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Classic Literature for a New Generation
When one watches "Rambo: First Blood Part II" are we actually watching a contemporary version of the Iliad about the ferocity of Achilles on and off the battleground? When we watch Francis Ford Coppola's "Godfather" trilogy, are we really watching Aeschylus's Oresteia trilogy? Is today's "Jerry Springer" yesterday's Euripides' Hippolytus? Is Rodney Dangerfield's "Back to School" really Aristophanes's The Clouds? Could flicking through the pages of Playboy be tantamount to listening to Plato's Symposium, a discourse on sex and love, or reading Castiglione's Renaissance courtesy novel The Book of the Courtier? (Spectrum, Australia, 1)
Richard Keller Simon, in his book Trash Culture advocates the simultaneous study of classic literature through its traditional forms and contemporary interpretation, highlighting the importance of promoting popular culture in conjunction with classic literature in order to comprehend the crucial perspective in which the books materialize. (R. K. Simon, California, 3-5) In rejecting Stallone's interpretation and condensation of the Iliad as not having the ability to convey any of the inherent messages of its classic counterpart, we deny popular culture as a possibly influential schooling device. (Spectrum, Australia, 1)
There are many proponents of Simon's assertion, literary enthusiasts who see the benefits of studying literature in pairs - the traditional as well as the contemporary way. Leslie Fiedler, in his book What Was Literature?, stated that the examination of the art novel (Joyce, James, Edith Wharton) is an passe exercise; that our approach is flawed if we cannot cater to the detective novel, the pornographic fancy, the comic strip. (A. Burgess, New York, 1) Marshall McLuhan placed great importance on the delivery of the themes inherent in novels. The fundamental idea behind his book The Medium is the Massage is that the message is largely influenced by the method of delivery.... If the substance is destroyed by the medium, "what" we say is not significant - only "how" we opt to convey that message. McLuhan's conviction in hi-tech determinism is apparent by his saying, "we shape our tools and they in turn shape us." (http://www.regent.edu/acad/schcom/rojc/mdic/mcluhan.html)
However there are also many opponents to Simon's radicalism. Neil Postman disputed that today's medium often undercuts the impact of the traditional works and its incorporation in the educational system should not be encouraged. "[T]elevision's conversations promote incoherence and triviality... And that television speaks in only one persistent voice - the voice of entertainment.... To enter the great television conversation, one American cultural institution after another is learning to speak its terms. Television, in other words, is transforming our culture into one vast arena for showbusiness. It is entirely possible, of course, that in the end we shall find that delightful, and decide we like it just fine." (N. Postman, U.S., 64-82)
Alvin Kernan through his book The Death of Literature advocated similar views to Postman. "In the electronic age, books, words and reading are not likely to remain sufficiently authoritative and central to knowledge to justify literature.... At the deepest level the worldview of television is fundamentally at odds with the worldview of a literature based on the printed book. As television watching increases therefore, and more and more people derive, quite unconsciously, their sense of reality and their existential situation in it from television, the assumptions about the world that have been identified with literature will become less and less plausible, and in no time will become downright incredible." (http://www.eye.net/eye/issue/issue_05.09.96/ARTS/bo0509b.htm)
Undoubtedly the best answer to these critics is empirical evidence. Simon isn't asserting that in order to impact on a smarter, wiser, more impatient population of thinkers, the most appropriate method of doing so would be to speak their lingo, to communicate through cultural mediums. Robert Scholes conveyed his apprehension that English departments were going to become obsolete unless they modernised. (Spectrum, Australia, 1) The answer is this: What students love, and what teachers know how to teach are almost the same. The outlook of English division relies on their skill in incorporating the two types of narratives.
For instance, the trendy television sitcom Friends, is a current interpretation of Shakespeare's over-the-top comedy Much Ado About Nothing. Despite the difference in settings (Renaissance Italy, contemporary Manhattan), and that one is written in poetry and the other in colloquialism, the central characters, storyline and topics are almost the same.
This could be because all comedies possess specific qualities, particularly those comedies using Roman New Comedy as a template. Youthful lovers defy the threats of their families and the community to get together, normally by clever duplicity, and in the final act there is a celebration of a wedding or weddings, when all is reconciled. Many sitcoms and movies are rely on the Plautine style as are the famous dramatic comedies long ago, although in those catering specifically to young families, children fool their parents to obtain more age-apt spoils. (For example, the twins in The Parent Trap aspire to reunite their estranged parents.)
But Friends possesses more with Shakespeare than the custom of New Comedy. It is Much Ado modified to contemporary economic and cultural surroundings, and to the rigours of the 30-minute sitcom. In Friends, as in Much Ado, a group of single young men and women entertain each other, trick each other, and move from varying states of love (or not, as the case may be). Some characters are shy away of commitment, others seek it out, but their lives are dictated by the ever-changing principles of love and camaraderie.
Four friends in Shakespeare translate to six on television, but the way they relate to each other are similar. Chandler is Friends' take on Benedick: the cleverly funny, mocking single guy who avoids committing to a relationship by being fixated over their flaws. Benedick eventually meets his match in the smart and savvy Beatrice, who stands up to his sarcasm and ends up marrying him, just like Chandler marries Monica. Phoebe flits about like a Shakespearian fool, making quirky comments and singing silly songs that are deeper than first thought. (Spectrum, Australia, 1) writer for the Sydney Morning Herald (Australian newspaper) conveyed some of her teaching experiences relevant to this subject area. Equal time was granted to Much Ado and Friends. The pupils thoroughly enjoyed Friends. They discussed the trials and tribulations of the 6 main characters as if they knew them personally. They could even recall the names of characters that had only been in one or two episodes.
However, the pupils were not as enthusiastic about Shakespeare, worried about the language they were not used to, the characters to remember and the impending test. What they preferred to discuss and found easier to comprehend was Friends, while the teacher wished to instruct them on Shakespeare. A compromise was made and both parties met in the middle. (Spectrum, Australia, 1)
The students who come to us now exist in the most manipulative culture human beings have ever experienced," Robert Scholes penned. "They are bombarded with signs, with rhetoric, from their daily awakenings until their troubled sleep, especially with signs transmitted by the audio-visual media. And, for a variety of reasons, they are relatively deprived of experience in the thoughtful reading and writing of verbal texts. They are also sadly deficient in certain kinds of historical knowledge that might give them some perspective on the manipulations that they currently encounter." (Spectrum, Australia, 1)
Employing the approach dictated by Simon in Trash Culture would increase an educator's ability to make students understand and appreciate classic literature. The electronic age has undoubtedly changed the mindset of the younger generation, making them wiser, more cynical and more impatient. Also, this generation is bombarded with material without a constant filter in the form of a parent or other authority figure. In many cases, parents and guardians do not have the time to filter what their children are watching on television or what they are exposed to as they surf the Internet. That's why this generation now being introduced to classic literature are more savvy about the world they live in currently. They do not much care for societal issues that plagued people of their generation in the last century or so, even if the issues were the same as the ones they tackle nowadays. This is why using the approach as formulated by Simon would garner more success in getting students to appreciate classic literature and applying it to the society they dwell in today. A student's interest should not be limited to acing that next exam but to really explore the themes and motifs each classic story relates for the sole purpose of expanding their comprehension about their own place in society. Making that connection between classic literature and their contemporary interpretations could also generate a true love for classic literature from the student, which they can take with them after they graduate.
Popular culture can be the deliverance rather than the archenemy of established humanities specialties, especially English. Simon was correct in asserting that in order for classic literature to reach a whole new…[continue]
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