first day follies


First days are difficult. Smith College has a pretty lengthy trial period, and students like to ‘shop.’ I can understand the benefits of that, but it also makes for wasted time. Do you just pass out the syllabus and reconviene on the next day? Do you teach full on? Because of this dilemma, I’ve been opting to start class off with some sort of framing story or activity, as a way to get students thinking about the course, thinking about society differently. I have used horoscopes and Mark Twain to talk about chance and opinion, I have used the story of Finn twins to talk about structure and agency, and of Damon Mootoo being lost in Queens to introduce the mash-up grid system of Queens. These have had varied degrees of success.

This semester I’m thinking of a few new things. I’m thinking that I’ll break students into groups of two to make a select who will win the Academy Award for Best Actress, a group of three to pick Best Actor, five to pick Best Director, and then ten for Best Film in order to explain Simmel’s dyad and triad piece (and then talk about roles, power, membership, mediation, participation, representation, etc.). I’m thinking about doing some Twittering for the Media and Technology class, and playing an FDR Fireside Chat and Obama’s YouTube weekly address. Goffman once wrote about a person making a ‘call’ with a toy phone that he found in a trashcan on the street (1981: 86, n. 6), engaging in a fake conversation playing off the (at the time) absurd idea of conducting work on the street. Now, technology allows for the opposite to occur.

For my culture class I was thinking about using fake culture, ‘Stupid Undergrounds’ (Mann 1995), Dog Island, Mos Def’s song Hip Hop, and von Trier’s Dogville to talk about the hyperreflexive turn of culture. I might use an early clip from the Crawford/Gable film The Possessed, wherein a common farm girl comes face-to-face with how the other half lives, by looking episodically into the windows of a slow-moving train. At the caboose, a man offers her a drink and asks: “Have a drink? Aw, don’t go away… Looking in? Wrong way. Get in and look out.” (Slavoj Zizek’s brilliant The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema uses it.)

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