Tuesday, 24 July 2012

A musing on stereotypes

I recently read an article in The Guardian the other day which was interesting.
Read the comments which were infuriating.
Here's why:

The article attempts fear mongering by claiming Michael Gove has commissioned three schools that will teach creationist teachings. This prompted a backlash in the comments sections where people cried out about the decline of modern education and how creationism is rubbish. While I agree, I would probably phrase it more tactfully, were it at all relevant. Because these people clearly didn't read the article. How do I know? Because by the end of the article, it is clear that the schools have stated that they will not teach creationism as a science and that even if they wanted to, it is against the law. While their statements may actually cover up their intentions, it is too soon to tell and will require following-up reporting once the schools have opened. So the comments are irrelevant criticisms of something that hasn't actually occurred, which leaves me very uncomfortable as they essentially show a prejudiced group of outspoken individuals with little respect for Christians.
They even prompted an article the next day written by a mouse, apparently. When you're argument is being debunked by a mouse, you need to seriously think about what you've done and be very, very ashamed. (Unfunny and mean but true.) Go and have a look, and see if you can get angry about a school teaching creationism in a class called Religious Education, which is notably different from that other subject called Science.

What is clear is a misunderstanding that is common on all perceptions of religious people: we are most aware of religious people through fundamentalists and as we are presented with them through media, anecdotes and street corners more than people who happen to be religious, they become the sole representatives of religious people. In other words, if you are religious, you must be a fundamentalist.
Which is clearly wrong, no matter how you view it. Yes, I agree the worst religious people are those who feel the need to shove religion down your throat and claim it as fact, but that doesn't mean they are all like that. Believe it or not, it is possible to have a calm, sensible conversation about religion with a Christian or a Muslim. But of course, its so much easier to have a go at fundamentalists who are so clearly wrong and confirm our own beliefs by deconstructing their argument without looking at our own.

This thought of mine was unexpectedly developed recently by a conversation I had with someone about the recent Colorado shooting during 'The Dark Knight Rises' premiere, in particular how it was reported in 'The Sun' with descriptions of the shooter as a "sicko" and apparently obsessing over a photo of a young woman. My friend commented that the papers can make anyone look obsessive with the right use of emotive language and information. This made me think about how we can all be labelled as a stereotype but we aren't and if we found out we were, we would be furious. It's that old chestnut the double-standard unfortunately; perfectly fine for us to stereotype others but as an individual we deserve the right to resist such labelling of ourselves.

In an uncomfortable segue, let me mention briefly 'A Tale of Two Cities' by Charles Dickens. (This will make sense I promise.) Now this is typically* regarded as a 'lesser' Dickens work, which I have to agree with. By no means bad, it has one of the best opening lines and one of the best closing lines in literature, and looking at them shows perhaps why the book stand out as unusual for Dickens:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
 "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far,far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.'
(That last quote, by the way, is used to incredibly powerful effect in the latest Batman film which is one unexpected surprise that I have spoiled but at least it's not a plot twist.)

The lines show a poetic quality which is not something one naturally associates with Dickens. His descriptions of London and France are of his typical lyrical quality (just look at the description of fog in the opening of 'Bleak House' for proof elsewhere) and he often uses repetition for effect but never has it flowed so beautifully as it does with those lines that are so often quoted out of context as wonderful writing. But what about the stuff in between? It's a simple story about individuals involved in the French Revolution, in England and France, of privileged and working-class backgrounds. This sounds interesting, and it is but it lacks Dickens' typical charm and fun. While his focus on the narrative and plot is admirable, it isn't quite as entertaining as a truly great work like 'Great Expectations'. That novel had glorious characters that reader and writer wanted to spend time with leading to many digressions from the plot to see how the characters spent their time. Not quite so with those in 'A Tale of Two Cities' - while fascinating enough, they aren't as captivating as I would like. So I'd have to say if you're interested in reading Dickens, I wouldn't start here but come back to it once you've fallen in love with his prose and imagination.

Now that is a very simple analysis of a book that would probably prompt some people to call me a nerd or, if they're being kind, bookish. Just for reading a book and having a view. Is this not similar for religion? Probably not, but then this post won't make sense. They have a belief in how to live their life by following the teachings of a book that isn't based entirely on reputable fact. Does this make them bad? No, it is how they behave and what they do with themselves that will decide that. Just because someone believes in creationism doesn't mean that they are stupid - they may be ignorant of evolution perhaps, or of particularly strong belief. Either of those possibilities are fine for me as long as they're not the kind of person that feels that it is the only view that matters. And that could be applied to any viewpoint: to people who think Shakespeare is rubbish because they can't understand him or that paintings are the only worthy art form - essentially those that feel the need to impose their view on everyone because it is 'fact'. These are the people who are a bigger problem than those who are capable of complete faith.

*NB: does stereotypically just mean typically on a larger scale or agreed by society rather than a single group of people?

A new perspective

Just realised how out of date this is (events that inspired te post occured on 21st March this year) but I still think it's worth showing. Let's see how it goes...

This blog hasn't gone the way I planned. I thought I'd enjoy reviewing stuff that people may not usually notice but they haven''t come out as I intended - they're either too harsh, too positive or precisely balanced. What I don't think comes across is how I actually feel about them so I'm just going to write anything that may or not be of interest just so I can commit thoughts that I can't say to other people because they'll get bored or they just won't care (yeah i need to sort that out...) Who knows if anyone's reading this but maybe there's something interesting about reading the word of a young guy who just doesn't really know anything...

Two things have happened lately that have made me consider things differently: I am reading 'The Bloody Chamber (and other stories)' by Angela Carter and experienced a seminar at a university with an unconvential lecturer.
This year, I have been studying Gothic literature and so have felt the need to read every book on the list of suggested texts outside of the three I am studying, which includes 'The Bloody Chamber'

As much as I am enjoying the stories, having studied the Gothic for a while now I can't help spotting the numerous motifs and references which are part of the genre. It made me think how easy it would be if I was studying it for the exam, as they are very blatant - the use of mirrors allow for doppelgangers to be created, the heroines are usually set free from their repressed social circumstances by male dominance, the bloody chamber of the title is used as a reference to the sexual awakenings of virgins and so on. There is stuff of interest but there does seem to me a sense that this is a checklist approach, particularly as Carter applies these to classic fairy tales which are either generally impressive (such as the titular story or eponymous if you want to be technical) or baffling like 'The Tiger's Wife'. The blatant references to other literature also become wearying after constant usage, and this is what worries me.
I cannot say I dislike it, but reading this has made me weary about Gothic literature and just, well, tired - which is a shame because I generally like Gothic literature even if I haven't read 'Frankenstein' yet. Speaking of which...

I recently had a very bizarre day - I found out I had been rejected by a university the day I returned from visiting another.
[I won't name names because anyone who cares about my feelings about them will probably know them already]
Dissapointment was the automatic response but I had enjoyed the open day, even though I was irritated that the sample lecture was on 'Frankenstein' so couldn't contribute as much as I'd liked. No such issues with the seminar as the professor quizzed us on our dedication to literature. I think I passed but frankly he was so entertaining it became irrelevant. The best English teachers I've had are those that I know that I could just talk to for ages about literature and when their passion comes across in their teaching. The most striking thing he said, for me, was when he criticised the use of literary theory - he claimed it made the department a laughing stock and subject to criticisms along the lines of "You're still using Freud? Hey, have you heard? Freud, I know!" It had produced siginificant observations but now he was more interested in hearing students talk about the meaning of the text - what we think the text is about. And that's what we can't do so much.

Now it's true it's still a key part for passing exams but that's all it's really needed for. Rather than just writing about what we think the text is about and how by reflecting the Gothic it is worthy of attention, we have to hit certain notes - there must be a debate (obviously, without debate you can't have progess - how do you know what's right without knowing what's wrong?), we have to talk about language, form and structure (i.e. the book) and we have to adress context (what was important about the period it was written, what's the difference between recepetion at the time and now). Now these are basic things for a literature essay but it doesn't seem like that - it feels like unnecessary information that I need to know to pass the exam. It feels like jumping through hoops, it doesn't feel like I'm enjoying studying the book which I do and I really appreciate the moments when I feel that way.
This is what progression in life is starting to feel like - you can't do what you want to do without going through the beauraucracy, wothout crossing the is and dotting the ts in the way expected from us - how ironic that we study the Gothic with a rational mind.

Phew far too serious, but helpful for me. I'm going to press publish and I'm going to put this out there

The most honest thing I've ever written. Man that makes it sound important.