Saturday, February 13, 2010

The first paper is coming up

and I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone can do!

A few of reminders:

1) Don't forget to write about a TEXT.  You can write about more than one if you like, but if you do, make sure your focus is narrow.  If your thesis does not make an argument about a text, the paper will not pass.  If you have any concerns, e-mail me.  I'd be happy to chat with you either face-to-face or online to help you refine your thesis.

2) Use Writing about Literature to help you.  The essay on "The Yellow Wall-paper" and "The Storm" provides an excellent model.  It makes a clear, narrowly focused argument and it supports that argument with quotations and other textual evidence.  Remember, writing a literary essay is a lot like being a lawyer: you need to make a case.

3) Don't forget to cite your sources.  Your Bedford Handbook gives detailed information on how to cite sources, as do many online sources, such as the OWL at Perdue.  If you've looked at the Bedford and you're still confused, e-mail me.

Write on, my friends.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Clint Eastwood v. John Wayne

I promised the class I would post this link to the Clint Eastwood v. John Wayne grudge match I found on line while researching the class.  This is hardly a scholarly site, but it might be useful to help try to conceptualize what two roles these dominant figures play in the history of the American western genre.

(Note: I do not endorse or condone any of the views held on this site.)

I don't want to believe that John Wayne represents America

but he does, doesn't he?  I mean, I read the infamous 1971 Playboy interview, and I'm sickened by his racism, his homophobia, his paranoia of communism and liberal teachers (that would be me, right?).  This is the last person on Earth I want to associate with my country because I love my country.  My grandfather and uncles fought for this country and my cousins are actively serving at this very moment.  My father immigrated here because he saw the potential of America's ideals of a class-free democracy.  I was raised on the yet unrealized ideal that we strive to let all men be created equal as well the belief that you loved your country best by speaking out when things could be improved--that's what democracy is, right?  Being active, voting, demonstrating, speaking.

Not, perhaps, if you're John Wayne.  For him, those whose views were not his should be silenced.  Those whose skin was too dark or whose sexuality was different needed to be suppressed.  Those who believed in communism should be run out of his business and preferably run out of the country altogether.  To my mind, this sounds a lot closer to dictatorship and imperialism than it does to democracy.  And yet, looking at the historical record--genocide of Native American tribes, slavery, institutional racism and Jim Crow, Japanese internment, McCarthyism, the Patriot Act, the continued bans on gay marriage--John Wayne looks a lot closer to what America has acted like than I want to believe.

Is it his charm that lets him get away with this?  Hi bravado?  His sexuality?  Is it America's swagger that allowed it to be a world power even when it didn't act on its own ideals?  Teaching this essay yesterday, I was struck by how conflicted we were about his character.  At one moment, we want to disown him; at another, he becomes everyone's grandfather--while we don't like what he's saying we admire him for saying it.  He's honest.  He doesn't hide.  He says what we know people are thinking.  In a democracy, we need this if open debate is to be possible.  Yet it's not debate that Wayne advocates but dogmatism.  The brave don't exile those whose views are different from theirs.  John Wayne shows little courage in the convictions of democracy.

As troubled as I am by the interview, I think it is important reading because none of the views he holds have disappeared.  If we are a democracy, they must be given voice.  I only hope that saner voices bring reason and logic to combat the *fear* that ultimately drives so much of this "bravado."