19 October 2003 - 5:48 PM
Everything I Know ...
Everything I know about World War II I learned from the movies ...
Not strictly true, but my beloved husband, The Man Who Can Always Find a War Movie, found 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' on TV this afternoon and I have been listening to Zeros strafing Pearl Harbor for at least an hour now, or so it seems. It's gotten me thinking (again, too much) about history and film and all that stuff. Speaking generally, I'm not in favour of 'historical' movies because so often the history gets badly skewed -- witness 'Braveheart,' which apart from being gratuitously gory, is so inaccurate that it takes me less time to explain what's right than what's wrong. With 'Braveheart,' I have the advantage of an advanced degree and a speciality in mediaeval Scotland. I know that the screenplay is based more on the 15th-century poem 'The Wallace' than on 13th-century sources, and I can see where it departs even from that. But with World War II, I am on less sure ground. Some of the American officers in 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' receive damning portrayals -- is that historically accurate? Is it fair? How does the ordinary viewer tell?
I wonder how many people's view of mediaeval marriage is shaped by that scene in 'The Lion in Winter' where Alys is carried screaming to the altar? I still show 'Becket' to my British Literature classes, but again, does the depiction of Plantagenet family life (admittedly not a huge part of the film) put mistaken ideas into the heads of my students or simplify too much the issues which were at stake? The context of the whole ugly Investiture Conflict, for instance, isn't mentioned at all. I mention it, of course, but I may be the only person on faculty at my school who knows enough to mention it.
Todd Oppenheimer, after a 1997 article in The Atlantic, has expanded some of his arguments into a book, The Flickering Mind (reviewed online by the Christian Science Monitor). Troubling stuff, especially as I teach at a school where everyone is gungho for laptops and I am expected to do three lesson plans a semester using 'technology' (meaning computers) and jump through hoops to demonstrate that I am competent with the machines myself.
I've doubted the value of computers in my classrooms for a while, not that my argument that after a while literature comes down to words on a page is considered valid by the Honcho. Fun things to be stewing in my brain tomorrow while I sit through two hours of pointless faculty meeting.