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38 Minute Sestina

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Every semester, I have my creative writing students experiment with a sestina. I love this form, because it is about playing with language: essentially, you pick six words and weave a poem around them.

Because it’s a challenging assignment requiring a lot of precise rule-following, I challenged myself to write one in a relatively short amount of time.

Here is the product of 38 minutes of wordplay sitting at my kitchen island:

38 Minute Sestina

land (a)
stone (b)
crack (c)
marry/merry/Mary (d)
foreign (e)
walls (f)

Last summer, Padraic and I visited his family’s land (a)
in Connemara, Ireland. Specifically his father’s one-room stone (b)
house, now a stable for a horse, cracked (c)
all over, like dry dirt soil in a Midwestern backyard. Mary, (d)
Cole, Padraic, and I drunk in the foreign (e)
beauty of low rock walls (f)

separating lamb-dotted green turf. Walls (f)
are much discussed today, in my homeland (a)
of the “free,” of the “brave.” Foreigners (c)
being stacked outside our borders like stones. (b)
Love Trumps Hate, some say, to marry (d)
their idea of America with the hate that is seeping through the cracks (c).

On the one hand, it cracks (c)
us up, Alec Baldwin and and Kate McKinnon on SNL, comic walls (f)
to shield us from our fear. Mary, (d)
Cole, Padraic and I also visited Iceland, (a)
a stone’s (b)
throw away from the “emerald isle.” Foreign (e)

is how it felt, to touch ice dusted in volcanic ash, Foreign (e)
is how it now feels, to have a President riddled with cracks (c)
like my father-in-law’s old, stone (b)
house. A byzantine labyrinth of nonsensical walls (f)
is the brain of the surrogate father of my native land. (a)
When Padraic and I got married, (d)

Obama was the president. And the woman he was married (d)
to, was foreign (e)
to some Americans, as they watched the land (a)
of the free granting privilege to one whose descendants were not free. (Cracks (c)
in our country’s constitution, walls (f)
still erected by everyday Americans, offspring of our nation’s shameful cornerstone) (b)

When they go low, we go high, she preaches, stone- (b)
deaf to the marriage (d)
of America with whiteness. I wish Trump could see the walls (f)
in Connemara, how low and cobbled they are, foreign (e)
to sleek city towers and skyscrapers, full of cracks. (c)
Walls meant for walking, and grazing, and relishing the green land (a).

Padraic’s cousin Mattie lived for his land. (a)
For the wet turf, the ripe berries, the limestone (b).
He cracked (c)
up, at me, Cole, Padraic and Mary (d)
trying to cut turf with a sloane. America — its flatness, its size — is foreign (e),
to Mattie. How I long, in this America, to walk among those low, cobbled walls (f).

The Meaning of Michelle

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My response to the tornado of events precipitated by the Donald Trump administration has been one of occasional action and full-fledged nostalgia.

On the morning of inauguration day, I changed my Facebook cover photo to a picture of my friend Allison and me on a crowded, neon-lit Michigan Avenue the night Barack Obama was elected. We were wearing Yes We Can Change shirts featuring a tight-lipped, determined Barack Obama, and we held each other with glowing, teethy smiles.

I re-watched YouTube videos of Barack Obama casually chuckling at the potential reality of Donald Trump becoming president, when asked on CBSN one year ago. I indulged in a second viewing of President Obama roasting Donald Trump at a White House Correspondents’ Dinner. I pinned images of Michelle in glamorous, curve-hugging, shoulder-draping gowns at state dinners. 

Then I called and tweeted some congress people, donated some money to the ACLU, patted myself on the back, and visited Amazon to order The Meaning of Michelle, a series of personal essays about Michelle Obama’s legacy.

The first essay I read was “She Loves Herself When She Is Laughing: Michelle Obama, Taking Down a Stereotype and Co-Creating a Presidency,” by Rebecca Carroll. Having just finished Their Eyes Were Watching God with my American Lit class, I was curious about the comparison Carroll makes between Obama and Zora Neale Hurston.

Carroll writes that Michelle is the “embodiment of what black American writer Zora Neale Hurston meant when she wrote: ‘I love myself when I am laughing, and then again when I am looking mean and impressive.’” I think what she means is that both Michelle and Zora are/were both resolutely themselves in the public eye, which, as Carroll writes, was “no small thing for a Black woman in the 1930s, and sadly… no small thing for a Black woman in the 2000s either.” Carroll argues that Barack Obama, struggling to find his place as a biracial black man with an unconventional upbringing, was attracted to Michelle for the very reason that she was grounded in her blackness, and fully immersed in it. Carroll identifies with the former President’s longing for this grounding partner, growing up as a “Black adoptee in a white family.”

In “Lady O and King Bey,” Brittney Cooper writes of the “mutual girl crush that Michelle Obama and Beyoncé share.” Cooper points that Michelle, as First Lady, had an opportunity to reclaim something that black women are often denied:

“In a world in which Black women were always treated as women but never as ladies, a Black woman becoming the icon of American ladyhood is a triumph of the hopes and dreams of all those race ladies of old.”

Given the significance of Michelle Obama’s ladyhood, her public admiration of Beyoncé implies that she also lays claim to another version of black womanhood, one characterized by body confidence and sex appeal, and also a taking of pleasure in “flouting the rules of social propriety.”

For example, when Beyoncé performed “Formation” for the 2016 Super Bowl, critiquing “anti-Black state violence” and wearing costumes with a sartorial nod to the Black Panther Movement, Michelle told Gayle King in an interview, “’I care deeply about the Halftime Show. I hope Beyoncé likes what I have on’ [She] was dressed in a black blouse with black slacks.”

Super Bowl aside, I can imagine there have been many times Michelle may have wanted to channel Beyoncé in “flouting the rules of social propriety.” For example, when “Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin remarked that Michelle Obama had a ‘big butt,’ and thus no business leading the Let’s Move! Campaign,” as Cooper writes. In explaining Michelle Obama’s need for Beyoncé, Cooper writes that

“sometimes ratchet is a more appropriate register in which to check your haters than respectability will ever be. But overtly ratchet Mrs. Obama simply cannot be. Beyoncé can be as ratchet as she wants to be though, and in this, I think the First Lady finds a place to let her hair down and put her middle fingers up.”

According to Cooper, the friendship between Michelle Obama and Beyoncé is both remarkable and “regular as rain,” or rather, “reign.” Their friendship is a testament to the fact that:

“The U.S. is no nation for Black women. It is too limited a container for the magic we bring. And because the American national imaginary is built on the most limited and stingy ideas about who Black women get to be, when we are called to navigate the terrain of racial representation as public figures, many sisters return to the most basic truth we have – we need each other to survive.”

In “Becoming the Wife,” Cathi Hanauer identifies with Michelle’s willingness to set aside a prestigious career to become “Mom-in-Chief.” When Hanauer met her husband, she was an established writer looking to do “something more meaningful” by applying to an MFA program. Her would-be husband was a struggling writer working odd jobs as a ski instructor and a janitor. He eventually became the editor of The New York Times’s Modern Love column, a wild success, as Hanauer gradually increased her role as primary parent and homemaker.

In Michelle Obama’s case, as is widely known, she was Barack Obama’s mentor before she became his helpmate. After she married Obama in 1992, they lived “separate professional lives”… up to a point. As Hanauer writes,

“What did change, work-wise, for Michelle – as it did for me, and as it does for so many college-educated women, particularly once children are involved – is that we both reached a point in our lives and marriages when we agreed to become… The Wife – as our husbands took on the more important and lucrative work role. We did this for the greater good of our marriages, our families, and in Michelle’s case, the world; and maybe even, as mothers, for ourselves. Michelle became Mrs. President. And I became Mrs. Modern Love.”

There’s something refreshingly real about the way that Hanauer frames the choice to become the wife, the helpmate once children enter the picture – that it’s a choice borne out of practicality, human limitations, a humility in not demanding oneself to be everything to everybody. This willingness to inhabit a prescribed role, and a traditional, non-glamorous one at that, seems like a matter of maturing for the younger versions of Michelle and Cathi, embarking solo on their careers with Plans – at once laser-sharp and limitless.

When I mentioned this essay to my husband, he said that the notion of success, in his view, has evolved from sacrifice to achievement. We used to judge women, and to an extent, men, by how much they had sacrificed for others, whereas we judge them now by their individual solo accomplishments. I think one of the reasons Michelle Obama is so popular is precisely owing to the amount and quality of her sacrifice, for her children, for her husband, for her willingness to make her motherhood and wifehood public, assuming a role that seems both demanding and tedious. This feeling of admiration and gratitude doesn’t confer as easily onto Barack Obama, as his public sacrifices seem tied up with his personal ambitions.

And then, in spite of our admiration, there’s a collective instinct to see Michelle pursue her ambitions, full-force. Ironically, perhaps, this is how Hanauer ends her laudatory essay on becoming the wife:

“I can’t wait to see what she does next. And what she does after that, when her children are grown and she can focus with far fewer distractions on her career. She has said she’ll never run for president herself. To that, I say: Never say never, Michelle. Let’s just see where we all are a decade from now.”

Building, Literally and Figuratively

My dad wrote this article the other day and it moved me. I want to share it with you:

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I usually write about leadership and business issues in the design and construction industry. Today, however, it’s hard to avoid commenting on public debates that challenge us in America and around the world. Some of them are about building, literally and figuratively.

Architects love walls. They’re fundamental in what we do: outside, inside, tall, short, transparent, opaque. They shelter us from heat, cold, and rain, separate things that need privacy within buildings, and provide all kinds of opportunities for interesting design statements. They hold things up. They’re constructive and valuable.

Walls in the political sense have a less useful, more insidious meaning. We’ve become obsessed with defining ourselves, and dividing ourselves, from people and ideas that seem threatening. Different. Foreign – even in our own communities.

For example, my home town has 91 municipalities in a single urban county. They have interesting historical roots, but today they often consume our energy as people compete with each other, locally, rather than addressing the real competition for talent and investment that’s half a world away. It’s no surprise that the region isn’t growing.

On a national level the divides between backgrounds, races, and ideologies have never been sharper in my lifetime. We see threats all around us and are quick to create walls between us and “them” – the “other.” We create some of those walls with language and behavior, and in some cases they’re physical – like the idea of a kind of medieval barrier against our neighboring countries. We’re all trying to be architects now.

The idea of protective walls is certainly not new. We all know about the Wall of Jericho, the Great Wall of China, the walls and moats fortifying human settlements from hostile forces through the ages. The walls repelled the attackers, at least for a period of time, when the assault was based on numbers and brute force. That notion is quaint but irrelevant in our age of instant communication and global travel. We have strong national values but multi-national populations in much of the world.

I was reminded of the photo above, which I took on a London street in 1978. The subject is an immigrant, perhaps from Pakistan or India, holding a bright red can of Coke and with a bright yellow paperback copy of To Kill a Mockingbird in his jacket pocket. I think I was struck by those colors, which worked well with my Kodachrome slide film. Only later did I think about the meaning of the image, with its convergence of contrasts between nationalities in England, races in 20th-century America, and the commercial symbols that transcend them all. Who knows what real barriers this gentleman had overcome and has faced since?

This week I had two Uber drivers on a trip to Dallas. The first was from Iran, a member of the Baha’i faith, who talked freely about his new political and religious freedom. The second was from Iraq; he apologized for his poor English but expressed pride that his three young children spoke perfect English and were teaching him. Both drivers expressed great appreciation for their opportunities in America. They love our country. Are they “us,” or “them”?

In The Language of Postmodern Architecture, Charles Jencks declared that modern architecture died with demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis. In the same vein, perhaps we should hope that Ronald Reagan set the stage for a new generation with one of the best-known challenges of the last century: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!” It worked. We should do as well.

Hook, The Crucible

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This lesson is for the beginning of the second week of my school year. It’s the “hook” to get students interested in the play, The Crucible. (The first week of school will be spent building rapport, practicing policies and procedures, including this lesson on Growth vs. Fixed Mindset).  I introduced the book this way last year, and for the most part it was successful… except for one student whose phone I took away in the first couple days of school and who proceeded to write that I was her personal crucible. Yup, except for that 🙂 I’ve made a few tweaks to the order of things. If you’re interested in a copy of the PowerPoint I use, comment or contact me at gingerodonnell.com.  This lesson runs about 90 minutes.

 

  1. Students google the definition of the word, crucible. There are multiple definitions. They should write all of the definitions. (5 min)
  2. As a class, analyze the different definitions. How are they connected? How can we take these different, connected definitions and create a new definition in our own words? (5 min)
  3. Tell students that they will write a paragraph (or more) about a personal crucible they have experienced, or someone they are close to has experienced, based on the definition of crucible we have created. Model this first by reading your own (this activity continues to build rapport in the beginning of the year) — I am planning to write about my sister-in-law’s first few months on a remote Pacific island in the Peace Corps (also a convenient way to plant the Peace Corps seed in my students’ minds). (15 min)
  4. Students pair up with the person sitting next to them (all my classes have seating charts, alphabetical order in the beginning of the year) and share what they wrote. (7 min)
  5. Call on four partners to share out with the class what their partner wrote. In the beginning of the year, popsicle sticks come in handy to randomly select sharers, or you can take volunteers if students are eager to share. (10 min)
  6. Explain to students that there are really two crucibles taking place in the play, The Crucible: one that forms the action of the plot, and one that is subtext. Project the definition of subtext on the board and have students write it down: an underlying meaning in a literary or dramatic work, sub meaning under, text meaning text, in other words, the meaning you find when you read between the lines. 
  7. Define Crucible #1 in The Crucible: a bunch of teenage girls and older women are falsely accused of witchcraft and the justice system doesn’t protect them. 
  8. Explain to students that a mnemonic device helps you remember something. In this case, we’re using the song “Witchy Woman” by the Eagles to remember Crucible #1 that we just defined. Play the song and provide students with a copy of the lyrics, either on the projector or on a handout.

“Witchy Woman”
The Eagles 1970s

Raven hair and ruby lips
sparks fly from her finger tips
Echoed voices in the night
she’s a restless spirit on an endless flight
wooo hooo witchy woman, see how
high she flies
woo hoo witchy woman she got
the moon in her eye
She held me spellbound in the night
dancing shadows and firelight
crazy laughter in another
room and she drove herself to madness
with a silver spoon
woo hoo witchy woman see how high she flies
woo hoo witchy woman she got the moon in her eye
Well I know you want a lover,
let me tell your brother, she’s been sleeping
in the Devil’s bed.
And there’s some rumors going round
someone’s underground
she can rock you in the nighttime
’til your skin turns red
woo hoo witchy woman
see how high she flies
woo hoo witchy woman
she got the moon in her eye

9. Define Crucible #2 (Subtext): in the 1950s, there was a witch hunt led by Senator Joseph McCarthy to hunt down communists. Professors and leaders in higher education, Hollywood, theatre, radio, and television were especially targeted. In this situation, too, the justice system didn’t protect them. 

10. Play “Get That Communist Joe” to remember Crucible #2. (20 min)

“Get That Communist, Joe”
The Kavaliers 1954

Joe, come here a minute
I get a red hot tip for you, Joe

See that guy with the red suspenders
Driving that car with the bright red fenders
I know he’s one of those heavy spenders
Get that Communist Joe

He’s fillin’ my gal with propaganda
And I’m scared she will meander
Don’t want to take a chance that he’ll land her
Get that Communist Joe

He’s a most revolting character
And the fellas hate him so
But with the girls this character
Is a Comrade Romeo

Since my love he’s sabotaging
And the law he has been dodging
Give him what he deserves, jailhouse lodging
Get that Communist Joe (Get that Shmo, Joe)

11. Students take notes on 12 PowerPoint slides, expounding on four key points (30 min)

  • Puritanism
  • Witchcraft
  • McCarthyism
  • Arthur Miller

12. HW: Read “The Great Fear” by J. Ronald Oakley (about 20 pages), a “related reading” from The Crucible and Related Readings; provide students with a bookmark defining target vocabulary words as they read and inform them that there will be a brief 5 question reading quiz next class

Final Project, The Crucible

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I am reworking the final project for The Crucible. Last year I had my students write a monologue loosely based on one of the characters but they weren’t as interested in writing, much less performing, monologues as I had anticipated. I also like that this project is a bit more rigorous, requiring more writing, research, and MLA formatting. The idea came to me when reading the “related readings” in this version of The Crucible, specifically the essay “Guilt” by Clifford Lindsey Alderman. Most of all, I hope that the choices embedded in the research portion give my students an opportunity to explore issues of social justice that they are passionate about. I know The Crucible is a widely taught text in American high schools, so maybe this assignment idea will serve as “food for thought” for fellow educators.

  • Goal: Respond to the question, How do individuals and societies recover and rebuild following major injustices?
  • Role: Freelance contributor to a magazine.
  • Audience: Peers in American Lit I class via Socratic seminar; possibly wider members of school community if paper highlights can be shared on class website.
  • Situation: An opportunity to connect history to contemporary society, educating readers about the aftermath of the Salem witch trials and connecting this to the aftermath of current injustices across America and the globe.
  • Product: A 5 page paper (see details below).

Required Components of Paper

  1. Summarize how different members of the Salem community coped with their guilt once the witch trials were widely believed to be a grave injustice, as explained in the essay, “Guilt,” by Clifford Lindsey Alderman, contained in The Crucible and Related Readings
  2. Choose a major injustice in contemporary society specifically where innocents have died at the hands of an individual, a government, or some other organization:

The death penalty executed against an innocent person
Instances of police brutality or civilian assaults against police
Residents of the Middle East who have been killed by US drone attacks
Victims of terrorist attacks
Victims of violence during the Arab Spring
Residents of Syria dying at the hands of the Assad regime
The list goes on…

3. Research and report, how did different members of the local, national, and global, and virtual (internet) community respond in the aftermath of these unjust deaths?

4. Argue, in what ways was the local, national, global, or virtual (internet) response effective? In what ways was it ineffective?

5. Argue, what specific action needs to be taken to recover from these unjust deaths at at an individual level? A local level? A virtual (internet) level? A national level? A global level? (Some of these “levels” may overlap)

6. Cite your sources in MLA format, both in-text citations and a Works Cited page

RUBRIC: _____/120
(Each of 6 categories worth up to 20 points)

  Ideas Organization Conventions Word Choice Sentence Fluency Voice
Advanced ___ Strong controlling idea based on interesting and meaningful exploration of essential question

___ Clearly addresses topic and provides specific and relevant concrete details and/or reasons

___ Shows complexity and freshness of thought

___ Effective, insightful commentary connects concrete detail to essential question

___ Effective beginning, middle, and end; engaging introduction; strong sense of closure

___ A clear, strong guiding question governs entire essay; the writer skillfully emphasizes important ideas

___ Use paragraphing effectively

___ Progresses in a logical order

___ Uses effective cohesive devices (transitions, repetition, pronouns, parallel structure) between and within paragraphs

 

___ Successfully follows assigned format

___ Contains few errors in grammar/usage, punctuation, capitalization, and/or spelling

___ Intentional or clever use of atypical sentence structure

___ Correct pronoun/antecedent agreement and subject/verb agreement; consistent verb tense

___Correct MLA format in nearly all aspects

___ Uses precise and vivid language

___ Effective use of writing techniques such as imagery and figurative language if appropriate

___ Consistently avoids redundancy

___ Contains sentences that are clear and varied in length and structure

___ Variety of sentence beginnings

___ Natural rhythm, cadence, and flow

___ Shows individual perspective; personality comes through

___ Clearly shows an awareness of audience and purpose

___ Writer’s enthusiasm for the topic is evident

___ Effectively uses writing techniques (such as humor, point of view, tone) that evoke a strong emotional response

Proficient ___ Controlling idea based on a meaningful exploration of essential question begins to narrow focus

___ Addresses the topic using relevant details and/or reasons

___ Shows some complexity and/or freshness of thought

___ Strong commentary relates concrete detail to essential question

___ Clear beginning, middle, and end with an effective introduction and conclusion

___ A clear guiding question governs the entire essay; important ideas stand out

___ Uses paragraphing appropriately

___ Generally progresses in a logical order

___ Uses cohesive devices between and within paragraphs

 

___ Accurately follows assigned format

___ May contain errors in grammar/usage, punctuation, capitalization, and/or spelling that are not distracting to the reader

___ Fragment or run-ons are rare (unless stylistic)

___ Very few errors in agreement and tense

___Correct MLA format in a large majority of aspects

___ Uses precise language

___ Uses writing techniques such as imagery and/or figurative language is appropriate

___ Avoids redundancy

___ Contains sentences that are clear and show some variety in length and structure

___ Not all sentences begin with the same pattern

___ Sections of writing have rhythm and flow

___ Shows some individual perspective; personality begins to show

___ Shows an awareness of audience and purpose

___ Writer cares about topic

___ Uses writing techniques (such as humor, point of view, tone) that may evoke an emotional response

Developing ___ Contains some sense of direction, but may lack focus

___ Addresses the topic, but relies on generalities (lists) rather than specifics

___ Limited complexity and/or freshness of thought

___ Weak commentary

___ Evidence of a beginning, middle, and end

___ Guiding question may be addressed, but may not govern the entire essay; some important ideas begin to surface

___ Shows evidence of paragraphing

___ Inconsistency in logical order

___ Inconsistent use of cohesive devices

___ Attempts assigned format

___ Contains errors in grammar/usage, punctuation, capitalization, and/or spelling that may be distracting to the reader

___ Some run-ons and/or sentence fragments

___ Inconsistent subject/verb agreement and/or verb tense

___ Inconsistent compliance with MLA format rules

___ May use imprecise language

___ Attempts to use some writing techniques such as imagery and/or figurative language if appropriate

___ Some obvious redundancy

___ Contains sentences that are generally clear, but lack variety and complexity

___ Some sentences begin the same

___ An occasional section of writing has rhythm and flow

___ May lack individual perspective

___ Shows some awareness of audience and purpose

___ Writer shows limited connection to the topic

___ Attempts to use some writing techniques (humor, point of view, tone) to evoke a response

Emerging ___ Is difficult to follow and lacks focus

___ May address the topic, but lacks details

___ Lacks complexity and freshness of thought

___ Attempts commentary successfully

___ Little or no evidence of a beginning, middle, and/or end

___ Guiding question unclear

___ Little or no evidence of paragraphing

___ Does not progress in a logical order and may digress to unrelated topics

___ Lacks cohesion

 

___ No evidence of format

___ Contains repeated errors in grammar/usage, punctuation, capitalization, and or spelling that are distracting to the reader

___ Numerous run-ons and/or fragments

___ Frequent errors with agreement and/or tense

___ Frequent errors with MLA format

___ Uses imprecise language

___ Shows little or no evidence of writing techniques such as imagery of figurative language

___ Obvious and/or distracting redundancy

___ Contains sentences that lack variety and clarity

___ Most sentences begin the same way

___ Writing is choppy; needs rereading to follow the meaning

___ Lacks individual perspective

___ Shows little or no awareness of audience or purpose

___ Treatment of topic is predictable

___ Shows little or no evidence of writing techniques to evoke a response

No Evidence          

 

 

Handmaid’s Tale Project

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Last year my students read The Handmaid’s Tale in American Lit. I’m reworking my unit this year to really emphasize the relationship between Atwood’s dystopian world and real-word political, religious, and human rights issues throughout history and in contemporary societies. It’s easy to get caught up in the strangeness of the story itself — but Atwood is directing her story toward real issues we face. We read The Handmaid’s Tale following The Crucible, so it makes for an interesting transition regarding themes of women and power and the impact of religion on politics. With increased access to chromebooks in my classroom this year, I’m hoping that this final project — a PowerPoint (or Google Slide) presentation will give my students a chance to practice real-world skills and conduct meaningful research.

Final Project, The Handmaid’s Tale

  • Goal: Connect the surreal, dystopian world of Gilead to real issues faced by individuals and societies today or in the past.
  • Role: American Lit teacher.
  • Audience: Members of your American Lit class.
  • Situation: An opportunity to share the world of The Handmaid’s Taleand more importantly, its emphasis on satire and social commentary, with your class
  • Product: An interactive PowerPoint (or Google Slide) presentation that you will present in a five minute presentation

Process

Pick one of “Atwood’s Targets” (satire & social commentary points) to focus on:

  • “Rapid change into extraordinary brutality from an apparently civilized society”
  • A superficial and misleading focus on “family values” in oppressive societies
  • A focus on indoctrinating the young in repressive regimes
  • To oppress groups, oppressive leaders first dehumanize them
  • Books and literacy were seen as threats in oppressive societies
  • Oppression of women — e.g., requirements to be fully covered, limitations on their education
  • Objectification of women, women = their bodies, women’s bodies are their most important asset
  • Government through fear — brutal punishments to intimidate the population
  • Rigid gender roles — each gender serves a specific, prescribed function in society
  • The evils of slavery

Review your copy of The Handmaid’s Tale and find two instances of this “target” being examined, explored, satirized 

Research governments or religions that contain elements of oppression or face human rights challenges (either historical or contemporary) and take notes on how this government or religion exhibits your chosen “target.” Check out these resources to get a feel for the types of sources you should be consulting:

 Review these resources for how to create a high quality, interactive PowerPoint. 

Review PowerPoint or Google Slide software so you know what you’re doing, tech-wise. 

Create your PowerPoint (or Google Slide) presentation connecting your research to The Handmaid’s Tale. Cite your sources. 

Script the verbal part of your presentation and rehearse. 

RUBRIC
Total Possible Points =160

Criteria A – 36-40 pts B – 32-35 pts C – 28-31 pts D – 24-27 pts F – 23 pts or below

Explanation of Ideas & Information

Regularly builds in audience interaction

Presents information, findings, arguments, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically, audience can easily follow the line of reasoning

 

Does not read off the slide and is well-rehearsed but not scripted in delivery

 

Conveys passion for ideas and show

Builds in audience interaction at some points

Mostly presents information, findings, arguments, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically, audience can follow the line of reasoning

 

Does not read off the slide and is rehearsed in delivery

 

Conveys passion for ideas and show

 

Rarely builds in audience interaction

May not present information, findings, arguments, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically, but audience can generally follow the line of reasoning

Mostly does not read off the slide and is mostly rehearsed in delivery

 

Conveys some passion for ideas and show

Does not build in audience interaction

 

Presents information, findings, arguments, and supporting evidence in a way that is confusing and/or incoherent; audience struggles to follow the line of reasoning

May read off the slide frequently; delivery is unrehearsed or overly scripted

 

Conveys minimal passion for ideas and show

Builds in no audience interaction

 

Sloppily presents information, findings, arguments, and supporting evidence; audience can’t follow the line of reasoning

 

Reads off the slide frequently; delivery is unrehearsed or overly scripted

 

Does not convey passion for ideas and show

Organization

Meets all requirements for what should be included in the presentation

Has a clear and interesting introduction and conclusion

 

Organizes time well; no part of the presentation is too short or too long

Meets all requirements for what should be included in the presentation

Has a clear introduction and conclusion

 

Mostly organizes time well; for the most part, no part of the presentation is too short or long

Meets most requirements for what should be included in the presentation and has an introduction and conclusion

 

Some parts of the presentation may be too short or too long

Meets some requirements for what should be included in the presentation but many elements are missing

 

Parts of the presentation are too long or too short

Does not meet requirements for what should be included in the presentation

 

The presentation is disorganized; time is not used effectively

Eyes, Body, & Voice

Keeps eye contact with audience most of the time; only glances at notes or aides

 

Uses natural gestures and movements

 

Looks poised and confident

 

Speaks clearly, not too quickly or slowly

 

Speaks loudly enough for everyone to hear; changes tone and pace to maintain interest

 

Rarely uses filler words

 

Adapts speech for the context and task, demonstrating command of formal English when appropriate

Keeps eye contact with audience most of the time; only glances at notes or aides

 

Mostly uses natural gestures and movements

 

Mostly looks poised and confident

 

Mostly speaks clearly, not too quickly or slowly

 

Mostly speaks loudly enough for everyone to hear; may change tone and pace to maintain interest

 

Uses filler words occasionally

 

Demonstrates some command of formal English when appropriate

Keeps eye contact with audience some of the time; may look too closely at notes or aides

 

May use unnatural gestures and movements

 

May not look poised or confident

 

May speak too quickly or too slowly at points

 

May not speak loudly enough for everyone to hear; may not change tone and pace to maintain interest

 

May use filler words often

 

Demonstrates some command of formal English when appropriate

May struggle to keep eye contact; may look too closely at notes or aides

 

Uses unnatural gestures and movements

 

May not look poised or confident

 

Speaks too quickly or too slowly at points

 

Does not speak loudly enough for everyone to hear; does not change tone and pace to maintain interest

 

Uses filler words often

 

Doesn’t demonstrate command of formal English when appropriate

Does not make eye contact; looks too closely at notes or aides

 

Uses unnatural gestures and movements

 

Is not poised or confident

 

Speaks too quickly or too slowly at points

 

Does not speak loudly enough for everyone to hear; does not change tone and pace to maintain interest

Use filler words

 

Doesn’t demonstrate command of formal English when appropriate

PowerPoint

PowerPoint follows all guidelines in assignment instructions – simple, readable, incorporates pictures or video — and effectively contributes to audience engagement and understanding

 

Demonstrates thorough research; sources are cited

PowerPoint mostly follows all guidelines in assignment instructions – simple, readable, incorporates pictures or video – and contributes to audience engagement and understanding

Demonstrates some thorough resources; sources are cited

PowerPoint follows some guidelines in assignment instructions – simple, readable, incorporates pictures or video – and somewhat contributes to audience engagement and understanding

Demonstrates research; not all sources may be cited

PowerPoint is missing several important guidelines in assignment instructions – struggles to contribute to audience engagement and understanding

Demonstrates minimal research; not all sources may be cited

PowerPoint is missing most guidelines in assignment instructions – does not contribute to audience engagement and understanding

Lacking in research quality and citation of sources

Pushing the Bard in House of Cards

Brian Rinker House of Cards CC BY 2.0I resurface today after too long of break from this site! My excuse is that I’ve been busy with all the details of moving. But I admit, I also have a little fessing up to do, because there’s a far less upstanding reason for my hiatus. It’s called Season 3 of House of Cards.

I was initially reminded to watch when I came across an article in this month’s issue of The Atlantic by Christopher Orr, called “Why the British Are Better at Satire.” Orr contrasts the American show with its BBC predecessor from 1990, in addition to critiquing Veep and its British counterpart, The Thick of It, as well as lamenting the general lack of satire on American TV, despite quite a few shows wheeling and dealing in Washington intrigue. From Orr’s vantage point, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are the closest we have to British satire, with their quick-witted, unrelenting, barbed sensibility.

In opposition to Jon Stewart’s fast-paced repartée, the American House of Cards is notably “declawed,” according to Orr. It amounts to melodrama, the stuff of soap operas, a “sleek, intriguing portrait in menace” versus the “jaunty” British version. Wile both American and British versions share the same, basic narrative arc — a politically mired “Francis” who is denied a much anticipated promotion, then sets out on a vengeful, transparent quest for power — Orr outlines vast differences in tone and style. For starters, the cast of the main character: Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood is an ambitious conservative Democrat whose Machiavellian scheming reads as ridiculous and absurd when compared to Ian Richard’s Francis Urquhart, a “winking, bred-in-the-bone conservative.” According to Orr, the Lady Macbeth vibes of Francis’s wife are also toned down and muddled in the American version, and his chief of staff Doug Stamper is caught up in the stuff of soap operas (alcoholism, unrequited love…) Lastly, Orr points out that Frank Underwood is one corrupt Washington official among many, whereas Francis Urquhart is a “genuine villain,” the “one dishonest man” who upsets the hapless political framework surrounding him.

Diving into one episode and then the next, I can’t shake Orr’s critique. The American series’ melodramatic tone is addictive and alluring (hence, my recent binge) but it does ring hollow at times, striking me as a little bit off, incomplete. And then I wonder — does the melodramatic style necessarily cheapen the show, or does the American version simply strive to create a more stylized, self-contained, Shakespearean world set in modern-day Washington? In a 2013 interview with NPR’s Fresh Air, Kevin Spacey talks about playing Richard III as preparation for Frank Underwood. Orr characterizes Spacey’s asides to the camera as “ridiculous,” but so are the antics of Shakespeare’s ruthless king — you could argue that Spacey is playing Frank with a similar sort of gravity and bravado that he brought to the stage as Richard. These overt references to Shakespeare, and the straightforward styling of Frank as an old-fashioned, ruthless evildoer, seem to be part of the American show’s allure. There’s even a scene in season three where Underwood is addressing the camera through his own blurry, distorted reflection in a White House window, a nod to Richard III’s hunched, deformed physicality. There are plenty of moments where Underwood drives home the despicable, tyrannical nature of his character with a straight edge — the opposite of a “winking” demeanor — not least of which when he visits his father’s grave and pees on it just outside the sight lines of the press. While Kevin Spacey’s theatrical flair for his character’s malice is somewhat fascinating to watch, I have to agree with Orr that viewers of Francis Urquhart probably enjoy his character more, because there’s so much more to mine with the weird mix of light and dark that defines satire. By the end of season three, Frank Underwood and his much emphasized, increasingly frequent asides become something of a deadbeat, all too familiar.

Maybe the caricature aspect of Frank Underwood is why Season 3 keeps turning to his wife, Claire. Orr is right that Claire is too complex to be a Lady Macbeth type, though she nods in that direction at times. Take her sleek, angular wardrobe, omnipresent stilettos, and icy blonde highlights — an image that projects the severity and singularity of her ambitions, especially when coupled with that squinty, loaded gaze, the object of many a close up. There’s the moment when a dejected Francis calls Claire for solace and she tells him she “can’t indulge him” if he’s doubting himself, and plenty of other moments in between when Claire’s relentless pragmatism reads as ruthless, as if she never shifts her gaze from their marathon climb to the top. It becomes increasingly clear, however, that Claire is not at the helm of her husband’s quest for power. Instead, she clings to their political partnership increasingly out of desperation, not because she doesn’t long for power and status, which she does, but more fundamentally because she doesn’t love her husband. Her commitment to Frank’s scheming is more about a dogged persistence to preserve their union in some form, and of course, because she’s already in so deep, implicated in her husband’s trail of evildoings. In my opinion, watching Claire evolve into an increasingly self-honest, vulnerable character is one of the most satisfying parts of season three, but it does reinforce the feeling that the American House of Cards is softer around the edges, and ultimately apolitical.

I think the most salient effect of side-stepping satire for a more menacing, melodramatic political portrait is that House of Cards completely dodges any meaningful relationship to the real-life theatre of American politics. Instead we get a stylized, operatic, self-contained and unmistakably fictional world to peer into for some good old-fashioned intrigue. The lack of a political critique is why everything feels so stylized — the Shakespearean overtures don’t push us to think critically about our own political climate, they just plunge us further into a strange, dark world with a little extra flourish. It’s simply a difference of approach, but with the recent outcry over John Stewart’s leaving The Daily Show, it seems that Americans audiences are hungry for a more pointed social critique instead of these heavy, angst-ridden worlds that ultimately function as an escape from our own.

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