Authored by Marty Kelly
So I’ve got some great news. I finished that book I told y’all about that was giving me fits of guilt. That David Gemmell book about Aeneas before Aeneas was really Aeneas. It was okay. Bad news: I noticed a number of typos. Sigh.
Other bad news I didn’t talk about in the last post: I got the stomach bug over Christmas break. As in knew I was going to be sick the minute we left the school alumni party on December 23rd. (Yes, the alumni party from which the picture of my non-alum husband–with Kevin!–has been splashed on the internet and Northside Sun; where was I, the actual alum, you rightly ask. Busily working the check-in table while simultaneously trying to squelch the rising tide of nausea I felt coming on is where I was. A picture of me would have been green so it’s definitely best Matt was left to represent the Kellys. He’s an honorary alum anyway. Blair, if you are reading this, I’m not actually fussy. I pinky promise.)
So back to stomach bug. Definitely thought it would be one of those awful but 24-hour things it usually is but because this was 2021, nay. I missed Christmas. All of them. Christmas Eve. Christmas day. Christmas with my family. Christmas with Matt’s family. All.Of.The.Christmases. I was seriously smote down. But good news: I didn’t miss a single day of school. (This is where you insert that emoji where its sarcastic smile is kind of sideways.) Better news: I am thinking of proposing a school policy where we can trade days of being sick on our own time for more personal days because clearly my body is never going to let me miss a day of school for sick days, just holidays. (Update and BAD news: I played myself because I wrote the previous sentence then immediately got Covid and missed two days of school. I’m an idiot who tested the universe and lost.)
Anyway, because of my being smote with Covid on the heels of being smote with the stomach bug (clearly, I’m not living right), here’s more bad news (OR, great news): I watched a lot of television. A LOT. A significant amount. An embarrassing amount. A glut. So much that I caught up on The Witcher, Emily in Paris, The Great British Baking Show, Riverdale, Legacies, Yellowstone, Succession, probably some others I’m not thinking of, and of course some Netflix movies. Embarrassing. Or awesome. You be the judge.
So, now, back to good news and my point overall. In watching all these shows, I am more convinced than ever that what we teach matters. I mean obviously what we teach matters from a skills and content perspective, but I’m more talking about the “being a functional human being who understands allusions and has a decent range of cultural literacy” kind of matters. Which the recent Wheel of Fortune “feather in your hat/lap/map” fiasco that made me want to pass out with simultaneous secondhand embarrassment and good-ole-fashioned dumbfoundedness has made abundantly clear is more important than ever (in case you missed it: watch here).
So anyway, what I gleaned from watching a running ton of television is that even though students may not remember every formula we teach or every rhetorical device we hammer, their “maths” just might come in handy for measuring on The Great British Baking Show or their history in understanding the displacement and marginalization of American Indians on Yellowstone. Or the running thread of Boo Radley on You or the reference on Criminal Minds to Mark Twain or even the Amazon Prime commercial with Medusa in it. Not to mention almost every monster on Vampire Diaries or Legacies such as the Basilisk, the Minotaur, Sirens, the Lady of the Lake, and the Green Knight, just to name a few. Or the allusions on the new Jack Reacher series to the Hydra and to Eudora Welty (point of clarification: Welty is NOT a monster, lest I worded that sentence confusingly). Or why Emily’s co-worker takes her to Gertrude Stein’s grave instead of Balzac’s for lunch in Emily in Paris or all, and I mean allllllllll, the super clever, sometimes subtle, sometimes not allusions of HBO’s Succession. Besides the clear Cyclops mention and Oedipus cracks, there is LITERALLY a character named Roman whose nickname is Romulus.
And then, just this last week, as my students began writing their papers on a specific archetype of their choice, I started watching Netflix’s frustrating show called Maid, and in the first meeting of Andie MacDowell’s character, the main character’s artsy mother, she is flitting around her canvases and creations yelling, almost out of breath: “Archetypes! You know about archetypes! That’s what I’m representing here. In COBALT! The hero, the everyman, the mentor, the mystic! And then of course there are Jungian archetypes…” And later her character, standing in front of a very spidery self-portrait mural, references the story of Arachne and specifically mentions Ovid’s Metamorphoses. My nerdy English and Classics brain just about explodes when things like these happen. Or the first episode in this current season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in which she talks about her deep-seated need for revenge…Medea-level revenge. Which is kind of awkward because Midge definitely has two kids. So here’s hoping we aren’t really looking at a dark turn into infanticide by the end of the season. I could, however, totally get behind a flying dragon chariot.
Now, look, I know, I know. These things aren’t *totally necessary* for understanding the plots or even for analyzing the characters on some level. But how much deeper and smarter and better does everything become when it’s multi-layered? Like cake. Especially a corner piece. So much delicious icing. So let us not be dismayed when students do not remember exactly everything we attempt to instill; some of it will stick and some of it will not. Some of it might get them their dream job or the college of their choice. Some of it will be lost into the ether or filed behind something more important like Wordle starter words. But, just maybe, some of it will prepare them for all the practical parts of life. Like lazy weekends or, gods forbid, couch-compelling sicknesses. Either way, just maybe we, the bakers and the brick-layers, will have elevated their binge watching to *almost* academic. Just keep layering. Some of it will stick. Like spaghetti on Gilgamesh’s walls.