.
"I can't wait for Spring Break." This is a tricky one, but still offensive. First, no college actually takes this time during the calendar definition of spring. Many schools still have snow on the ground, so this is a blatant misrepresentation of the wonder of springtime. And this vacation period is a slap in the face to any non-students, who certainly don't get a random week off each year. Also, the word "break" connotes a violent act (trigger warning!), which can be jarring for students focused on their studies. Therefore, this time of year should be called Late-Winter Respite (Which Should Be Available To All Even If Your Employer Doesn't Allow It.)
"I'm hungry. I'm ordering a pizza." So many things wrong here. To mention hunger is an affront to those on diets. Saying you want to eat does not respect others' feelings of not wanting to eat. Furthermore, to "order" a pizza is a despicable display of bourgeoise privilege. The proletariat who provide food deserve respect, not to be "ordered" like some kind of dough-tossing, sauce-slinging slaves. Finally, pizza is not only symbolic of the imperialism of the ancient Romans and Western Europe in general, it is a clear example of the cultural appropriation of Italian history for American consumerism. If you like pizza, you are probably a racist.
There you have it. Watch your words carefully next semester. Or I guess we could just not say anything to each other at all. I just don't know anymore. I would say have a great 4th of July weekend, but I don't want to offend anyone who believes the number 4 is just another example of semiotic intolerance toward other numerical signifiers.
Dr. Spivey is a college English professor and lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.