December 2, 2012

God of Carnage: Dispensing with Civility


IU Theatre’s production of God of Carnage, directed by graduate student Lee Cromwell, showcases the worst in humanity in the most hilarious of scripts. Two couples meet to discuss the bad behavior of their children. One child has knocked out the other’s two front teeth with a stick. The adults present a false, civil front in their meeting and engage in pleasantries. As the play goes on, all courteousness drops and the characters reveal the very worst in their characters. The room is destroyed. Relationships between all of the characters seem beyond repair. The characters experience a complete transformation.

“There is a character that does not change over the course of the play,” said Cromwell. “People will be surprised who they like in the beginning of the play and who they like at the end.” A character named Alan remains honest and stays true to his “core self.” He exhibits bad behavior unabashedly and demonstrates very little of the civility the others seem keen on retaining. He instead retains his “bad” nature. The audience will watch as the polite characters around Alan become monstrous towards one another. Audience members might ask themselves: Is this the result of repressing bad behavior? “The other characters are allowing culture and civility to force them to pretend to be nice,” said Cromwell. The ways in which these characters present themselves are mediated by societal expectations. They allow themselves to be controlled by these expectations, whereas Alan seems less inclined to conform.

Is it better to follow his example? Or is it better to dispense with all civilities, as the other characters do, and act on honest impulses? Is the world these characters create a better world? “It’s not necessarily a better world,” said Cromwell, “but rather an honest, unfiltered look at the world.”

The New York Times called this play “a study in the tension between civilized surface and savage instinct.” Is bad behavior instinctive? Are we not naturally good? The audience, watching this play, might wonder if we force ourselves to exhibit good behavior, if civility is unnatural. What they might discover is that it’s necessary for the good of the group, for the good of society. Civilization moves forward because individuals can delay their gratification and move past their impulses to benefit the group.

If people were to behave impulsively, to act on individual desire rather than consider the good of the whole, society would likely collapse. This is represented in the destruction of God of Carnage. Children and marriages are forgotten as these characters succumb to their impulses and individual desires, and things fall apart.



SHOWDATES:
November 30,
December 1, 4-7, 2012 @ 7:30 p.m.
December 8 @ 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
 
Wells-Metz Theatre



Amber Hendricks
Themester 2012 intern

November 28, 2012

Primate Behavior Speaker Series Q&A with Kevin Hunt

An orangutan - photo courtesy of Michael Muehlenbein
Professor Kevin Hunt of the IU Department of Anthropology is a co-organizer for Themester's Primate Behavior lecture series, along with Professor Michael Muehlenbein. The series was comprised of seven events throughout the semester, with its two final speakers Karen Strier of the University of Wisconsin speaking Nov. 28 and Rob Shumaker of the Indianapolis Zoo speaking Dec. 5. Here, Professor Hunt discusses the series and its relationship to Good Behavior, Bad Behavior.


Why did you decide to organize a lecture series on primate behavior? How did you choose speakers to invite?
It is relatively recently that Michael Muehlenbein was hired giving us two primatologists on the faculty.  We thought we would celebrate that important event by spotlighting primatology at IU by bringing in guest speakers. We looked for primatologists who were doing interesting work that was in the news or widely discussed in the field.

How will the series appeal to students outside of the sciences?
Animal behavior in general, but primatology in particular, appeals to a broad audience because it often sheds light on human behavior and human society.


Are primates sentient of their decisions to exhibit “good” or “bad” behavior?
Rarely.  Some primates have a sense of guilt, I would guess (nobody knows for sure) when they behave in ways they know will be unexpected in their social group, but my opinion is that experiencing the feeling that they're behaving 'badly' is unusual in primates, except for humans.

A macaque - photo courtesy of Michael Muehlenbein

What have you learned about primates in your career that is most surprising?
When we look for human-like traits in primates, their presence is dispersed across the order; our closest relatives aren't always the primate that most closely expresses human-like traits.  




For more information on this speaker series, please visit http://themester.indiana.edu/events/primate.shtml. 

 

Rebecca Kimberly
Themester 2012 Intern

November 6, 2012

"Pioneers and Exiles: German Expressionism" Exhibit Q&A

Jenny McComas, curator of Western Art after 1800 for the Indiana University Art Museum, discusses the new exhibit exploring works of art in German Expressionism that connect to moral behavior.


Courtesy of IU Art Museum.
How does this exhibit connect to Themester 2012?

The exhibition provides an opportunity to examine what constitutes ethical behavior in the art world. One section of the exhibition focuses on the impact of World War II on German Expressionist art. Seventy-five years ago, in July 1937, the Degenerate Art exhibition opened in Munich. This exhibition was one of the Nazis’ most spectacular undertakings in the realm of cultural propaganda. The exhibition, comprised of six hundred works of art recently removed from Germany’s state-run art museums, was meant to discredit German Expressionism—previously considered Germany’s proudest accomplishment in the field of modern art. Degenerate Art and its aftermath—the sale of most of the so-called degenerate works abroad—were examples of bad behavior at a governmental level. These sales presented potential buyers with an ethical dilemma as they had to consider whether it was “good” or “bad” to purchase these works for their own collections. The exhibition includes three works that the Nazis “purged” from German museums, including one that was featured in the Degenerate Art exhibition. I will be discussing these issues further at a gallery talk on December 5.

What inspired this exhibit?

A number of factors inspired the exhibition. As an art historian, my primary area of research is in early twentieth century German art, so it was natural to propose an exhibition that takes advantage of the IU Art Museum’s superb collection of German Expressionist art. The concept of the exhibition was also influenced by the work I have done as the head of the museum’s Nazi-Era Provenance Research Project. In this ongoing project, I conduct research into the provenance (ownership history) of European works in our collection. The goal is to determine whether or not the work could have been looted during World War II. By conducting research into the histories of these objects, I’ve uncovered fascinating stories and found interesting connections between works in the collection and important historical exhibitions or collectors. Thus, rather than simply organizing an exhibition that surveyed the Expressionist movement, I chose to present the works in a way that would also emphasize the history and development of the museum’s collection by highlighting previous owners or exhibition histories of many of the works on view.


Courtesy of IU Art Museum.
What does the title mean? Who are the exiles referred to in the title?

The title is a reference to the individuals who helped introduce German Expressionism to American audiences. The “pioneers” are the art museum directors, curators, scholars, and art dealers who played a role in bringing German Expressionism to America, writing about it, displaying it, and creating a market for it. The IU Art Museum’s first two directors, Henry Radford Hope and Thomas T. Solley, were pioneers in this regard. Hope prepared several exhibitions of Expressionism in the 1940s and 1950s and Solley was responsible for building up the collection we currently have at the museum. The “exiles” are German artists, collectors, and art dealers who fled Nazi Germany and resettled in the United States. In some cases, the “pioneers” and “exiles” were one and the same. Quite a few works in the exhibition were acquired either through purchase from German émigré art dealers or were donated by émigré collectors.

Most IU students probably don’t know what Expressionism is. Could you briefly explain some of the qualities that make a work Expressionist?

Expressionism was a modern art movement that arose in Germany in the early twentieth century. As the word “Expressionism” indicates, these works can be broadly characterized as expressive. Rather than depicting the world naturalistically, the Expressionists utilized color and form to express inner emotions or to depict contemporary events. There were two main groups of artists associated with Expressionism prior to World War I: the Brücke (Bridge) in Dresden and Berlin and the Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) in Munich. The Brücke artists developed a bold, angular style characterized by radically simplified form and expressive color, while the Blaue Reiter artists were particularly interested in the spiritual power of color and in painting’s affinities to music. Artists associated with the Blaue Reiter, especially Wassily Kandinsky, were among the first European artists to experiment with abstraction in their work. World War I also had a profound impact on German artists, many of whom adopted an Expressionist aesthetic to comment upon Germany’s social and political woes.

This exhibit will be displayed from October 6 to December 23 in the Special Exhibitions Gallery on the first floor of the museum.



Amber Hendricks
Themester 2012 intern

November 2, 2012

Why are narratives so moral?


Why are narratives so moral? Fritz Breithaupt from the Germanic Studies department has organized a conference to address this complex question. 17 speakers, including professors, graduate students, and undergraduate students, will present their answers.

There will be two keynote speakers at this conference. One will open and the other will close. Both of these speakers are "really outstanding scholars who have made a name for themselves working on this topic,” said Breithaupt. 15 other locals were selected to present after a call for papers. The prompt asked people to simply submit a short answer to the question at hand: “Why are narratives so moral?” This question will be answered by people from many different disciplines and so will be approached from several different angles.

The topic is “incredibly rich and wide,” said Breithaupt. Presentations will consider evolutionary theories, why we developed the capability to tell stories, why it is good to have stories, how we use narratives as a way to evaluate ourselves, postmodern morality versus morality in previous generations, our impulses to assign "good" and "bad" to characters, and more.

Rather than come to an ultimate conclusion, the conference will provide 17 distinct conclusions. This is a funny conference in that it will allow the audience to indicate whether they agree or disagree with the presenter’s answer. Everyone in the audience will be provided with red and green Magic cards. If they agree with the presentation, they raise the green card at the end. If they disagree, they raise the red. “I expect to get a lot of red cards,” Breithaupt said. It will serve as a nice layer: assessing the good and bad of arguments about the good and bad in narratives.

“These are quick ideas that people will throw out,” Breithaupt said. “The audience will all consider the same question and should pick at least one idea to agree to. We hope for them to make sense of it and elaborate, to ask presenters a question, to expand the argument at the reception.”

Kevin Gardner, an undergraduate presenter, said that the conference should appeal to undergraduates because it “will bring professors from many disciplines to discuss one topic. An undergraduate who has been focusing on one area will learn from other departments.”

Hopefully audience members will come to their own conclusion about why narratives are so moral, if characters can exist outside the spectrum of good and bad. “I am one of the people who say characters cannot exist outside of that spectrum,” Breithaupt said. He believes that although the language we once used in terms of morality is disappearing and our perceptions of morality are fading, we cannot help but assess characters morally.

Of course people can disagree. Attendees are encouraged to question the ideas of the speakers, to decide for themselves. This conference will entertain multiple different perspectives and will hopefully shape many more.

For a schedule of the presentations and more information about the conference, see http://themester.indiana.edu/events/narratives.shtml.



Amber Hendricks
Themester 2012 intern

Themester Gallery Tours at the IU Art Museum

From now until May, the IU Art Museum will host gallery tours with the theme of "Good Behavior, Bad Behavior." Two docents, IU undergraduates Adam Grossman and Emma Bressler, give their takes on the collection and the tour. 

What can people expect to learn from these gallery tours?
"Judith with the Head of Holofernes"
Image courtesy of IU Art Museum

EMMA: I think people can expect to learn two things from these gallery tours. The first is how to analyze art. In these tours, unlike many others, we don't just throw facts at you. Instead, the tour is much more interactive. Questions are asked about what you see in the artwork and what this leads you to think. These tours help to grow the skill of looking at a piece of art and trying to decipher its meaning. The second thing people will learn is more about themselves. Throughout the tour we ask for opinions about whether you think a piece of art is showcasing good morals or bad morals. People will have the opportunity to reflect on their own personal morals and grow a stronger sense of self through the process.

ADAM: These gallery tours can teach a little about art history and expose you to what a unique art museum IU has. They also teach you a lot about yourself. You learn that you really are good at looking at art and most people find that they enjoy it. The confusing moral questions that the artworks pose teach you about how you really see the world, and the tours ultimately teach you the true value of art in philosophy, politics, and culture.  


How does the art chosen relate to good and bad behavior? What sorts of good or bad behavior are represented?
New Caledonian mask
Image courtesy of IU Art Museum

EMMA: The art chosen for our tours shows a variety of good behavior, bad behavior, as well as behavior that could go either way. One piece of artwork that could be considered good behavior is a Japanese series of prints about filial piety. It depicts different vignettes of children doing deeds for their parents. An example is a boy fanning his dad and wearing minimal clothing in order to sacrifice his own body to the mosquitoes that surround them. A piece of artwork that shows bad behavior is a print in the series called "Rakewells Progress." This print is one of my favorites because there is so much going on! It shows a wild 18th century party being thrown at the home of the newly rich Tom Rakewell, the hero of the story in the prints. This lavish party includes prostitutes, a woman setting fire to a painting, a woman stealing an intoxicated Tom's watch, and many appalled servants. Instead of saving the money he inherited, Tom spends it on partying where he ultimately catches syphilis (a death sentence in the 1700s) and dies. There are also pieces like "Judith and Holophernes," where the beautiful Judith decapitates the General (Holophernes) of the army that took over her city. In the painting you can see how torn Judith feels. She just saved her city, but she had to kill a man in the process. 



ADAM: Each piece of art relates to good and bad behavior in a unique way. In some pieces artists try to pass moral judgement on the subjects of the artwork. One such piece depicts, in profanity, the downfall of a man who spends all his inheritance on indulgence. In others it is the purpose of the artwork that raises questions of good and bad -- the ethics of propaganda. While, still, in others it is the tradition surrounding the piece of art that raises moral questions. The variety of pieces do well to address the depth of the good and bad behavior topic, and give us a chance to examine the diversity of manners through which the issue presents itself. 

In your opinion, which piece is the most representative of the theme of Good Behavior, Bad Behavior? Why?
African Esu figure
Image courtesy of IU Art Museum

EMMA: It's hard to choose just one! One of the most interesting pieces to me, morality wise, is the mask "Apouema." This mask comes from a native group of people form New Caledonia, which is just east of Australia. The mask is commonly worn by the chief (although at times there are exceptions to the rule) during mourning. When wearing the mask, the chief would often be armed with a dagger or a club and both threaten and attack various members of the community, including children. I find this so interesting because in modern western society we look at this as bad morality; a person shouldn't be hurting others for no apparent reason other than wearing a mask. But in the society where this mask comes from it is acceptable behavior. This behavior is used by the chief and other high up officials to demonstrate their power. Even more interesting, this is still being done today! 

ADAM: In my opinion the most representative piece of the "Good Behavior, Bad Behavior" theme is the "Staff for Esu." It is the head of a staff crafted by the Nigerian Yoruba people depicting their god Esu. Esu is a perfect example of a good behavior, bad behavior paradox. He is a spirit of chaos, a trickster, who leads people astray in order to teach them meaningful and powerful lessons about the world, others, and themselves. His behavior leads one to ask the central question that unites good and bad behavior: "Do the ends justify the means?"



For more information on the tours, visit http://themester.indiana.edu/events/gallerytours.shtml.

Rebecca Kimberly
Themester 2012 intern

October 30, 2012

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Medicine and Morality

On November 14, David Lacks will speak at Whittenberger Auditorium. He is the son of Henrietta Lacks, the woman who was the origin of the HeLa cell. Rebecca Skoot's book  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks discusses the ethical issues surrounding the use of HeLa cells. Here, Professor Jill Robinson, who uses the book in her "Ethics in Science" class, discusses its relation to Themester.


How does The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks fit into this year’s theme of "Good Behavior, Bad Behavior: Molecules to Morality"?

Rebecca Skloot’s bestseller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the story of the woman and scientific discoveries behind the HeLa cell line which has become one of the most important medical research tools ever discovered.  Henrietta Lacks was a black woman treated at Johns Hopkins for cervical cancer whose cells, taken without her knowledge in 1951, went on to become the first immortal human cells ever grown in the laboratory. 

The book highlights many topics ranging from medical ethics to race to the commercialization of human tissue.  These are well suited to an in depth discussion of behavior and what can be classified as good or bad.  Medical research ethics is a main theme of the book and the behavior and actions of the scientists are described in terms of accepted practice at the time and compared to legal restrictions in existence today.  There are clear examples of bad behavior in the dark history of experimentation on African Americans such as the brutal experiments conducted at the Crownsville hospital for the Negro Insane where Henrietta’s daughter Elsie was a patient.  In contrast, many good outcomes have resulted from the harvesting of Henrietta’s cells.  The book addresses big issues such as bioethics, and the legal battles over “informed consent”, patient confidentiality, and individuals sharing in the profits of biotech products made from their own tissues.  Human behavior is also explored through an in-depth description of actions of those involved.  

What are some of the major ethical issues raised by the book, and what solutions are offered, if any?

The major ethical issues are related to medical experimentation on humans, treatment of patients based on race, and tissue rights.  Solutions are not directly offered, but the issues are raised in a way to initiate thoughtful consideration from both a moral and legal perspective.

Have you used this book in your courses before this semester? What issues are most of interest to students?

I have not used this book before.  Issues that are of greatest interest to students are related to patient rights, medical discoveries, and race and class issues.

David Lacks will be coming to campus to discuss the book and his experiences. How did the loss of Henrietta Lacks affect his life?

From reading the book, it is evident that the family is very proud of their mother’s contribution to science.  At various points family members were very angry as they were not told their mother’s cells were alive and then researchers took samples from her children without consent.  They did not understand the science behind an immortalized cell line and could not believe that companies were making millions of dollars while they did not have enough money for basic health care.  In the end, it is clear that they simply would have liked to know their mother as a person and have her in their lives.  I hope to learn more through the interview.


For more information on this event, visit 
For more information on the book, visit http://rebeccaskloot.com/the-immortal-life/.

Rebecca Kimberly
Themester 2012 intern

October 25, 2012

Sylvia Plath Symposium: Q&A with Kathleen Connors

Kathleen Connors ,a visiting scholar to IU's Department of English, is a co-director for the 2012 Sylvia Plath Symposium, which will be held October 24-27. The symposium features a dozen major Plath scholars, twenty eminent poets and artists, and over 40 panelists from ten countries. Here, Ms. Connors discusses Sylvia Plath in the context of "Good Behavior, Bad Behavior."

1. How does the topic of Sylvia Plath fit into Themester's theme of "Good Behavior, Bad Behavior"?

A number of lectures, films and the IU Art Museum and Lilly Library exhibits address controversial issues around Plath's famous Ariel poems the Symposium commemorates: the use of the Holocaust, war imagery and torture in art versus pacifism; Plath's self-personas presented in letters and journals that are "contrived/phony" versus "honest"; marital fidelity and traditional family values versus infidelity and selfishness; women’s education and oppression in mid-20th century culture versus female inclusion and empowerment; and Plath as an inspirational role model versus the poster child of madness and "dangerous influence."

2. What can students learn from the study of Sylvia Plath?

While often viewed in light of her illness and suicide, Sylvia Plath was an excellent student with a wide range of interests that she pursued in the face of hardships, obstacles and personal problems. Her life story and work demonstrate what can be achieved by hard work and employment of intellectual curiosity. Plath's prolific literary works address a wide range of cultural, personal and intellectual issues that are still relevant in the 21st century, ranging from analysis of gender in society, Cold War Culture and politics, the role of the artist and intellectual as cultural critic and teacher, female sexual and professional roles and identity in patriarchal society, and the role of self-examination and exploration of the psyche in self-understanding.

For more information about this event, visit http://sylviaplathsymposium2012.indiana.edu/. 

Rebecca Kimberly
Themester 2012 intern

Richard III: Too Bad to Be True


Gavin Cameron-Webb’s production of Richard III uses both the text and the stage in transformative ways.

A scene from Richard III at the Wells Metz Theatre
This Shakespearean production has reversed the Wells-Metz theatre and uses all three of its levels.

This production also challenges the historical accuracy of the text. It will show that Richard III was actually a great king who is grossly misrepresented in this play. Themes of slander and propaganda will be explored just in time for campaign season. Periodically the truth of what actually happened is revealed to the audience through a luminous screen above the three levels of stage. Cameron-Webb said that this device serves as the “theatrical equivalent of factcheck.org.” 

In allowing the truth to be displayed, this production not only exhibits the indisputably bad behavior of Richard III, the fictional king, but also discloses the bad behavior of those who slandered Richard III, the actual king. Shakespeare likely wrote the play so as not to fall from the favor of Queen Elizabeth, who occupied the throne at the time. This is an interesting example of morally questionable behavior.

As captured in Shakespeare’s text, Richard III is the most monstrous, most dastard of all villains. “He epitomizes bad behavior,” said Cameron-Webb. When asked what qualities potentially redeem this outrageous character, the director could only suggest “his charm, his presence, his ambition.” Richard III, played in this production by M.F.A. acting student, Aaron Kirkpatrick, is an excellent orator, who both enthralls and appalls his audience.

It may be alarming to the audience just how devilishly charming this murderous villain is. “Villains are usually the most entertaining,” said Cameron-Webb. “We certainly enjoy watching [Richard] be so bad.” It speaks to an interesting inclination: to be so fascinated by the magnetism of a character that is unquestionably bad and leaves no room for moral growth. “He is so out and out evil,” said Cameron-Webb. “He’s not a morally complex or tortured character. Unlike Mister from the Scottish play, [Richard] is bad, and he knows it.”

Although it is important to expose how mysteriously drawn we are to “bad” characters, Cameron-Webb feels that the most important thing to teach the audience is “how susceptible we are to propaganda.” We must challenge ourselves to discredit things that are “too bad to be true.”

Production Dates: 
October 19, 20, 23-26 @ 7:30 p.m.
October 27 @ 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.



Amber Hendricks
Themester 2012 intern

October 22, 2012

Human Trafficking Film Series and Panel Discussion Q&A

A scene from Anjos do Sol
Stepanka Korytova (Magstadt), Ph.D., from the International Studies Program & Center for the Study of Global Change, discusses the films chosen and the selected topic of discussion for the human trafficking series.

1.    What inspired you to put together this series?

I think that I am able to reach more people through art than through a lecture. I hope anyway...


2.    How did you choose these particular films, Lilya 4 Ever and Anjos do Soul?

Professor Hashmanova, who will be one of the panelists on October 25 "HT in/and Media," has done a great analysis at a conference I went to at Ohio State University. She will be talking about that on the panel, so I wanted the audience to see the whole film. The other one I saw when I was in Brazil this summer, and I had thought that there was not enough coverage of trafficking in South America. Also, it shows how a soul of a person who is a survivor of trafficking is killed by the experience without being murdered physically.
  3.    How did you choose the panelists?
 
Well, I have answered my choice of Professor Hashmanova's selection. I met an undercover detective about 6 months ago, invited him to one of my classes, and I thought that he could address the issues of media's impact on trafficking, especially regarding the Super Bowl. The journalist from UK will add an international dimension to the program and will be able to talk about the (non) coverage of trafficking in human being in Europe.

4.    The panel is titled, “Human Trafficking and Media.” What role does media play in human trafficking?

Media plays a role of a double edge sword as it were - it focuses too much on Sex Trafficking - as it is a "sexy" topic, but it will not touch much of the other issues which are more controversial - labor trafficking as it conflicts with our policy on immigration, and it hardly ever touches on the issue of organ trafficking.

5.    What do you hope people take away from the program?

I am always interested in make people aware of the problem - a problem that exists also in the USA, in Indiana, and in Bloomington. Hopefully people will think about this more and make choices - looking at labels, educating others, and simply being aware.

The Human Trafficking Series takes place at IU Cinema and the IMU: 

Lilya 4 Ever: Tuesday, October 23, IU Cinema, 7:00 PM
"Human Trafficking and Media" Panel Discussion: Thursday, October 25, Maple Room IMU, 5:30 PM
Anjos do Soul (Angels of the Sun): Sunday, October 28, IU Cinema, 6:30 PM


Amber Hendricks
Themester 2012 intern

October 19, 2012

Richard III Q&A with Penelope Anderson

Photos from IU Theatre & Drama's Richard III
This semester, Professor Penelope Anderson teaches a Themester course called "Heroes and Villains in the Early Plays of Shakespeare." Her class studies the play Richard III, which will be performed by IU Theatre October 19-27. Here, she talks about the play and Richard as a character. 


1.  How is this play related to the theme of good and bad behavior?

The play Richard III covers a fairly appalling series of events, with so many murders that any attempt to summarize the plot turns into a funeral litany.  At the same time, it has its source in historical facts, albeit colorfully embroidered ones, including a highly compressed time scheme that contributes to a sense of giddy disorientation.  The factual basis makes it hard to dismiss out-of-hand; it demands that we do the difficult work of making sense of actions that seem outside the realm of normal human behavior.


2.  Does Richard III have any redeeming characteristics?

He is extraordinarily charismatic and eloquent; in fact, there are groups devoted to rescuing the historical reputation of King Richard III.  Those who want to redeem him often consider Shakespeare’s version a smear campaign, but Shakespeare’s Richard is lively and compelling:  you want to listen to him speak, and his schemes carry the audience along just as much as they do the characters onstage.  Interestingly, unlike many characters we would class as villains, he does not lack empathy – his ability to persuade by playing on other characters’ foibles shows us that he can think himself into their places – but he does present himself as having the worst of all possible lots in life.  Given his status, this has more than a bit of absurdity about it; it also limits his suasive force with those (like ordinary citizens, women, and children) who enjoy far lesser status.


 

3.  What's the most challenging aspect of teaching this play or any play in which the main character is a villain?

The challenge is less about understanding the central villain, especially when he is as compelling as Richard, than it is about making sense of the people around him who seem willfully obtuse or incapable of stopping him.  When a villain dominates a play, the audience finds a moral locus elsewhere, in another character or characters who seem closer to the audience’s own values.  It becomes enormously frustrating to watch our substitutes, who seem to be moral characters, refuse to see or fail to act.  The challenge of teaching such works lies both in honoring this impulse – because it is infuriating! – and getting beyond it, to a more productive conversation about the factors that limit our perceptions and choices.

4.  Your class this semester is called "Heroes and Villains in the Early Plays of Shakespeare." Which do you find more enjoyable to examine: the villains or the heroes?  What is the value in studying such a reprehensible character as Richard III?

My preference is always for a mix of the two:  I’m interested in the messy, flawed, complicated muddles to which we cannot find an immediate answer.  The most dangerous thing, I think, is when we feel ourselves to be unimplicated by what we read, when it seems either so virtuous or so evil that we consider it completely cut off from our ordinary experiences.  Good literature heightens events, of course:  it delineates moral character and ethical dilemmas with a sharper outline than we usually see.  But it still makes those quandaries recognizable to us, as versions of people we might know or choices we might face.  By sharpening our skills of perception and analysis on characters like Richard III, we become more aware of finer shades of meaning in all kinds of moral behaviors – even if Richard’s scheme to kill almost all his family to secure the throne is far away from our own concerns.

For more information on the performances of Richard III, visit http://www.indiana.edu/~thtr/productions/2012/richardiii.shtml

Rebecca Kimberly
Themester 2012 Intern




October 15, 2012

Sandra Chapman: Q&A with John Stanfield

Sandra Chapman, author of The Girl in the Yellow Scarf, will be speaking on October 17 at 6 p.m. about her book. Here, Professor John H. Stanfield II, who helped organize the discussion, talks about her upcoming visit.

1. What inspired you to bring Sandra Chapman to campus?

My arrival in Indiana [in 2002] coincided with the case and the hyper high-profile attention being paid to Martinsville in the media. I remember being struck by media reports that the Martinsville civic leadership was relieved that the alleged killer, turned in by his daughter, was not a local resident. Given my interest in restorative justice as healing methods in racially troubled communities, the case was somewhere in my mind when a local radio personality in Bloomington asked to interview me about race relations soon after the 2002 fall term began. While we were waiting for the show to begin, I asked the radio guy where he was from, and he said Martinsville and then as he turned red as a beet said "things are changing there, I can get you in touch with some of the community's civil rights leaders." He did just that, and I spent a year conducting behind-the-scenes focus group meetings with key Martinsville civic leaders about the history of their community and what could be done to develop a much more open community culture. I published one article on these group conversations.

2. What are some of the major moral issues that are raised by Chapman’s book?

How "bad things" parents do to their young children who they assume are not looking, hearing, or seeing can have a negative bearing on their lives as they grow up; the horrible struggle it often is to do the right thing, especially when it comes to the harmful behaviors of parents and other immediate family members; the moral responsibilities and dilemmas of therapists, investigation journalists, and law enforcement officials and systems, especially when it comes to a cold murder case involving a representative of a population usually ignored, marginalized, and even dehumanized; how solving this cold murder case provided space for Martinsville civic leadership reflection on what kind of community they wanted to be.

3. What was the impact of Shirley McQueen’s decision to bring her father to justice?

This is an interesting question since it depends on who you are referring to: impact on Shirley McQueen, impact on her father, impact on her family, impact on Martinsville, impact on media and law enforcement systems, impact on the journalist and on the law enforcement officials, the court judges, and the general public. Even though all of these different impacts are important to consider and to embrace, I think the major one of concern for this presentation is the impact on the public with the question of how can we create and sustain public times and spaces so we can in Indiana begin to have "conversations to do something about this" regarding this and other cold cases involving issues such as unresolved homicide and lynching cases, and sundown towns involving non-whites and other dehumanized populations (there is a long unresolved Indiana eugenetic history of at least one exterminated population in the late 19th century and early 20th century).

4. Why do you think the Carol Jenkins case came to national attention when McQueen came forward?

This case broke during a very interesting and critically important media trend in the United States in bringing attention to untold community and individual horrors African Americans have experienced not only during the 400 years era of slavery but during the post-Civil War Jim Crow years (1890s-1960s) which involved lynchings, pograms ( the burning out of African American neighborhoods such as Tulsa and Rosewood), race riots ( e.g. East St. Louis, Elaine, Watts), church bombings ( Birmingham), civil rights leader killings ( e.g. Medgar Evers), and attempts to bring closure in public realms to such tragic incidents through bringing victimizers to justice as we move from a Cold War to a Post-Cold War society and world--the former tolerating if not suppporting racial dehumanization as a matter of course and tradition where diversity and inclusion are at best viewed as forbidden acts and the latter becoming a time period in which diversity and inclusion are imperatives for being effective and successful upwardly mobile 21st century citizens in our globalized American society and world.

5. What do you hope for audience members to get from the discussion with the author?

Since the audience are mostly students, I would hope that they will come to realize that this is not an isolated case in the past which can now be tucked away and move on as if we do not have a moral responsibility as citizens to make sure that be it on campus, in our off campus communities, and in our future workplaces and families we need to stand up and be counted on the right side rather than to be indifferent or scared of the wrong side. It is a matter of learning how to live justice-oriented lives, since it is the only way where ever we lay our hat or live our lives, we have a moral obligation to others as well as to our own mental, physical, and spiritual well being to make sure everyone is treated right as a human being and when they are not, there is no money, job, or any thing else great enough to lead us to be silent while others suffer or have suffered.

For more information on this event, visit http://themester.indiana.edu/events/chapman.shtml.

Rebecca Kimberly
Themester 2012 Intern

October 11, 2012

Mean Girls: Q&A with Colin Johnson

Dr. Colin Johnson, an assistant professor of Gender Studies, is teaching a Themester course this semester called "Mean Girls: Feminism and Female Misbehavior." The film Mean Girls will be showing at the IU Cinema as a part of Themester on Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. Here, Professor Johnson talks about the film and some of the issues raised in it.


1. How do you use the film Mean Girls in your class?

The film screening is situated right in between a discussion of Rachel Simmons’ best-selling book, Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls (originally published in 2003, revised and updated in 2011) and historian Mary Beth Norton’s In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (2002), which seemed like an appropriate thing to be reading and discussing in the weeks just before Halloween.  
Mark Waters’ 2004 film provides an interesting bridge between these two texts in the sense that Simmons’ book explores precisely the sort of social dynamics that play out in the film, albeit with a much greater sense of seriousness and urgency.  At the same time, Mean Girls is also a story about how the actions of a few people can throw an entire community into a state of chaos and disorder, which is clearly part of what happened in Salem Village during the late seventeenth century.  That the film provides a little comic relief in between discussions of two books that provide remarkably little opportunity for laughter is an added benefit, particularly to the extent that will allow us to think a bit about comedy and satire as a mode of critique.
                                                                                                                                                                                         
2. Is the bad behavior in this film exaggerated or accurate?

To hear Rachel Simmons tell it, the film’s depiction of what is described by one character in the film as “girl on girl crime” may actually be significantly underplayed relative to what happens in the typical American high school.  Or, at the very least, most of what makes it into the film comes off seeming pretty goofy and absurd, whereas much of the cruelty that adolescent girls actually experience and mete out to one another seems terribly, terribly meaningful and real. 

That doesn’t mean that such cruelty always makes sense, however.  Indeed, one of the major differences between the variety of meanness depicted in the film and the variety of meanness that adolescent girls report experiencing is that the meanness in the film is clearly motivated by some kind of transparent logic—say, a desire to secure a position of dominance within a social hierarchy.  By contrast, many adolescent girls report that the meanness and cruelty they experience in the real world seems arbitrary, capricious and completely unmotivated by any discernible logic whatsoever—which is precisely what makes it so disabling to many young women and so difficult to address as a behavioral issue.


                                                                                                                                 
3. What is the role of feminism in this film?

Feminism actually isn’t very present in the film as an explicit theme or plot device.  In other words, feminism as such isn’t explicitly presented as a resource that characters in the film turn to in an effort to make sense of their experiences or their world.  But this is hardly surprising in a film that deals with the American high school experience.  After all, and as numerous feminist critics have noted, young women in the United States seem to have become very reluctant to identify as feminists, partly because many of them are under the mistaken impression that they live a world where sexism no longer exists.  

Plus, Mean Girls is a comedy, which means that the film sort of depends upon the absurdity of its characters, their motivations, and their approaches to resolving conflict.  In such a context, it’s not entirely clear where an explicitly feminist character would fit in as anything other than caricature or a joke.  So maybe it’s all for the best that the most discernibly feminist character in the film isn’t a high school student but one of the teachers, Ms. Norbury, played by actor and screenwriter Tina Fey.  This is not to say that the film is without what I would characterize as feminist investments, however.  In fact, Mean Girls goes out of its way to make visible and then mock some of the more disabling aspects of what Rosalind Wiseman refers to “girl world.”  For example, the film obviously critiques the excessive importance that adolescents and non-adolescents alike tend to attribute to physical appearance and brand-name things by depicting such obsessions as superficial, damaging, and sort of grotesque.  It is also addresses some of the alarmingly real ways in which young women have been known to undermine themselves in the service of “fitting in,” like actively minimizing their own intelligence and accomplishments in an effort to ingratiate themselves to young men.  

The film does have a tendency to depict meanness as something like a naturally occurring phenomenon among girls and women (just think of the lunchroom scene in which Cady imagines all the girls to be wild animals), and that is unfortunate since this age-old truism helps to obscure the fact that it is often men who benefit most as a group when women tear each other apart.  As such, men have historically had a real investment in leading women to believe that they are somehow obligated or destined to dislike one another, a point that Virginia Woolf makes very powerfully in A Room of One’s Own.  But again, I’m not sure how a film like Mean Girls could have incorporated this very serious feminist critique without coming across as too heavy-handed. 
   
4. Does mean-girl bad behavior disappear after high school?  How is the film relevant for college students?

It would be nice to think that such behavior disappears after high school, but I’m not sure that it always does.  Sometimes it merely changes form.  For example, there is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that women are much harder on other women in the workplace than they are on men.  Some of this is just garden variety sexism; remember, there’s no rule that says that women can’t be sexist toward other women in much the same that men sometimes are.  But from my perspective the more disturbing version of this might be double standards or forms of punishment meted out to women by senior female colleagues in the name of “toughening them up” so that they will able to survive in a sexist workplace and a sexist world.  While I understand the logic behind this kind of behavior, and while I’m certainly in no position to question the authenticity of the life experiences that often appear to give rise to it, I have to believe that there are better, more constructive ways to aid and support young women.  

As for the question of whether the film is relevant for college students, I would have to say that answer is decidedly “yes.”  Indeed, one of the things that I have most struck by in my discussions with students in the class is how little difference many of them report seeing between high school and college where social dynamics are concerned.  To be sure, colleges and universities are much larger ponds than most high schools.  And ultimately I know for a fact that women who attend college change a great deal during their time as undergraduates, usually in very empowering ways.  But there’s obviously also a lot of carryover from high school, particularly during students’ first year in college when many of them are struggling to find their place in a new social landscape.  

I also think the line between high school and college has gotten rather blurry over the past several decades as the cultural definition of “young adulthood” has expanded from being a few years during one’s late teens to period that is often described these days as ranging from age 13 to age 30.  Which isn’t to say that I think college students are necessarily less socially mature than they used to be, just more consistent.



Rebecca Kimberly
Themester 2012 Intern

October 5, 2012

Making Ethical Decisions During War Q&A


Osgood's interview with Toan in Vietnam, June 2010. Photo provided by Osgood.
Ron Osgood, a Professor from the Telecommunications Department, has invited Nguyen Duc Toan to speak about maintaining a moral code in the military. Here Osgood shares a little more about the speaker and how they met.

1. When did you first meet Nguyen Duc Toan? How did you learn his story?

In 2009 I began research for my current documentary project "The Vietnam War/American War: Stories from All Sides." Through a series of conversations with veterans I was introduced to an American Army veteran living in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Doug Reese knew Toan and helped me make contact for an interview. During a trip to Vietnam in June 2010, I traveled to the small village where Toan lives for the interview.

2. What inspired you to bring Nguyen Duc Toan to campus?

Toan and I have kept in contact via email and through translation by his daughter Hai. He has always expressed an interest in telling more of his story and his desire to travel to America. In January 2012, during another trip, I visited Toan, and we discussed how I might help him in coming to the states. Toan is a gentleman and someone who did the right thing while in battle.

3. Do you know why Toan saved Kientzler’s life instead of taking it? Could you comment on that?

I think I answered this above, but I'll add that Toan is an honorable person and did what he knew was morally right.

4. What are some of the ways military duty and moral duty conflict? Is it possible for them to overlap?

This is a tough question to answer in a few sentences and would make for a great question at the presentation. Toan is a good example of overlapping moral and military duty. The question I always ask is - if you saw an enemy pilot parachuting near you after he had been responsible for bombing or firing rockets at you, what would you do?

For more information about this event, refer to http://themester.indiana.edu/events/toan.shtml.



Amber Hendricks

Themester 2012 intern