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Jewish World Review April 5, 2000/ 29 Adar II, 5760

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports



Endowing the Hooters Chair for Literature Appreciation -- MY DAUGHTER'S CURRENT AP ENGLISH BOOK, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris, is a charming book! High school seniors delve into a novel that features Father Tom molesting 15- year-old Rayona and brilliant dialogue: "˜Three,'" Mom says, looking up, straight at Aunt Ida. "There go _________ yourself.'" This book was approved by the same school district that banned a production of Tom Sawyer for its insensitive portrayals of women and is next to a district that banned Macbeth for its violence.

Dorris's book is like Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure with quotas (Rayona is part-Black; her mother is American Indian and the grandmother is nuts) and critical acclaim. "Energetic, understated and seductive," opined the Los Angeles Times while the New York Times fawned, "First rate . . . these women are beautifully realized." Realizing women sounds like something the EEOC prosecutes, along with Hooters.

AP English classes rarely cast an eye upon Hamlet, Macbeth or even Romeo and Juliet. My daughter mispronounces Beowulf and found To Kill a Mockingbird and Jane Austen only because of mother's mandatory summer reading program. College won't offer much better. Courses such as "Feminist Theory," "African-American Literature: Harlem Renaissance," "Chicano Literature," and "Native American Literature" count for honors English credit at Arizona State University while "Introduction to Shakespeare" does not. No wonder drinking is up on college campuses.

Traditional values, tales of morality and even truth are gone. I, Rigoberta Menchu, popular campus reading and an autobiographical account of Guatemala's civil war, was later exposed as a fraud. Neither the $1.2 million Nobel prize nor scholarly attention was revoked because Menchu defended, "The book . . . is a testimonial that mixes my personal testimony and the testimony of what happened in Guatemala." A testimonial of what others saw?

Even the University of Chicago, an institution of rigor that once had no electives for students (the theory being "if we knew enough to determine what we should be taught, we shouldn't be students"), has expanded its offerings to include "media/cinema studies" and "gender studies."

The research of the Modern Language Association reads like the film list at an adult bookstore near Berkeley --- intellectual porn, to wit: "Outing Goethe and His Age," "Goethe on Homosexuality and Heterotextuality," and "Shane and the Guilty Pleasures of Male Spectatorship."

The last work, by Professor David Halperin of MIT, muses that Shane shows "in order for a boy to grow up strong and straight, he must first be seduced and abandoned by a straight man." It was just a western with an annoying lad who followed Alan Ladd around until Ladd shot a creepy Jack Palance.

Depicting the traditional as demented and the norm as rare and naive is not just the forte of the academy. Hollywood is a partner in this absurd intellectualism. Last week the Oscar for best picture went to American Beauty, a film about miserable, adulterous suburban life being fraught with pedophilia and bigotry. If Hollywood only knew. The suburbs' greatest challenges are figuring out how the twine replacement goes in the Weed-eater and who has the snack for T-ball.

Best actress award went to Hilary Swank, a one-hit wonder, for her depiction of a girl playing a boy who is really a girl. Victor Victoria was better. The supporting actress and actor awards: Angelina Jolie, for her drug addict portrayal in Girl, Interrupted, and Michael Caine, for his kindly abortion doctor in Cider House Rules. Hollywood should do a film on Phoenix's A-Z Abortion Clinic complete with its dead mothers and live fetuses.

Censorship of classics and touting of trash have created an amorality. If students are exposed only to moral relativism, how can they understand Aristotle's virtue? If students read only of hate, resentment, and blame in literary characters, will they dismiss accountability? Will they understand love when all they read is lust? Will they recognize truth through the propaganda?

Small, dissident bands of faculty armed with classics for the classroom have been called a "Trojan horse" for sneaking conservative thought to campus. "Sit down in front of Plato and emote, but don't ask questions about the structure of slave society in ancient Greece." So whined University of Wisconsin professor, Gregory S. Jay, in expressing his "Eurocentric" opposition to the "Great Books" program, a national movement by scholars to bring the classics back to college. Great Books programs have phenomenal enrollments, including minority students. Minority students, the victims of that subtle bigotry of inability that fuels affirmative action, choose to embark upon an uplifting and challenging journey with Keats, Chaucer, and Homer. They want more depth than "cultural studies" and Toni Morrison.

Every campus should have a Great Books course or certificate, program, or minor in cultural literacy. Donors should give for Great Books programs, demanding balance in curricula dominated by pc pop culture. Corporations should fund the reading of Shakespeare and the teaching of Aristotle.

In 1926, based on Lenin's views that Shakespeare was "not worth a pair of boots," Othellowas banned by the People's Commissar of Enlightenment because of its "idiotic patriarchal values." Such censorship preserved a totalitarian state for no thoughts save the current were permitted. Odd that Reagan, a conservative who could quote Shakespeare, rescued them from their literary wasteland. Freedom doesn't do well when the classics are replaced, repressed and rejected. Current thought and trendy literature abdicate instruction in history's truth, pain, and, perhaps most importantly, repetitive nature. Lobby for the Great Books --- the rich contraband that puts Dorris and heterotextuality to shame.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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03/21/00: Dough and campaigns
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03/07/00: Hope and pray that religion remains a force in politics
02/29/00: Ditzes in TV Land
02/22/00: Cranky nitpickers make writing a [sic] experience
02/15/00: Those chameleon 60s activists
02/08/00: McCandidate McCain: Flirting with principles
02/01/00: The demise of marriage
01/25/00: Stroke of the pen, law of the land: Clinton's Camelot
01/18/00: Off the Rocker Rorschach Test
01/11/00: Oprah's lemmings
01/04/00: Struggling mightily amidst the comfort
12/23/99: Confused fathers
12/14/99: Drop-kicking the homeless
12/07/99: Turtles and teamsters, side-by-side in Seattle
11/29/99: When conservatives behave badly
11/22/99: Compassionate conservative: Timing and targets
11/18/99: The elusive human spirit and accountability
11/11/99: Succumbing to the intellectual child within with the help of crackpots and screwballs
10/28/99: Live by litigation, die by litigation
10/22/99: Jesse, Warren, Cybill, Donald and Oprah
10/14/99: Inequality and injustice: It's the big one
10/05/99: Dan Quayle, morals and schoolyard bullies
09/30/99: The monsters of epidermal parenting
09/21/99: The Diversity Hoax
09/15/99: Waco Wackos
09/09/99: Selective censorship
09/01/99: The village, the children, judicial imperialism and abortion
08/24/99: Naughty Newt?
08/17/99: In defense of Boy Scouts and judgment
08/10/99: Ruining the finest health care system in the world
08/03/99: Nihilism and politics: ethics on the lam
07/26/99: Of women, soccer and removed jerseys
07/23/99: Not in despair, a mere mortal doing just fine
07/20/99: "Why me?" How about "Why us?"
07/13/99: Bunk, junk & juries
07/06/99: An Amish woman in a Victoria's Secret store
06/30/99: That intellectually embarrassing Second Amendment
06/24/99: Patricia Ireland eat your heart out --- but check out the recipe in 'women's mags' first
06/22/99: Dems and the Creator coup
06/17/99: True courage is more than just admitting troubles

© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings