It’s a good question. Right?
The transformation I see from students can be much more dramatic than what I’ll see in regular old English classes. Students come to English rather anxious, and most don’t like reading, so they don’t think they know much about the subject. Few of my students ever have a favorite book, but almost all will have a favorite film, even a favorite director. Because they like movies, students feel they already know most of what there is to know about them.
While students come to English class aware of some overlap between literature and history, virtually none connect film to those subjects. To the vast majority, film isn’t literature, and the art form is completely unrelated to history. Only overtly political films—like Milk or Crash—provoke argument. The rest are either interesting or boring, and the student gets to decide.
The biggest challenge, then, is getting students to see first that film is art and that art is political. Because they have never thought about looking at their favorite films or shows as political discourse, their responses will stumble through assumptions that reveal their biases and flawed worldview.
The best way to explain what I mean is by looking at examples:
Stanley Kubrick believes that women can shoot guns just as good as any man. That’s why he puts a woman sniper at the end of Full Metal Jacket. It proves women can shoot men.
In Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock proves that bad parenting can make you a transvestite.
Bob Fosse made Cabaret to show that a strip club won’t have any regular people hanging around in it. You get homos and sluts and rich perverts just going there to have fun. There are also Nazis and Communists. Bob Fosse probably doesn’t want to make films about regular people.
Robbie Rodriguez is the best filmmaker of all time because he shows how Americans are evil. He makes it clear that Latin America is all messed up because of the United States.
I like how John Hughes isn’t racist. He won’t put a black guy in a film just for the sake of having a black guy. He doesn’t have a Lando Calrissian just to have one. A guy like Spike Lee will put black people in his movies on purpose, which is even more racist if you ask me.
Elia Kazan shows that a man will take over any situation he sees fit and use his muscles if he needs to. A Streetcar Named Desire is about taking control of a situation that’s getting out of hand. Yes, it’s wrong to harm a woman, but you have to tell your best friend if you find out his girlfriend is a prostitute.
Kieslowski’s Blue is about compassionate females. It makes clear that a woman will feel compassion even for somebody like a cheater who gets pregnant, or for a hooker who works in a sex club.
Ingmar Bergman has one message in The Seventh Seal. If you meet a Christian, you should pretty much ignore him.
I’ll admit I’m picking some of the “greatest hits” I’ve gathered over the years. However, I see similar stuff every semester. My response is usually provocative. “If Fosse made a film about ‘regular people’, who’d be in it?” Other times I’ll flat out tell a student, “You have dangerously sexist and offensive views that are causing you to misinterpret the film.”
In response to one such statement, a student came to ask me, “Why is it wrong to be sexist or racist? What if I don’t like women or Mexicans? Why should I have to?” He was not accosting me. The guy wanted me to explain how I could maintain that all opinions were welcome while I penalized (in fact, failed) some. Wasn’t this a contradiction?
Instead of presenting the discussions I had with this student, who was all of nineteen, I’ll leave you with something he wrote on an exam. I think Donald Sterling should read it, although I don’t know if it will help.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I believe this is true. But one thing people forget is that opinions create other opinions. I mean that if you’re sharing your opinion, the person listening gets to make up their mind about it and form their own. You’re entitled to share, but that does not mean anyone has to accept you.
If you have bigoted views, you’re expressing a shortsighted mindset. You lack insight. In most cases, you’re judging someone unfairly—even if your judgment is positive, it may not be accurate. It’s based on the wrong yardstick.
Earlier this semester, I was failing to see the world from more than one point of view. The only one I had was my own, and the mistake I made was forcing my opinion onto a filmmaker. That’s not only shortsighted but it misunderstands the purpose of studying film and becoming educated about it.
An educated person learns to listen and see a point of view other than their own. That’s why film exists, to show us places and ideas we may not come across ourselves, and to help us see how others think and feel, or how they used to in the past. When we understand another person’s story, we have a way of getting closer to their ideas and fate. Maybe it’s not wrong to hate or dislike. You can’t go to prison just for having a feeling. But you can cause others stress and contribute to their problems by failing to listen to them. Racists and sexists are problems because they don’t stop to wonder why they think the way they do. Their point of view hurts others, but they either don’t know or don’t care.
It’s not illegal to be ignorant or indifferent. It’s just not educated.
Photo by Wonderlane
True Community runs each Wednesday. Gint Aras explores his experiences as an instructor in a community college that serves a lower-middle to lower class district in Chicagoland.
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