Monday, May 30, 2005


I was watching the movie "Shattered Glass" yesterday on HBO, and it suddenly struck my that Peter Sarsgaard and my friend Carl look a lot alike. They're of a similar age, too, and get this--Carl's father and brother are both named Peter. And I have yet to see them in the same place together... Carl, is there something you want to tell me? Are you perpetrating some hoax you never told me about? If so, I'll never forgive you for not introducing me to Chloe Sevigny or Hilary Swank. Posted by Hello

Platonic Dialogues of a Freshman

In my freshman year of university (2001/2002), I took a night course of American History 101 which was being taught by a graduate student working on her teaching degree. It was one of the absolute worst classes I've ever taken (so were many that semester), and culminated in me being not-so-subtly accused of plagiarism. Apparently my vast store of knowledge just screams academic dishonesty to teachers, because it's happened one other time since. Anyway, these are the notes I took from one single class meeting.

* Got to love a class of suburban white kids discussing how terrible slavery was. Is there a single black person in this class? A couple, I guess. You know why white kids say slavery was wrong? It's what they've been taught to believe. I wonder how many of them have actually sat and thought about the nightmare it must have been, the horror and casual cruelty that governed their lives. Of course, I'm white, so who am I to talk?

* Miss Godfrey is a neo-liberal PC freak. I hate this careful proliferation of "political correctness," which is a dishonor to anyone who has ever suffered. Calling Rosa Parks an African-American woman who made a stand for the Civil Rights movement diminishes her achievement. It takes away from the fact that she was a black woman who stood up to white authority and said that a tired human being is a tired human being. She wasn't making a stand, she was a regular person who just had enough: those are the people who affect real change. Simple, honest, direct language that tells the truth. PC is just a way for people to feel honest about lying.

* Ten minutes into class, and I've already tuned the bitch out. Something about the Federal Works Project. I don't like to hear her talk about history--she just drones on and on without passion. Why the fuck does she want to teach this? And she talks as though this is a class of children: "What does (blank) mean by that?" "What does that mean?" It would be insulting if most of the frogs here weren't so goddamn stupid, or so unwilling to discuss in class. I wonder how many of them forget to pull their pants down before defecating.

* This man who sits in front of me appears to be about 52. He's got little hair left, a beard, and wears cable-knit pullovers. And he's actually smugly happy to be teacher's pet to a 25 year-old student teacher.

* God damn the way these students talk! "I, um, like, you know." It's your native fucking language, stop embarrassing yourself!

* Miss Godfrey sits on her desk with her legs crossed. You just know she's so put out to have missed the seventies. She wants to be the cool teacher, the idealistic teacher who gets her students to really want to learn, to stimulate their minds and open their hearts. But she never will be. She's seen Dead Poets Society too many damn times. Here's a f'rinstance: I have given her two papers that recieved "B" grades, because I "talked around the subject" or "didn't address the assignment." Well, in both cases, her simplistic third-grade reading level questions sent me into other areas, got me to think and reason on my own rather than regurgitate the same answers she wants to hear. Honestly, does she want me to learn or does she want me to prepare for tests? Because I'd rather learn. There is value in rote memorization, but there is also value in thinking, logic, reasoning, questioning. As David Gerrold said, a diploma only proves that you know how to look up an answer. I can't help it if Godfrey's questions couldn't live up to my answers.

* Godfrey is always making interesting observations she's read in books. Does she have any original thoughts? Certainly not enough to lead an interesting discussion.

* I get chastised on my last essay for not calling Indians "Native Americans," a term I find repulsive, or West African slaves "African-Americans." I hate those PC buzzwords for the following reasons: first, West African slaves and Indians were not citizens of the United States at the time I was writing about. Since America is, in fact, a government able to bestow citizenship, this is a moot point: neither group was considered people, much less citizens.

"Native American" is a derogatory, half-assed apology that came up from white guilt. The Sioux are not "Native American" just because they're indigenous to the continent. When we conquer Iraq, are we going to rename it Bushland and call the people "Native Bushlanders"? Jesus, that's an insult. They're Sioux, plain and simple. Granted, calling them "Indians" isn't much better. But if you believe the "un gente in dios" version of Columbus's mistake, at least it comes across a little better. Besides, when Columbus set sail, India was referred to in Europe as Hindustan, so the people weren't referred to as "Indians," but "Hindis" or "Hindus." Since I was writing about a large group of people, not just one nation, I used the term "Indians" because I find it less offensive than "Native Americans," which still reeks of arrogance. What, we admit that they're native, but still remind them of their having been conquered?

"African-American" is a whole other kettle of fish. At the time I was writing about, slaves were property and treated like animals. Do you call your horse a "Thoroughbred-American," or a "Clydesdale-American"? Imagine the confusion if we called an Arabian horse an "Arabian-American." Do you call your foreign car a "Porsche-American"? I'm thinking of going to the pound to get me a Canine-American. I sure hope he's a Retriever-American and not a Mongrel-American. Excuse me, I mean a Multi-Ethnic-Canine-American. Blacks weren't considered American citizens for at least the first 400 years they were here, and even initially they were considered 3/5 of a human being. To me, the term "African-American" sounds like a person from Africa who moved here and became an American citizen. I have a friend named Sriram who moved here from India, took citizenship, and is therefore an Indian-American (but not, conversely, an American Indian). Black American seems fine to me. Or Negro, but only in the sense that Negro is a biological divison, much the same as Mongol, Caucasian, or Polynesian. There are different classes of the same race, not different races of the same creature. The concept of race in human beings is a lie--if we were different races, then a black man could not have a child with a white woman anymore than a human could have a baby with an ape. Apes and humans are different races of primate.

Anyway, Michael Jordan is an American. Samuel L. Jackson is an American. Louis Farrakhan is an anti-Semite, but he's still an American. I'm an American. I'm not a European-American. America is an ideal, not a physical place. It's a value system and a governmental belief that must be participated in. It's not the land itself--the Earth is the Earth, it doesn't give a shit what you call pieces of it. I don't mean to be insensitive (which is, these days, the greatest crime anyone can commit, apparently), but you can keep "African-American."

* "What is a myth?" asks my teacher in a needless discussion of basic terminology. I wonder how she would react if I said "any religion"? She says that a myth is a belief system used to justify certain behavior. Oh, like Jesus. Like the way fundamentalists use Jesus's wonderful message of peace to justify mass killing? Look at the Bible: it explicitly states in four single syllable words that killing is wrong. Jesus did not endorse killing, case closed. The anti-choice, pro-life nuts were on campus today with 24 x 11 signs with pictures of aborted fetuses: and my English teacher says I need to be more sensitive. Hey, sometimes people gotta lose a kidney, I don't want to see a picture of that, either.

* Godfrey just called Gone with the Wind Southern-biased propaganda. Odd to see her make such a bold stance. However, it's a really more of a romantic fantasy. I'd cut it some slack: people had already read Uncle Tom's Cabin before Margaret Mitchell's romance novel hit (though Mitchell won a Pulitzer, I believe). Birth of a Nation is much worse. Where Mitchell is triumphant--she seems to come out and say that the antebellum South (symbolized by the character of Scarlett O'Hara herself) can adapt to a new social system--D.W. Griffith is resentful. He paints John Wilkes Booth as a patriot, Northerners as the enslavers of the South, and places the loss of the war squarely on the shoulders of blacks and women. Also carpetbaggers. He turns Klansmen into heroes. Mitchell's "content slaves" are easily overlooked in comparison.

* Well, now that "creative dicussion" time is over, the lecturing begins. I used to love history. Godfrey has an unpleasant speaking voice, as if it were somehow scraping the back of her throat. She trails off constantly. And she's so condescending! I hope she teaches elementary school, because teaching adults like this is an insult. How can she be getting a PhD. in history? I can't even stay awake!

* 6:55 and my first yawn. Great, only ninety to 100 minutes left...

* A lot of other people are working on notes, too. I wonder if they're writing something similar. The girl next to me is writing a loooooong letter to a guy named Luke. I wonder what happened to Bruce? She's usually writing to him.

* I have to sneeze, but not wanting to disrupt my train of though by accidentally participating in class, I stifle it and my backbone pops. Just cracks, like a knuckle. Weird.

* I don't know why people bother taking notes. This is an easy class to master--three take-home exams and a book report. If only we didn't get graded on attendance--what a joke! I'd never show up! It's not like we're going to hear interesting observations or unique insights. She only knows what she's read or what she's been told. The though process ends with mere internalization. How can we be graded on attendance? It's not a reflection of academic ability, it's a reflection of my dedication, which is itself a reflecting on your teaching. I'd participate a hell of a lot more if I thought it was worth it. Just give me my B and I'll move on. If I were really interested, my dedication would blow your mind, Godfrey. It's surprised and thrilled teachers in the past. But I don't give a shit because you just want to get your teaching requirement out of the way--you're not interested in this class, so neither am I. It comes through when you lecture. This is a practice for you. Why should my grade be subject to your whims, when you know this only a practice? You only want to lecture, that's fine, but don't grade me on my willingness to subject myself to it.

* Fuck, do we really need to talk about duels? She's asking us if we know what it is! No, I don't know, because I haven't seen it on Teletubbies yet, you insulting bitch! Didn't we just talk about the Burr-Hamilton duel, like, three weeks ago?

* I wonder if you could grow a head in a jar, give it nerves and everything. Consciousness and mobility. I've read it in Victorian SF, but I wonder what it would really be like? Whom do you ask about something like that? "Hello, I need some hard information on the animation of dead matter." Technically, there's still electricity in there somewhere, right?

* Great, the vending machine was out of Starburst. Fake fruit flavoring gives me the energy I need to stay awake for the last part of class, dammit! Hope peanut M&Ms do the trick...

* The girl next to me bends over far enough for me to get a good look at her underwear. They're smooth and have pictures of ribbons printed on them. I'm not an underwear freak, but they're cute. These new superlow jeans are fucking great, and these chicks wear them with belly shirts and can't figure out that they need superlow panties to go with the jeans. I love the sexy, trashy black chicks who don't know to fold their underwear down. It's great. Especially when it's leopard print or zebra print, two things that look great on black women.

* There's this soccer player who always stands up during the break--she's lanky, but thick, a tiny bit uncoordinated, like that hot redhead on That 70s Show. She's not wearing her tight green uniform today with the spanky pants. She still looks sexy in jeans and a tee shirt. Big ass, broad shoulders, hair pulled back in a pony. Big brown eyes. Sneakers. She knows I'm observing her because she keeps looking over at me. I wonder if I like her because, in some sense, she looks like a pretty man. Weird. On to the next topic.

* Godfrey has a face like a shark. Long nose, face angled forward to seek out prey, smooth and long, with a mouth that doesn't really move until she's going to bite you. Black eyes, like a doll's eyes, like Quint says in Jaws. You know, some days I swear I can see the mentality of Jack the Ripper. It would be so easy to just squeeze that life away. Humans are so weirdly fragile it's a wonder so many of us live so long. It's weird that I can almost always see the ways I could have died easily after doing something like tripping or something.

* Godfrey wears a white shirt with a sleeveless burgundy pullover and her damn preppy sweater tied around her shoulders. She looks like a benediction gone wrong. At church, the serious prayers were always printed in black (congregation) and red (for the pastor) type on white paper. I feel like singing Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme and saying the Lord's Prayer. I gave up being Lutheran in 1991.

* Godfrey's too short to pull down the overhead map. The Teacher's Pet seems to take a real perverse, smug pleasure in doing that, trying not to giggle into his 52 year-old hand. He's wearing a burgundy pullover, too--do they coordinate, or just shop at the same store? He's also got on a striped shirt and tie, with khaki pants, black socks, and a pair of white Nike sneakers. Now, I don't know about these things for sure, but does all of that match? Dunkelrot Pulli, weiss und blau Hemd, khaki Hose, schwarze Socks und Sneakers? Mein Gott!

* I would never be doing this in my German class. I would be paying attention. A person with severe brain trauma could pass this class, he just needs to be able to look up the answers!

* Why did Godfrey show us The Patriot as teaching material? I don't even want to get into the myriad factual and historical errors in that movie. A movie that sees sociopolitical objectives and casual racism in such simplistic terms (and, like Gone with the Wind, paints the picture of the "contented slave"). Yes, Ephraim, the American Revolution really wasn't won by a father's love. No, it was won by acts of terrorism and a lot of help from France (you know, the people the British actually surrendered to--they didn't surrender to America). And it's not like Mel Gibson does anything patriotic in the movie, it's all revenge. Come on, they weren't paying attention to anything like facts or motivation--look at the children. They don't even age between 1776 and 1781. "Are you asking if I'm against taxation without representation? Of course I am." A whole war reduced to easily-remembered aphorisms. 1776 is much more realistic, and it's a musical!

* I do admire Godfrey's aims--to include the role of women in history and to attempt to see historical events as a result of series of religious and moral decisions and failures to listen or change when necessary--she just sucks at teaching. She should just write dry, easily discredited studies rather than teach impressionable people.

* I'm glad she made us read Ar'n't I a Woman? though; that's an important book to read.

* Who was the actual leader of Mexico in 1836, though? Teachers always talk about Santa Anna (or Santana), but he was the general in command of the Mexican army. They teach as though the war between Texas and Mexico was an important event. American politics rested on the Republic of Texas for a while. The issue of slavery, the idea of Manifest Destiny--Texas was at the core of these debates for some time. It led to a war with Mexico, and traces of it formed the basis for the Spanish-American War. But who was the leader of the Mexican goverment? Miguel Barragan. Thank you.

* What would happen if I just stood up and walked out? Just spit on the floor and walked off. Have to try it some time. Yawn, yawn, yawn...

* My pen has been running out of ink for the last hour, and I don't have another. Just give me a few more minutes. I have a pencil, but why not just write on the wind, instead? I don't need an eraser--be a man and cross things out when you make a mistake. Shows you thought about it.

* Great, I'm hooked on ER, a show I never thought I'd watch. I'm watching it every damn day on TNT. I like the serialization, none of that filler--this is the one with the vampire, this is the sexual harrassment episode, this is the one where everyone's in the 1940s. No thanks, Charmed...

* Dude, Enterprise sucks and I'm not going to watch it anymore. They've reverted back to the original series, that idiot male fantasy of interfering and then running away without having any consequences. Plus, I dislike some of the racist connotations. Say what you will about Star Trek: The Next Generation, but at least they (eventually) handled political relations with thoughtfulness, and war objectives and protocols in an interesting way. Too bad Star Trek: Insurrection was so damn bad.

* Oh, shit, my pen is finally

It cuts off there. Well, at least I got my money's worth. From the pen, I mean, not the course. But I did get my B.