BACKGROUND:

I am currently undergoing New Mexico's poorly-organized intern teaching licensure program. This program ideally gives people with bachelor's degrees in something other than education the opportunity to become fully-licensed teachers quickly without having to go through the touchy-feely process of earning a teaching degree. So I'm trying to get my license in secondary language arts.

Last December, my wife's boss (my wife teaches biology and chemistry), an incredible six-foot lesbian amazon of a woman (think Jane Lynch, but 6'3"), asked if I'd be interested in teaching an advanced literature course. The school is a magnet school for Albuquerque's blossoming film industry, so I suggested a course on advanced story theory, using film as a medium. She told me to write a syllabus. I wrote a syllabus. She loved it. I called it "CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES: THE HOLLYWOOD MODEL." She decided that wasn't sexy enough, so she retitled it The Hollywood Project. So here I am, teaching what's essentially a collegiate-level literature course to a bunch of film geeks. It's fantastic.

A quick note on the school itself: The Digital Arts and Technology Academy (DATA) is a charter high school that was originally intended to prepare high schoolers for the film industry. It failed, and became a credit recovery school for kids that had been kicked out of every other high school in the city. A new principal (the above Amazon, Lisa) was hired, canned most of the staff and hired a bunch of young teachers, including my wife. The school has seen a definite upswing in the past two years, and is now more or less what it was intended to be.

We started the year off light with some examinations of archetype, a fairly quick gloss of Freud and Jung, a review of the typical Hollywood three-act structure, and so on. Now we're working on advanced literary criticism. For those of you unfamiliar with some of the names that are going to come up below, take my word for it that the ideas presented by most of these people don't get addressed in too many high schools. I didn't read any Baudrillard until my junior year of college, and I was an English major.

Anyway, being very impressed with the work the kids had done thus far, I decided to have them each read and research work by a different literary theorist and present the general ideas of that theorist to the class. There have been hot and cold moments, but generally, I've been very impressed with what the kids have accomplished. I've been recording their presentations on my mini audio recorder. Some of the conversations included have been either very profound or very funny. Below are some samples, each with a short preface, for your entertainment:

Hanna is presenting Why Write? by Jean-Paul Sartre.

HANNA

So, uh, basically, Sartre is saying in this that the author is meaningless without the reader. The author can write whatever he wants, but, uh, unless someone reads it, the stuff the author wrote doesn't mean anything, and it's not a Text.

ALEXIS

What about stuff like journals, or those blogs that no one reads?

HANNA

Uh, I guess he's really talking about the relationship between the author and reader in a piece that's supposed to be read by someone else.

SARA

But what if like you keep a journal and like your brother finds it and reads it?

ELIAS

Then you should kick his ass.

(laughter)

ALEXIS

No, but like those sad blogs where people write all kinds of personal stuff and they like want someone else to read it and you accidentally click on their link and read it and realize you're the only person who's ever read it?

HANNA

Uh, then I guess their blog becomes a Text as soon as you read it.

KURT

It's like magic!

EMILY

How much time do you spend searching dead blogs?

(laughter)

HANNA

The point is, when you read a person's blog you give it meaning.

ROBERT

Well, like, how do you know they want you to read it anyway?

HANNA

Well, maybe they don't, but they wouldn't put it on the web if they didn't want someone to.

GABE

One time I put a picture of my sister drooling in her sleep on the internet and--

ME

Okay, let's move on....

Leti is presenting Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema by Laura Mulvey

LETI

Well, I didn't really get what she's saying in this except that women are castrated and men suck

(laughter)

ME

Well, that's a start. But let's leave women alone for a second and talk about what she says about men.

LETI

They're phallocentric.

ME

Okay. Good. What does that mean?

(silence)

ME

Okay, break it down. What's a phallus?

BRIT

A penis?

ME

Yes. A penis. So what does it mean to be phallocentric?

LETI

Centered on the, on the--

BRIT

Penis.

ALEXIS

Can we use the word wanger?

ROBERT

I'm with that.

ME

You guys aren't comfortable with the word "penis?"

BRIT

I'm okay with penis.

ELIAS

Yeah, we know.

...

LETI

So at a movie you're sitting in this big dark quiet space and everything that's happening is happening on the screen.

ME

So what's that big dark quiet space like?

ALIEXIS

Ew. A womb.

SARA

So the screen is a vagina?

ROBERT

I'm never going to the movies again.

Carlos is presenting The Precession of Simulacra by Jean Baudrillard

CARLOS

So he talks about being in Disneyland, and uh, when you're in there, it's an illusion, but you know it's an illusion, but then you go out into the parking lot and it's like still an illusion, but it pretends to be real and it's all boring and stuff, so it's not even a good illusion.

EMILY

But why is the parking lot an illusion?

CARLOS

Because, uh... because it's still not like real life, you know? Life isn't a parking lot. They like flattened the ground and stuff to make room for all the cars, and all the people there are still like going to see Disneyland.

SARA

I don't get it.

CARLOS

Yeah, me neither, but I like it anyway. I think he's saying that everything we put up around ourselves, like parking lots and buildings and television is just an illusion. It's not the way the world really is, so we like hide in our living rooms.

ME

And what's outside the parking lot?

CARLOS

Los Angeles.

Elias is presenting on Simone de Beauvoir.

ELIAS

Basically, de Beauvoir is really really really angry. She's arguing that women are defined by their flesh, but that that's stupid because men are made of flesh, too, you know?

EMILY

Could you stop saying "flesh?" It's creeping me out.

ELIAS

But that's what she's saying. You know, like

(Elias makes a curvy woman gesture in the air)

like that.

EMILY

...yeah, that wasn't any less creepy.

ELIAS

ANYway, so she says that, uh... uh...

ME

It's okay, Elias. Get your bearings.

ELIAS

Shit, man. Now I'm creeped out.

Callie is presenting on W. E. B. Du Bois

CALLIE

So Du Bois is arguing that in the past, art wasn't considered art until it had been viewed and called art by white people, and that if black people really want to make art, they have to like come up with a new definition for it.

BRIT

You mean white men.

CALLIE

What?

BRIT

White men have to call it art.

CALLIE

Right. Men. So yeah, basically he takes that idea and says it's true for everyone, you know? Like we all have to make our own choices and what we call art is art.

ROBERT

So like if I took a dump on my desk and called it art it would be?

ALEXIS

Ew, Robert.

ROBERT

I'm being serious!

CALLIE

I guess, if that's your thing.

ME

I guess what he's trying to ask about is if there are rules to the process.

CALLIE

Well, uh... he says you have to decide what's good to you, like what's aesthetically pleasing or something.

ME

Right. So what do you have to do to make great art?

CALLIE

That's what I was getting to. Every artist has like an obligation to decide what's beautiful to him and go with it.

SARA

And no one thinks your poop is cute, Robert.

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