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Wednesday, Feb. 8

February 8, 2017

Poetry Workshop: Today: Duffy, Hulick and Hill. End Round One.

Your second-round poem is due on the blog by 8:45 a.m. Friday. On Friday, I will be asking you questions (yes, it’s a quiz) on two poems from the ‘self-portrait poem”  packet I gave you at the beginning of the semester:

  • “Helping With My Brother’s Resume” by Jim Daniels
  • “Self-Inquiry Before the Job Interview” by Gary Soto

If you don’t have them, see me.

Fiction Workshop: Today was a work day. Annotations and comments for Kashuba and Hall are due Monday. Online comments are due by 8:45 a.m.

For Wednesday, you need to read “Cathedral,” by Raymond Carver, in the Norton Anthology. You also need to read the handout I passed out in class about Carver.

Family Values: Today we compared the growth of smart phones — which almost doubled in usage over two years (between 2010 and 2012), from 62 million to 122 million — to the growth of TV. Between August 1949 (when The Goldbergs debuted) and October 1950, the number of TVs in the US quadrupled, from 2 million to 8 million. That is the fastest growth of a new technology ever.

Back to 1949: of the 2 million TVs in America, 40 percent of them were in New York City. That’s not surprising: New York was the TV capital of America, at least in the early days. It’s where the studios and networks were; it’s where the programming originated. That is something that is about to change, however.

We watched another episode of The Goldbergs, from Sept. 26, 1949, and noted the noteworthy stuff:

  1. The pace is noticeably faster. The problem is introduced in half the time as the first episode (less than five minutes), and the writing takes more advantage of “funny lines” (for example, the double entendre about “local stops”). Molly’s very pointed exchanges with Jake are also examples of the writing being cleaner, quicker and more suited to this new, visual medium.
  2. There’s also more conflict: Molly thinks Jake is cheating on her, and not until the very end — in a surprise twist — do we find out he isn’t.
  3. Jake remains a clueless dad in one sense: he’s obviously unaware of how his comments are hurting his wife’s feelings. Molly remains the conscience of the show; her speech to Natalie is the best example.
  4. Characters are coming into sharper focus, even the nosy neighbors. That also quickens the pace.

Take good notes! I’ll be collecting your notebooks soon.

BatCat: Work. Hopefully.

Comedy: Today we leaped forward into the magical world of sound. We watched two short films:

W.C Fields’ “The Fatal Glass of Beer” (1933)

and The Three Stooges in “Disorder in the Court” (1936):

You can see in just the space of three years that there are some significant differences.

“Beer” still relies heavily on slapstick and other visual elements: the “snow” thrown in Fields’ face every time he opens the door; the huge baguette; the crying; the weiner dog, etc. The verbal gags don’t really contribute heavily to the comedy, except in small doses (the tagline “It ain’t a fit night out for man or beast,” which is the cue for the “snow”; the final revelation that the Snaveleys’ son Chester has not kept any of the money he stole, which leads them to break stuff over his head and throw him out of the house. And, as well, the overly melodramatic way the lines are delivered.)

“Disorder,” by contrast, makes full use of both slapstick and verbal humor. To cite just a few examples: of the latter:

JUDGE: He’s asking you if you’ll swear—

CURLY: No, but I know all the words.


JUDGE: Take the stand!

[Curly takes the chair on the witness stand and picks it up]

CURLY: Where do I put it?

JUDGE: No no! Take the stand!!

CURLY: I got it. Now what’ll I do with it?


DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Kindly speak English and drop the vernacular.

CURLY: [holding his derby hat] Vernacular? [points to his hat] That’s a derby!!

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Drop the vernacular!!

[Curly drops his derby hat on the floor]

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: No no! Not that! Talk so the jury can understand.

CURLY: Is everybody dumb?

The combination of verbal humor, which relies heavily on misunderstandings — like homonyms (“swear”) and taking figures of speech literally (“take the stand”) — and slapstick  (lots of eye gouges, head knocks and falling out of chairs) makes the pace much, much faster.

As someone observed today, having two types of humor available means, potentially, more gags per minute. Or, put another way, more laughs per minute. Laughs per minute is a measure often used in judging standup comedy, but it can be applied to film as well. (By some LPM standards, Airplane ranks as the funniest film ever.)

There’s no better transition from this combination of verbal and slapstick than to watch the Marx Brothers next. Which is what we’ll do tomorrow.

Middle School Literary Arts Enrichment: Finished watching Life is Beautiful.

Remember: for Monday, please have read through page 46 in Night.

Survey: CNF: Today we did a fifth moment: a moment that made you feel different about school, for good or ill.

Your first essay is due next Thursday. I would strongly prefer that it be typewritten.

You can write your essay on any of the four topics you’ve covered. I want it to be a five-paragraph essay:


2. Riff

3. Moment

4. Riff

5. Moment

Remember that riffs are for shaping the essay. Focus is important, but so is theme: what you want to say about the subject you’re focusing on.

Also remember: we’re not going to keep moment and riff separated forever. If keeping them separate seems too weird, do your best: this phase won’t last long.

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