Saturday, February 13, 2010

THE HAMSTERIAN APPROACH TO TEACHING COLLEGE LITERACY: AN EXPLORATION OF DIALOGUE CONCERNING ZOMBIE TEXTS


in a recent lesson concerning the basic elements of nonfiction texts, i used zombie movies as my platform to illustrate the structural dialogue found in main ideas and supporting details.

if we know that the topic of conversation is zombie movies, then, depending on the speaker, we may have various main idea sentences concerning that topic. for instance, my mother might think zombie movies are juvenile while my wife finds zombie movies disgusting. likewise, my more conservative christian friends might label zombie movies as pathways of demonic manifestation, while some more liberal theologians might consider zombie movies the perfect cinematic illumination of sin and hell on earth. each speaker possibly possesses a unique relationship to the topic, and thereby exists a plethora of potential main idea statements.


the main idea statement i shared with my classes concerning this topic was rather frank: i freaking love zombie movies!

at this point, once a main idea statement has been fully established, a conversation of sorts begins between speakers and listeners, writers and readers. as i state my claim on the value (or not) of zombie movies, my conversational partner (or reader) will now have one burning question that shapes the next stage of our dialogue or, in my classroom, the remainder of our academic text. and that question is simply: why?

"you say you freaking love or hate zombie movies? you say they are juvenile or disgusting? you say they are demonic or theologically curious? okay, i hear you saying that, but why?"

at this point the main idea must be supported by details: major details that support the main idea sentence and minor details that back up the major details. put together, we have a colorful conversation or text on our hands. here's the example i gave my students, complete with transitional expressions to indicate new major supporing details:

I freaking love zombie movies! For one thing, they're fun. Zombie movies are often not heavy dramas. Secondly, they're smart. Zombie movies offer opportunities for good social and political commentary. Finally, they're us! Zombie movies are about dead people, and all of us will eventually die one day, and who doesn't like to think about that?

a few of my students pointed out that i contradicted myself in the support of my first two major details. i begin by saying that zombie movies are not heavy dramas, but then i say that zombie films possibly offer good social and political commentary. what gives? are they one or the other? are they allegorical texts or are they no-brain laughfests? and the answer to all of these queries is simply, yes.

take, for instance, the little number i have brought for review today, Boy Eats Girl. very fun zombie flick. pretty light-hearted. bloody enough to earn it's R-rating. chock full of cannibalistic and slapstick humor to relax any college professor at the end of a long week. not to mention, the lead girl wheels in on a crowd of zombies with a tractor and then proceeds to fertilize the yard with mutilated corpse bits, leaving bottom trunks and legs standing while torsos scatter like sprinkler water over the front lawn. in another great scene, the film's antagonist bad-girl steals a scooter from an elderly woman, leaving granny as lunch for the zombies while she peels off on granny's vespa. yeah, i had a total blast with this one.

at the same time, Boy Eats Girl explores the awkwardness of puberty and the initial cravings of newly budded sexual appetite. set in a irish prepatory high school, the sudden outbreak of zombified cannibalism works as a metaphor for religiously suppressed, though raging hormones. we initally recognize the metaphor as nathan's mother (who, bless her heart, is responsible for turning nathan into a zombie via a botched voodoo reanimation ritual) speaks to nathan about his new condition: "nathan, i know what you're feeling. you're body is going through changes. you have new hungers and desires that you've never felt before." mom knows that nathan is a flesh-eating zombie, but nathan does not realize it yet, and he rejects her seeming approach to the birds-and-the-bees as a topic far too awkward for the breakfast table. however, nathan finally realizes the full extent of his zombie cravings while being seduced by the film's antagonist bad-girl, who to this point has been a thorn in nathan's side. as she presses herself on nathan - an unknowing zombie who has not eaten in days - he looks into her offered cleavage and announces longingly, "flesh." wrongly supposing this breathy exclamation an acceptance of her propositions, the girl proceeds to kiss nathan, heightening his hunger even more, until he is forced to pry away from her and run to safety - his safety as much as hers.

Boy Eats Girl is a brilliant little coming-of-age flick that feels like some wicked blend of Mean Girls and Shaun of the Dead. personally, i think the genius of the film is that it successfully explored the awkward onslaught of teenage sexuality without dissolving into a sexed-out skin-flick. this rare ability to explore a sexual theme without creating a sexual overtone made this little b-grade independent number a refreshing anomaly to the teen-scream genre.

with that said, i give Boy Eats Girl three supporting details out of five. this is text-book zombie film material: totally fun, totally smart, and totally full of dead people eating living people. (and it's available as a netflix "watch instantly" option.) i would show this to my classes if i knew i could get away with it. but i can't. so i won't. thus i'm writing this to all of you.

26 comments:

Bridget said...

Bravo! what a great way to show how to write a basic paragraph. Thanks.

Tiffani R said...

This may actually come in handy as I edit a few papers today!

No review could induce me to watch a zombie movie. However, your review did entertain me and make me think "HA! Now I understand why people like zombie flicks!"

Kudos.

John Barber said...

You had me at zombie... And zombies plus grammar? Love, love, love.

Nicely done, hamster.

It's on my Netflix Instant Queue. I think we need some kind of icon to note the instant movies.

Ben Langford said...

kevin, the grammarian hamsterian. a very well thought through review and teaching lesson. your students will never forget you, and you keep giving 'em hell, you hear? hell, zombies, frida kahlo, tests, etc. you're an awesome teacher. zombieland is the only zombie movie i've ever seen. i liked it, but i'm doubtful i'll ever see another...

cheers

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