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COLUMN: An Unfamiliar Familiarity

Outside The Lines

Assistant Arts & Review Editor

Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 22:01

Syllabus week no longer exists in my third year at Boston College, and I fear my 500-page printing allotment may not be sufficient this time round. That said, I’ve never felt more excited for an upcoming academic semester. And the reason can be summed up in two words: movies and television.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m always up for a good literary analysis or comparative essay. There’s nothing more satisfying than reading a book to the final period on the last page, and having that moment when the world seems to stop as you close the book and ponder the fictional journey you just completed. But there’s something so satisfying in saying out loud that three of my assignments for my first week include viewing an Italian film, watching an episode of The Simpsons, and studying the fashion in Downton Abbey. In the midst of readings about the Victorian era and 18th century theories, it was refreshing to get visual doses of the modern world, and even more rewarding to discuss them in the context of literature of the past.

Some of the most memorable classes and lectures I’ve witnessed over the past few years are the ones that expanded beyond the course descriptions, incorporating artistic elements that I never would have considered merging with subject matter that can sometimes seem far removed from our immediate existence. Whether it was discussing She’s The Man as a modern day adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or watching two professors act out a scene to illustrate the linguistic habits of a Norwegian culture, having that external component allowed me to remember almost the entirety of the lesson in these particular moments. There’s this connection between memory and motion that enhances the learning experience, allowing the words in textbooks and novels to manifest themselves in these real-life applications.

Professors often use the phrase “real-life applications” as a selling point for their academic field. It has become an essential aspect of various courses to emphasize their relevance for students in the present, and the phrase seeks to repel labels such as “useless” or “pointless” once the student steps outside the classroom.

But what does “real-life applications” actually mean?
It’s become so overused that almost any course can be argued to possess this quality. Yes, academics should be relevant in a past and modern sense. But maybe this concept can be challenged and taken one step further. By incorporating some aspect of our lives that we encounter every single day, a course not only garners interest and excitement, but also keeps us thinking about the material long after the class has ended. Whenever I turn on an episode of The Simpsons, I’ll undoubtedly remember the connection to my English course, and I will be more likely to notice any instances of 18th-century “thing theory” in my 21st-century life. She’s The Man is no longer just an excuse to watch Channing Tatum (although that is a valid excuse for most life decisions), but an opportunity to think about gender roles and expectations. The familiar become unfamiliar, which seems to be a paradox—the movies and television shows that we know better than the books we’re reading for class suddenly become new again.

The key to creating real-life applications is not just modernizing an old concept—it’s about challenging what we think we know and love about our lives. It serves a twofold function: to turn the old into the new, and to make the new even newer. This can be achieved by juxtaposing an element of the course with a current representation—TV shows are only one of the many possibilities. Field trips have value beyond the single-file lines of middle school, and movies are not just for days when the teacher is absent. There’s nothing wrong with things that are genuinely “fun,” and sometimes adding in quirky videos or going to see a play in Boston can revitalize students’ eagerness and interest in a course.

And the best part? Lying in bed with Netflix and your snack food of choice, minus the side of guilt. Even if it’s just for one assignment.


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