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Friday, Nov. 14

November 16, 2014

Songwriting: Check this out.

Bring your partner songs back next week, typewritten, and as nearly complete as you can make them. This has to happen, or we’re not going to be able to get them done. And getting yours done is, in fact, a requirement of this course.

Critical Reading: Today we talked about Foucault’s What is an AuthorFor next Friday, please read the handout from Judith Butler (it’s in the box if you were absent). Make annotations – these will be checked for points. The “quiz,” for lack of a better word, for both this week and next (and every week after that) will be the same: 1) How much did you actually read, and if you didn’t read the whole thing, why? [You better have a good reason.] 2) Explain one thing that you found interesting/important/etc. 3) How could you relate or apply this reading to your interpretation or analysis of Rear Window?

Remember, you should think about rewatching Rear Window – let me know.

Action Hero: Today we discussed utilitarian thought, as proposed by Jeremy Bentham of Panopticon fame. The idea that morality can be reduced to a mathematical equation — that is, “the greatest good for the greatest number” — achieved great success during the 20th century, thanks to the efforts of various despots. In action films, it’s a calculus that is exploited over and over again, as heroes have to make choices that weigh the good of the many versus the needs of the one — usually, a One who means something to the hero/heroine. The scene from the first (Tobey McGuire) Spider-Man film — where he must choose between saving Mary Jane, or a tram car full of people — is a classic example. However, we came up with quite a few others, just from our limited viewing. That filmmakers often resort to the answer used in this film (Spider-Man will just save everyone!) probably does not diminish its effectiveness.

From that point, we segued into another classic question: if utilitarian thought is of some value (and it must be, because we do use it today in a variety of situations), then we should ask whether a hero who refuses to kill (think Batman) is morally responsible for the deaths inflicted by a villain (think The Joker) whom he could have dispatched long ago?

Finally, we discussed a concept I’ll call “paying the moral freight,” since I’m not aware that it has a formal title. In most action films, as you have noted, nameless, faceless drones are casually dispatched by heroes; from the stormtroopers in Star Wars to the CIA agents in RED. This is understandable, but it builds up, you might say, a sort of moral bill that must be paid. (Otherwise, the violence shown is simply cartoon-style, and can’t be taken any more seriously than an episode of Tom & JerryItchy & Scratchy, for you Simpsons fans.) Therefore, someone from the side of good must die, to pay this moral freight. In RED, it’s Joe. In Star Wars, it’s Obi-Wan. In Iron Man, it’s Yinsen. That the filmmakers often hedge their bets here (Joe was going to die anyway; Obi-Wan becomes more powerful in death, etc.) take some of the seriousness out of this bill-paying — but not all of it. It’s a necessary concept in many action films, and one you should consider carefully in your own treatment, which I will return next week.

New film Monday!

BatCat: The usual.

8th Grade: Passed one bill in our mock Congress. Don’t forget the quiz on “Know Your Government” Monday!

Survey: Fiction: Today we did peer reviews of Prompt 9, which you then handed in. If you were absent or did not have Prompt 9 today, then get it to me ASAP. Monday would be good.

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