Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Superman & the Mole Men; Comic Relief: "Black Like Lois"

Originally posted on 8/10/2009 on

Superman and the Mole Men

Superman and the Mole Men (also known as The Unknown People) was a feature-length movie (dir. by Lee Sholem) that was later re-edited into two episodes for the TV show. The plot revolves around three little visitors from the center of the earth’s core, whose lives are disturbed by an oil rig that has drilled deep into the earth. 
When the little mole men (ignore the zippers on the back of their costumes) come up from their habitat to explore the desert, the townspeople become frightened because they are “different.” A mob (led by a bully) forms, and the three are nearly lynched. 
 Racial allegory or justification for segregation?
Of course, the film has been read as a reaction to the Cold War Communist “scare” (and Cold War-era movies), but it can also be read as an allegorical reading of race relations and mob mentality, with Superman, of course, as the voice of reason. The little mole men mean no harm, and after witnessing the evil and hatred and intolerance of humankind, they return to their own world at the center of the earth.

So the question I have is: is the film a progressive, forward-thinking allegory on the dangers of mob mentality and a plea for racial "tolerance," or is it instead suggesting that we would all get along we were to remain in our separate spheres, i.e., a justification for continued segregation? I encourage you to watch the film and think about it. 
YouTube has the entire film in segments. Here's the first.

Comic Relief

Okay, I was going to wait a while to start discussing my childhood obsession with all things “Super”—as in Superman, but I CANNOT resist the following segue from the discussion of being “black like somebody” without mentioning that DC Comics’ fictional Lois Lane did her own Black Like Me experiment at the height of the Black Power Movement, called “I Am Curious (Black).” This comic came out in 1970, when DC and Co. were being “relevant” as they explored social issues like racism, sexism, poverty, and prison reform. 

I found it many years ago, while browsing in Forbidden Planet, a regular haunt when I lived in the East Village. I still have my copy, protected in a plastic cover. It is one of the most famous of all DC comic books—with a quick perusal of the Internet, you can probably find and read all the panels on line.
Those of an earlier generation might find the provocative title quite amusing, as it is based on a 1960s Swedish “art” film (read: nudie) called I Am Curious (Yellow)—which had its own sequel, I Am Curious (Blue). I, of course, was ignorant about that "adult" stuff—I just loved Superman!
The George Reeves Superman series was my favorite television show when I was a kid. It came on in endless reruns throughout my early childhood. My siblings might say that my viewing bordered on obsession. I had a 6-foot Superman poster on my bedroom wall, a Superman coffee mug (years before I ever began to drink coffee), and all manner of Superman comic books (Superman, Action Comics, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, Superfamily). I played “Superman” with my G.I. Joes (yes, I had G.I. Joes—no surprise there) and my Jane West doll.
Although I have seen every episode of the television show ever filmed, my favorites were the first couple of seasons of the show, when the emphasis was on crime and mystery, before it turned into a “superhero” kiddie-type of program, with less serious episodes and light comic elements.
The series was much darker in the early episodes—very much B-movie tough guy stuff. These episodes also had the benefit of the superior Lois Lane character, portrayed by actress Phyllis Coates. The early episodes were filled with gangsters, suicide, megalomania, murder, savage beatings and a cynical, dark attitude. I have the first season on DVD and, every time I watch it, I am surprised at the level of violence and pessimism the shows contain. 

I remember when I first found out that Superman actor George Reeves had committed suicide. If I had just seen the first season of the show, I wouldn’t have been surprised—he is a far different actor than in the later seasons. One rumor I remember was that he had taken an overdose of LSD, thought he really could fly, jumped out of a window, and fallen to his death.
Years later, I found out the truth—that he had died of a gunshot wound, perhaps by a mistress or maybe by his own hand. The question was, though, was it murder or suicide? I couldn’t imagine Superman killing himself, and I resisted believing it for a long time. How could he? He was “super,” and he was a hero. It wasn’t until the release in 2006 of Hollywoodland, starring Ben Affleck, that I finally felt a sense of closure regarding Reeves’s death. The scenario presented in that film seemed much closer to the truth than any of the others. Ben Affleck’s* very affecting performance is worth seeing—he is well-cast, and gives an incredibly moving portrayal of an actor trapped in an image he couldn’t escape.
*Also REALLY worth seeing is Gone Baby Gone, which Ben Affleck directed (in addition to co-writing the screenplay). Deep Baby Deep.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Individual Cultural Criticism PowerPoint Project Guidelines

Don't be afraid to sit a while and think.
--Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965)

You will be responsible for delivering a 5-7 minute PowerPoint cultural criticism presentation based on a topic of your choice (DUE DATES: Tues, 4/6 and Thurs, 4/8). Time yourself and rehearse so that you may give a polished, professional presentation.

With this personal project, you should focus on making a point about something that you have observed in popular or literary culture--films, books, articles, poetry, the news, a public figure, photography, art, language, politics, music videos, a popular fad, clothing, etc. You might want to relate yours to our semester's theme of "the alien/outcast/outsider"--or not--it's up to you!

We are on a continual search for "meaning"--how do you interpret the meaning of what you are presenting?

What is it about what you are focusing on that interests you, excites you, angers you, makes you happy?

What invades your consciousness with a persistence that does not allow you to walk away or turn the page?

If your presentation is dependent on the class watching some video clips or listening to some audio clips in advance for context, please send these materials at least two days in advance to the group list so that we can view/listen to them.

The presentation will be 5-7 minutes. A 1-page paper version will be due one week after you deliver it. Your paper should contain the thesis of your presentation and the main content of your remarks in bullet points. You are free to hand in the paper version at the time you deliver the presentation.

Try these guide questions:

Discuss your favorite poem/novel/play/essay/short story. Why is it your favorite?

Who is your favorite artist--film, fine art, music, dance, fashion?

What television program do you like? Conversely, what program do you find troubling?

What is your favorite magazine? Why?

What trends are you following?

What are you interested in?

What pressing social concern/s do you see reflected in art/fashion/music/television/film/popular culture? 

Rules for delivering a great presentation

Do not stand before the class and "wing it." You should not stumble over your words or look poorly prepared.

You should avoid subject/verb agreement errors, and you should PRACTICE your delivery so that you are not standing in front of the class swaying, wringing your hands, avoiding eye contact, and saying "um."

Your slides should be well-organized and free of grammatical errors and should be directly relevant to the presentation.

Have fun!

All best, Prof. Williams

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Links to Electronic Editions of Frankenstein/Keyword Searching and Critical Approaches

 On-line text of Frankenstein/searching using keywords/additional critical approaches and definitions/contexts

Here is the URL for the online Gutenberg text of Frankenstein. Cut and paste it into your browser, and try doing a search, if you think it might help you move more quickly to the chapters/passages that you think will be most helpful to you.

As I mentioned to a couple of students--try using the specific keywords that relate to the approach you are using. For example, try "dream" and "sleep" if you are using a psychoanalytic approach and writing about Victor's unconscious state--try using "glory" if you want to do a comparison/contrast of Walton and Victor, etc. 

Project Gutenberg E-Text of Frankenstein

Also, below is the University of Pennsylvania's Electronic Edition of Frankenstein. Of particular value to you are the "Table of Chapters" and the "Contents." If you click on one of the chapters in "Table of Chapters," you will see that the text has links to clearer explanations of terms, along with more contexts. If you click on "Contents," you will see a variety of materials that are available to you. Some are unavailable, but in terms of providing some overall background, this is a good site.

Within the "Contents," you will see a link titled "Critical Approaches." Click on that link.
If you are using a Marxist approach, click on "Materialist" to see if that is helpful.
If you are focusing on Mary Shelley, take a look at the "Biographical" approach.
Likewise, click on "Gender" or "Psychological" or whatever.
If you are using a Historicist approach, you might find value in examining some of the early reviews of the novel.

I would caution you, however, that you should use this site primarily for help in understanding some of the contexts of Frankenstein. You are to do your own writing--do not depend on this site for YOUR critical analysis--I want to know what YOU are
thinking in relation to your chosen theme.

A word about "plagiarism": Do NOT do it! You should cite your sources properly and make sure that you use quotes. Do not depend solely on your sources for analysis-write your own analysis and try to find a source that supports it. In addition, you may find an article that contradicts your own findings--argue with that source! Feel free to disagree, but find textual support in Frankenstein for your own ideas.

Finally, although this paper is a research project, you should be having fun! Frankenstein is a joy to read and analyze--I have truly enjoyed the class's critical discourse--both sections are providing rich and thoughtful commentary!

All best,

Prof. Williams

P.S. Feel free to email me your questions; however, if you want me to take a look at anything, please send it to me by SUNDAY evening at 9:00 pm if you want an email response--otherwise, bring your drafts and questions in and we will discuss them on Tuesday!