Blogging God of Small Things …

Since we are all getting back into the groove, I thought I would re-articulate the blogging expectations during our reading of God of Small Things. I am imagining our unit spilling over a bit into next week, so the deadlines might bend a bit as the week progresses.

The blogging assignment is to complete at least TWO of your own blog posts and at least THREE substantial comments on other classmates’ posts. See “Blogging Responsibilities” for general guidance to the assignment. Since we reading God of Small Things this week, though, here are some specific recommendations:

  • Posts: At least one of your posts needs to reflect a close reading of God of Small Things (most likely, quoting — and citing page #’s — for multiple passages). The second blog post should probably be an evaluation and/or application of the theory of Orientialism (see the separate resources on Orientalism that will be part of a separate assignment this week) — but it could be another close reading of the novel, if you are inspired.
  • Comments: The main idea here is quality over quantity. I’d rather see ONE lengthy engagement with another classmates’ ideas than 3-4 quick comments that just affirm what is already being said, although quick affirmations are great too.
  • Extra Credit/Makeup: If you are inspired to add more than two posts and are extra-active in the comments, you will be rewarded. The week after Spring Break, besides the start of the 4th Quarter and the rest of the year, is also the time our administration has given us to shore up any incomplete 3rd Quarter assignments. So one of my first thought will be to find a way to go back and give at least partial points back on missed assignments.

Important: The blog is our space in which we will try to recreate a version of class discussion that both allows us to share our ideas, listen to the ideas of others, and advance all of our knowledge. We can certainly be passionate and have fun with it, but it should be approached with seriousness and a sense of community.

The Mask That We Call Comedy.

What more could Elle Woods want? Life has been nothing but easy for her, challenges are foreign to the young spunky blonde. The missing key to her perfect life is boyfriend Warner Huntington III, he just won’t propose. Woods lack of substance when it comes to her personality is the reason for this. In hopes of changing her mind she finds herself enrolled in one of the top ranked law schools, Harvard University. The experience helps her to defy the stereotype of a sorority-sister valley girl while staying true to herself although, does the film really capture the right message?

Director Robert Luketic builds off of the early 2000s stereotype of the “dumb blonde” as it fails to enhance reality to its fullest. It acts as a mask to underlying issues like gender inequality, sexual harassment and even abusive relationships. As main character Elle Woods defys the most typical form of this stereotype she doesn’t completely break through it. As much as her intelligence is presented it is also undermined just as often. For example, she won one of her court case by having intense knowledge of last year’s shoe trends, along with being an expert in post-perm hair care. Yes, she won the case but not in the traditional way which doesn’t really grasp the full effect.

Starting as early as the opening scenes gender rolls are put to use as seen in most current American films as we see arbitrary body shots of Woods. These shots also include stereotypical feminine actions such as brushing her hair, shaving her already perfect legs, engaging in Cosmopolitan, applying makeup, and (most alarming) getting catcalled by a bunch of men in a car, and smiling in their direction. What does this teach the younger generation? Elles intelligence is addressed throughout the film but that’s the only thing that separates her from the stereotype which is problematic. Not only this but unrealistic expectations makes this never ending cycle really hard to break since Woods social and economic status also played a major role in what she had to overcome.

Breaking down the comedy aspect of why women have become targets of such classification can be tied to various reasons. One perception is that humor is a tool used to facilitate work by lightening the mood, making difficult problems seem less extreme while also encouraging positive attitudes and healthy interactions. A second perception is that humor is disruptive — a distraction from the seriousness of work while demonstrating less commitment to work. Jokes including those about dumb blondes project the greater anxiety of men afraid of a threat to their social position. These fears are nothing new as losing masculine power could be traced all along the history of gender relations and numerous prejudices. Stereotypes of women include not only lower levels of achievement, but also the expectation of increased family responsibilities. Because it is so difficult to dedicate time to both work and family responsibilities, this has led to the perception that women are less dedicated to work causing society to view them in a humorous way.

In conclusion as much as we want to believe Woods represents that step in the right direction for image of women it really just masks it, like the rest of the world. Although its a step in the right direction there is still more that can be done to ensure and protect women so they are no longer the laughing stock of society.

GOST Helped Me Rediscover My Love of Writing

I used to love to write fiction. When I was little, writing scary stories or a silly poem could captivate me for hours. However, I learned to hate writing as soon as it became an assignment and teachers gave me a strict template to follow.

I found that the writing of The God of Small Things is different. Roy writes with no constraints on her sentence structure, her timeline, and the point of views she uses, and yet she is praised for her amazing writing. This boundless writing is exemplified in the passage below,

“Steelshrill police whistles pierced holes in the Noise Umbrella. Through the jagged umbrella holes Rahel could see pieces of red sky. And in the red sky, hot red kites wheeled, looking for rats. In their hooded yellow eyes there was a road and redflags marching. And a white shirt over a black boy with a birthmark. Marching (76). “

In this passage, two of the sentences are incomplete, two begin with “and”, and one is in passive voice. These structural issues would be something I would get points off for, that I would be deemed a sloppy writer for, but Roy is celebrated for it. It works.

The passage above also shows Roy’s tendency to over-describe, to ramble on sentences, adding extra clauses, to shove in extra details. I liked this style of writing, so I began to write my own story without bounds, just like Roy did. I experimented with perspective, detail, and incomplete sentences, and I found joy in doing so.

Thank you Roy for helping me make this quarantine a little less boring.

A Lesson in Harmony

As an educator, one of the questions I get asked most frequently is “How can I play this without people thinking I’m bad?” Today I’m going to show you how to fix simple music so that you may play it without being embarrassed of yourself.

Let’s start with the classic method book melody “Ode to Joy”

Gross. Hal Leonard needs to fire whoever wrote this garbage.

But don’t worry, we’re going to fix it. Here it is again with some spice

Wait actually,

That’s better. A good rule of thumb is that any time you can do something, you should do it.  Otherwise, how will people know that you can?

Now I know what everyone is probably thinking: “The common practice period is over, wake up and smell the jazz chords”, well you’re right. So was I actually. Just because triads were good enough for Bach doesn’t mean they’re good.  Duke Ellington said it best: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got those jazz chords.”

Oh yeah, also you have to end on the sharp eleven. Every time. Now we’re getting somewhere. But anyone can modulate to the subdominant. Big deal. Sure it sounds good, but if we’re going to impress people outside the nursing home gig, we need to do something a little more hip.

That’s more like it. However, it’s not art until we break the confines of functional western harmony. And it’s not intellectual until the harmony can’t fit on the page. Let’s try something a little more nonfunctional.

Ah yes. Now were getting somewhere. But in order to truly express ourselves with total harmonic freedom (the only aspect of music that matters) we simply need more notes. We need more clusters. We need more syncopation. We need a half-swung quintupletey drum track.

We have transcended. Now this is music. The general public will be so impressed they won’t even know what to say. But their silence speaks volumes. The less people enjoy it, the more sophisticated it is.

Another classic fixed. No need to thank me. Tune in next time to hear me improve our national anthem.

Ryan Michaud (PhD) has been educating the masses online for 45 years. A brilliant author, teacher, and scholar, he is a such an intellectual that he still has less than 1,000 listens on all of his music.

Orientalism and Asianness

If it’s not already abundantly clear from my name and appearance, I’m not actually Midwestern.

I’m actually … Southern!

Well, in name only anyways, I moved out of Arkansas when I still had all of my baby teeth, and I’ve lived in Oak Park ever since. But, this answer isn’t satisfactory right? To cut to the chase, I’m also Chinese, my parents were Chinese immigrants, and on the weekends (and if I’m lucky the weekdays too) we eat store-bought dumplings and pickled vegetables. However, I’ve always resisted being “Asian”.

After reading and watching about Said and Orientalism, the point I took home was the pervasiveness and strength of the Orient. While now, I doubt anyone regularly uses such antiquated terms, I feel like it’s undeniable that the idea persists even to this day. And, consequently, I believe we can most clearly see its effects in the nebulous concepts of Asia and Asianness.

Ah yes, Aisa, constituting ~60% of the world’s population and culturally distinct nations from Saudi Arabia to Kazakhstan, Taiwan, India and Myanmar.

I don’t like Asia, but that’s mostly because I feel like the term is ever specific enough to warrant its use. However, for most people, I don’t think that this Asia, the geographical Asia, is the Asia that people refer to. Just in daily dialogue, people would likely never talk about Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, etc. as though they were Asian nations but rather Middle Eastern. This example only serves to illustrate how Asia is rarely a useful descriptor for regular use. That being said, Asia still exists a continent and an idea that still exists, despite the fact that Asian nations hold little similarities besides their being colonized by Europeans (specifically mostly the English and French) and different than Europe.

As Said stated, the Orient and Occident are constructs created by Europe to, among many things, define themselves in contrast to the Other. I hope that I’m not taking too many liberties when I say that Asia is just the modern version of this construct. And following the doctrine of Orientalism, it still lives not as just a stereotype or myth but in academia. Although I’m sure there are other examples, the most poignant one to me is the race questions on the SAT. On the SAT, race (ethnicity is also used, but only to distinguish Latino, Spanish, or Hispanic origin) is separated into:

  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Asian (including Indian subcontinent and Philippines origin)*
  • Black or African American
  • White (including Middle Eastern origin)
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander

Although I can understand the desire to limit categorization to a meaningful few options, I still don’t feel like label of Asian is specific enough to hold any worth. They may also be using the Asian category also due to the similarity in test score range in order to give their scores some context for colleges (e.g. those in the Asian test category tend to test higher than those in another); however, the fact the Asian label is still being used illustrates the commonality of Asia and Asianness.

For all these observations, I feel like I should summarize why the label of Asia and Asianness matters.

For one, in daily life, Asia and Asian just doesn’t really work that well as labels. Although Europe and European are also labels, I don’t think I’m going too far when if I say that Europe is much more homogenous than Asia. I’m not trying to ignore the nuances between nations, it’s only that I find that regions like the Middle East and East Asia are just as distinct with each other as they are with Europe.

Second, Asian is too vague of label to be useful for people. No disrespect to you Mr. Heidkamp if you’re reading this, but when I heard that his “Asian-American” friends had faced discrimination due to the coronavirus, I couldn’t help but wonder if he meant Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, etc. His friends are most likely East-Asian, probably Chinese, considering the origin of the coronavirus, but I only understood that from context and the connotation that Asian has with East-Asian. But why should I rely on the connotation? Why not just say East-Asian?

Third, and probably most importantly, the Asia and Asian carry a lot of baggage with them. To say someone is Asian likely brings to mind the usual stereotypes: having immigrant tiger parents, focusing heavily on school (the STEM and medical fields specifically), and being an overachieving model-minority. I don’t think it’s wrong to say that all stereotypes hold a little bit of truth, in fact, I myself have immigrant parents, care probably too much about school (and STEM), and have relatively well-off parents. However, it should be obvious that stereotypes, even positive ones, are limiting. The Asian-American stereotype in particular is harmful because it, to some extent, takes hard-work for granted. I’m sure everyone’s heard at some point that all Asians are good at math. But what this phrase ignores is the passion and work that’s needed for such aptitude. This effect unfortunately leaks into academics and specifically college admissions.

Some supporters of the lawsuit

The lawsuit against Harvard, to put reductively, was focused on how Harvard consciously discriminated against Asian-Americans in their admissions process. Harvard won, but the case demonstrated an undeniable implicit bias against Asian-Americans who were generally given much worse personality scores.

There are many things to take away from the lawsuit, but the easiest one for me to talk about is how the model of the Asian-American not only over-generalizes a sizeable chunk of people, it adversely affects those unfortunate enough to be saddled with the Asian-American label. In turn, anyone stuck with the label is also isolated from other minorities who seem to benefit from such race-conscious decisions. Whether this distinction is a good thing or a bad thing is for debate; however it should be noted that while this lawsuit finished the admissions scandals came out, demonstrating a more serious issue of wealth and legacy in college admissions.

In short, from small annoyances to life-changing decisions, the baggage of Asia and Asian is simply unacceptable.

While I bring up all my issues with Asia and Asian, I only hope to demonstrate an issue that I felt Orientalism fit in perfectly. As such, any solution to the problem of Asia(n) should stem from Orientalist theory. The take-away from Orientalism is that Asia, as a label, stems too greatly from colonist-colonized and us-them to be an accurate, nuanced descriptor. So, I propose that instead of Asia and Asian, we should just use Eurasia and Eurasian! That way, continents make sense and the label is now complete in its uselessness. More seriously, we should strive to find new borders and terms that better convey the distinctive cultures and experiences of the people known now only as Asian. I think that Middle-East, East-Asian, and Indian-subcontinent work alright now, but really, I just hope that in the future there’s no need to make a distinction. I just dream of a world in which people are just a name, and if it’s helpful, and a first language.

Thanks for reading, and hope you’re doing well during this quarantine. 再见!