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Goodbye everybody, I’ve got to go

I’m gonna leave you all behind and fade away. Mama, OOOoooOOOooo, I didn’t mean to make you cry, sometimes I wish I’d never been born at all.

I’m a Queen fan. My other option was posting Fat Bottom Girls, but the lyrics to that are less well known and could be misconstrued. But really, it’s been a fun class. I kinda like blogging, but I don’t have the attention span required to keep it up. I’ve enjoyed going on long rants about politics and literature, and I’ve really enjoyed the non-sequiturs and barely related YouTube videos. As I leave this class, there’s not a whole lot in the way of wisdom I can offer you that I haven’t already. I guess I’ll just say that you should keep an open mind and keep music in your life. Maybe try to make a little music while you’re at it, instead of just listening. A lot of people think they have no musical talent just because they sing or play poorly, but just like with everything else in life, if you don’t practice at it, you’re not going to be very good at it. So approach music like writing. The more you do it, the better you are, and eventually other people will think you don’t suck (though you will, because you’re a perfectionist).

I’d also like to recommend some music and literature to you.

1: Shakespeare. I know you hate it. You need to read it though. Not just because you’re a Literature major, but because almost every form of art and media references Shakespeare in some way and, in my opinion, you need to have at least a passing knowledge of it in order to function in an English-speaking society. It’s pretty much the cornerstone of cultural literacy.

2: Listen to some classical music every once in a while. I don’t care who. I’m partial to Mozart. Many people prefer Beethoven. I’ll actually expand this to say listening to a Muiscal soundtrack is great too, so long as it’s not from a movie version (Unless it’s an old musical, i.e. Guys & Dolls or White Christmas. I’m talking back when a lot of the stars were singer/actors instead of actor/singers.

3: Tom Lehrer. You probably heard his elements song when you were a kid, it’s to the tune of “Modern Major General.” Everything by this man is gold. I’ll pass a link on to you, as my parting gift.

It’s been fun guys. I’ll see some of you around, maybe. If not, it’s been nice knowing you and being in class with a good amount of you over the past two years.

And now for a rousing, uplifting song, that’s guaranteed to cheer you up.

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Music and Literature

Before I switch to the fast-paced, action-packed world of an English Major, I used to be a Music Major.

Now, being a music major isn’t as easy as most people think it is – honestly, writing twelve plus page essays is a breeze in comparison to being a first year music student. At any rate, I was a vocalist. That’s right, I sing. Beautifully. Now I’m not really that full of myself, but I received no small amount of training in my one year in music school and while I certainly can’t match the people that stuck with the program, I learned quite a bit in the time I was there.

For instance, nearly every choral piece that is written in English was a poem at some point.

Shakespeare seemed to be the big one, which isn’t a shocker when you think about it. He’s big in everything. Ralph Vaughn Williams arranged several beautiful choral pieces centering around different choral texts, including one that I performed in as part of the chamber Choir, that was based off of the scene where Lorenzo is wooing Jessica late in The Merchant of Venice. Robert Frost often gets the musical treatment as well, and may well have more pieces than Shakespeare is Shakespeare hadn’t had a few hundred years worth of a head start.

The past and future of music and literature are closely tied together, as a poetic spirit is required to create both. Watch that music doesn’t slip away from schools, because it will leave our culture soon after that. Literature will follow. When all we have left is trash music and trash literature, our cultural capital will be spent, and the American Epoch will surely be finished.

But what is this Quintessence of Dust?

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is one of my favorite works of fiction, and this is one of my favorite lines from it.

Quintessence is an old Greek term, meaning “The highest form” of something. A lot of people that like this quote don’t necessarily realize how utterly bleak it is, choosing instead to focus on what comes before it, the heaps of praise that Hamlet puts on Man and his works. The words of nobility, strength, and purpose are far more optimistic than the line that follows them. Hamlet lists all of those noble merits and then hits the audience with this simple question. What is this quintessence of dust? This is Hamlet lamenting the nature of humankind. We truly think ourselves to be above everything, from plants to animals, everything we see, everything we’ve built and conquered.

Hamlet just wants to remind himself, and us, that we are merely the highest form of dust. We’re not really that special after all.

Now all of this is horribly depressing if you take it the wrong way. Instead of looking at it in term of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” you can look at it as a reminder not to get too full of yourself. No matter what great works you achieve in life, no matter how many people end up bowing and scraping before you, stay humble. After all, you, and every other person, are only the quintessence of dust.

Persepolis – Graphic Literature

For a long time Comic books and graphic novels have been consigned to the realms of children’s literature and pulp fiction. The general public saw them as trach, not wiorth their time once they were past the age of 12. The stigma of being a “Nerd” would be too much for them to bear. However, recently, there has been an upswing in the popularity of the graphic novel. With things like Maus and Persepolis being published, it seemed like legitimate stories were being published along with the “Trash.”

But that’s not what is bringing comics into the mainstream.

No, the mainstream acceptance of comic books and graphic novels comes almost entirely from movies made about them. The staggering success of the Iron Man franchise and previously the middling popularity of the Spider Man movie franchise helped get move comic book movies created, which in turn helped spark an increased interest in their source material. The Watchmen was another important step forward in terms of great graphic novels, with deep stories, that have been made more accessible through movies. The Watchmen is a dark, gritty, philosophical rampage through New York and beyond, all the way to Antarctica and even Mars. The whole time debating on the nature of good and evil, right and wrong, and all the shades of gray in between. Once people realized that graphic novels could tell a story like this, the lid was off of Pandora’s Box and the cat was out of the bag. From then on I saw more people reading comics and fewer people being stigmatized for doing so.

I can only hope that this trend continues into the future.

Persepolis Part 2 – European Hospitality

Well, after reading the second half of Persepolis I was quite surprised by how intolerant and downright dickish people in Europe were to Middle Eastern immigrants  in Europe during the 80s and 90s. I always had the impression that Europeans were very accepting of immigrants, so long as they were legal immigrants. At least more tolerant than the current attitude toward them in the United States. Satrapi was being persecuted or stereotyped everywhere she went while she was in Europe. Perhaps it was only an Austrian attitud, but other than the first mention of her being in Austria, it seemed to just be a general discussion of “Europe” as a whole. I know there are issues now with Middle Eastern immigrants in Europe, particularly in France and Britain, but I didn’t think people were quite so upset with them before 9/11 and 7/7 happened. I know Satrapi mentioned that Europeans seemed to have this impression that Iranians were some kind of bloodthirsty, war mongering, backwards folk, but I really hadn’t expected the discrimination to be that bad in those years. I guess it goes to show that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Persepolis Part One – Geopolitics of the Islamic Revolution

The first half of the graphic memoir Persepolis is certainly a shock for Western readers. Some people may have understood that the Islamic Revolution in Iran was a long and bloody affair, and still more would likely have known that the Iran-Iraq was was exceptionally brutal on Iran. I include myself as somewhat knowledgeable in these two categories.

However, I did learn something important from Persepolis that I had no idea about before. I had no idea that the revolution started out as a far-left Marxist movement. This better explains US involvement with the Islamic regime in Iran after the war. While the Shah of Iran had been backed by the West, particularly by Great Britain and the United States, and his government had been deposed and replaced by an Islamist government, the United States was still involved behind the scenes with Iran, especially in the 80, during the Iran-Iraq war.

Specifically the Iran-Contra affair.

In Iran-Contra, President Reagan and General Oliver North went around the decision of the United States Congress to not back the Contras in Nicaragua. They did this by secretly approving the selling  weapons to Iran (the subject of an arms embargo) in order to then take the profits from that sale and have the CIA funnel the money to the anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua. This was technically treason on the part of President Reagan and Oliver North. North was likely ordered to take the fall by Reagan, but thanks to the destruction of evidence, North got off without a scratch.

American foreign policy during the cold war was incredibly hypocritical in regards to the treatment of countries like Iran and Nicaragua. If they were our friends, we would use and abuse them. If they were our enemies we would do the same, except they also got weapons while still holding American citizens hostage. Hypocrisy at its finest.

Show me your Worth!

Recently in class we’ve been discussing the future of English as a discipline as well as the value of an English degree and careers that can come from it. Overall there seemed to have been a general consensus that people on the outside do not view English as a worthwhile degree pursuit or even something that should be studied at all beyond the basics of learning how to read.

Sadly, I believe this to be true.

Outsiders do not see the value of an English degree because they cannot put a salary on it. They assume that a student going for an English degree must be trying to be an English teacher, because otherwise there are no jobs available that pay anything. There is a preconception that if you go to college and major in English that you’re actually getting a degree to work at Starbucks in L.A. and pass out terrible movie scripts to anyone that looks like they’re in show business. This image is fueled by characters on television and in movies that are “Writers” and never seem to get a break. Characters that are “Actors” tend to get the same treatment (See Joey on Friends). This idea that people that go into the liberal, creative, or fine, arts never go anywhere has been so dominant in popular culture for such a long time that people that really know nothing about the jobs that come out of the degree take is as a matter of fact, not opinion, that if you are getting an arts degree of some kind, you just wasted a whole lot of money and 4+ years of your life because there are no jobs available.

That said, there is another important reason that the general public disdains the study of English as a discipline. That reason is anti-intellectual bias. Tonight, my room mate was watching Bill O’Reilly, as he is wont to do. I sincerely believe he only does this because he knows how much I hate it, since he is far too smart to buy what these people are selling. Bill was showing clips from an interview he did some time in the past with Dr. Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and The Blind Watchmaker among other works. Dr. Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and was a Professor at the University of Oxford for thirteen years. Like the man or hate him, he is a well-educated, intellectual, person, and he tried to calmly discuss atheism with O’Reilly. Instead of allowing the man to speak and have a rational discussion with him, Bill kept cutting Dawkins off before he could reach his point and trying to say how Dawkins was wrong. This supposed journalist did his red-letter best to try to belittle a renowned intellectual for the benefit of his audience. At the end of the clip it cut back to the live show and O’Reilly began talking about how much of a “Dishonest guy” he was and that he had “Kicked his butt” when even in the short clip he had played he simply made assertions with no evidence, then called it a win. This kind of anti-intellectual bias is rampant in this country and it applies across the board to any kind of University degree program that isn’t “Practical” such as Business, Economics, Engineering, or Information Technology. If you can’t take that four year degree and go out and make 40 to 70 thousand dollars a year with it, congratulations, your degree is useless and you lost years from your life for nothing.

Now, a rant without a solution is just for blowing off steam. “What do you expect us to do to end anti-intellectual bias and stereotyping? Write an essay?” you ask. To which I reply, “There’s no need for sarcasm.” In all seriousness though, there is a lot that can be done. There is, however, no guarantee it will actually work, as I’m not a professional at this. My suggestion as to the first problem, the problem of being pigeon-holed into the notion that we, as English Majors, can only become teachers because “There are no other jobs out there,” is that we actually are bothered to find out what kind of jobs hire English Majors. Are there a lot of Editing jobs? Maybe there are a lot of positions for English majors in the corporate world. Maybe you can work as a transcriber or do something in the entertainment industry. I’m certain there are opening in ad firms and marketing. We have a resistance to quantifying our major in terms of money or a specific job, but that only stems from our agitation at constantly being judged by others. Instead of letting them judge us, we need to refute them with cold, hard, facts, about what kind of job and money we can expect to get and make. If you have an answer ready, even an exaggerated one, that makes sense, people really won’t question you much. If we do this as a whole, perhaps people will eventually stop questioning our worth. As for the second problem, that of anti-intellectual bias, the solution is far more tricky. When encountering the Bill O’Reillys of the world, facts, numbers, and logic don’t mean a thing and there’s a good chance you won’t get a word in edgewise anyway. On a basic level, with the man on the street, you can laugh it off. Make a joke about it. That’ll win them over in the short term. However, the problem comes when the folks with the bias hold the reins of power. When the State House or Senate want to cut your school’s funding, you have to make your objections be heard. They may ignore you anyway, but that’s why you organize and get them out of office. When your school’s board, be it a high school or University, is deciding where cuts can be made and the decide on English? Don’t be silent. Get all your friends and tell the board what you think about their cuts to the English department. Write that essay too, if you want. Just make sure it sounds as good read aloud as it does in your head.

There is a lot more that can be done, far too much to be listed here at this time. There are also far deeper problems that can’t be solved by a lone blogger ranting on the internet close to midnight. But it’s a start.

“Big things have small beginnings” – T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia (Film)