Quantcast

«

»

Jan 08 2014

War on Everything

We’ve just begun a temporary cease fire in the War on Christmas (have no fear, Bill O’Reilly will start firing salvos of hot air again next October), which was a ridiculous contrivance: atheists aren’t fighting against Christmas, we’re just here. We’ve also lately seen that the Republican party is becoming increasingly creationist — they’re signing up for a War on Evolution. What’s really going on, as Charles Blow explains, is that the fanatical right has found the war metaphor a useful tool for rallying idiots.

But I believe that something else is also at play here, something more cynical. I believe this is a natural result of a long-running ploy by Republican party leaders to play on the most base convictions of conservative voters in order to solidify their support. Convince people that they’re fighting a religious war for religious freedom, a war in which passion and devotion are one’s weapons against doubt and confusion, and you make loyal soldiers.

They need a War on Something to feel commitment, whether it’s a War on Terror or a War on White People or whatever. The important things are that 1) it has to be a war on an abstraction, so there isn’t actually any risk of sacrifice, 2) the promoters of this “war” hasten to reassure everyone that they are going to battle to pander to The People, and 3) The People are eager to reciprocate by affirming their support for the promoters. It’s a good game.

Now the latest: there is a War on Shakespeare, announced on the incredibly credible pages of the Wall Street Journal opinion section, where reason always goes to die.

Until 2011, students majoring in English at UCLA had to take one course in Chaucer, two in Shakespeare, and one in Milton —the cornerstones of English literature. Following a revolt of the junior faculty, however, during which it was announced that Shakespeare was part of the "Empire," UCLA junked these individual author requirements. It replaced them with a mandate that all English majors take a total of three courses in the following four areas: Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Disability and Sexuality Studies; Imperial, Transnational, and Postcolonial Studies; genre studies, interdisciplinary studies, and critical theory; or creative writing.

It’ll be interesting to see if this one gets any traction. The People would rather not read Shakespeare — only out-of-touch liberal elitist academics who attend the MLA do that — but I suspect that won’t matter. They don’t have any real commitment to Christianity, either, but nothing will rile ‘em up more than criticizing religion, so I can imagine them happily putting some old Elizabethan dude on a banner and waving it. It also has the virtue of being a totally imaginary war, just the way they like it.

For a good corrective, just read this article on what the UCLA English department actually did. They still teach Shakespeare — I imagine that there are many faculty who actually like Shakespeare.

Never mind that UCLA probably got rid of the three single-author course requirements because single-author courses are tough to teach, and can be murder to take (guess what? Not everybody likes Chaucer enough to spend 15 weeks on him, and that’s OK). Never mind that the UCLA English major still requires plenty of historical literature classes, including Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Milton. Never mind that students don’t actually have to take a gender or race studies course, as they’re two of several options for fulfilling the breadth requirement. Those are but irrelevant facts, but since said facts involve giving students a choice to take a course on Queer Literature since 1855 (Tennessee Williams? James Baldwin? Gertrude Stein? Oh no!), they surely herald the continuing descent into Gomorrah.

It might still play with the crowds, though. Gays and women and blacks replacing white English guy? As good an excuse for an apocalypse as any.

28 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    richardelguru

    Remember:
    “Þæs ofer eode, þisses sƿa mæg”

  2. 2
    thinkfree83

    The conservatives who are ready to wage this “War on Shakespeare” are probably the same ones who want to gut English departments and other humanities programs. If they want to know who the real enemy of Shakespeare is, they need to just look in the mirror.

  3. 3
    unbound

    And, apparently, using the phrase “WAR SUX” is an affront to children in Michigan. So, yeah, war on everything is good and should not be discouraged according to the wingnuts…

  4. 4
    colnago80

    I wonder how many of the clucks that will join this war have ever read anything by Shakespeare or Milton, or, the flying spaghetti monster save us, Chaucer?

  5. 5
    colnago80

    Speaking of Shakespeare, I wonder how many of the clucks that will join this war are Oxfordists, Baconists, or Marloweists?”

  6. 6
    raven

    Fundies don’t have holidays.

    They have Wars on Holidays. The next one up is the War on Easter. Followed by the War on Halloween.

    Most of the ammunition expended during the War on Easter is by fundies themselves. Easter is another one of those pagan holidays stolen by the xians, named after the Germanic goddess of fertility and sping.

    A lot of fundies are refusing to use the word Easter any more. They now call it Resurrection Sunday.

  7. 7
    Scr... Archivist

    Some of the Far Right will champion the Bard. After all, wasn’t it to him that God dictated the Bible?

  8. 8
    David Marjanović

    Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog

    Easter is another one of those pagan holidays stolen by the xians, named after the Germanic goddess of fertility and sping.

    (…who was largely made up in the 19th century, but never mind.)

    A lot of fundies are refusing to use the word Easter any more. They now call it Resurrection Sunday.

    …what, they still say “Sunday”? What next, “Wednesday”!?!

  9. 9
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    Chaucer,…Shakespeare, and… Milton —the cornerstones of English literature.

    [Citation sorely fucking needed]

    And why is English Literature a triangle?

  10. 10
    busterggi

    to Richardelguru – Spa fon?

  11. 11
    deebee

    Wait, first it says one course on Chaucer, then it says 15 weeks. Which is it? UCLA is on the quarter system, 10-week courses. So you would have had to take a 10 week course plus a five week… Chaucer language lab??

  12. 12
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    Chaucer Language Lab?

    Nooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. 13
    robro

    The “War on _____” theme goes back a ways. We’ve had a “War on Drugs” since Reagan days, and there was the “War on Poverty” during the Johnson years. Holy war has been a common way to mobilize populations for a long time, though mostly used for actual wars not these fake ones (unless you count the Children’s Crusade). Holy war is a theme of the Deuteronomists, so perhaps it’s not surprising that Christians fall for it so easily.

  14. 14
    cartomancer

    Shakespeare’s sexuality isn’t entirely clear either…

  15. 15
    Rey Fox

    What’s really going on, as Charles Blow explains, is that the fanatical right has found the war metaphor a useful tool for rallying idiots.

    In addition, it boils issues down to a nice us-vs-them dichotomy, and it also normalizes the state of war, which I’m sure our defense contractors and chickenhawk politicians are pleased as punch with.

    The change in curriculum sounds like a great idea to me. Much better to take a cross-cultural look at literature than spend weeks worshiping one anointed savior of the written word. Aren’t the humanities were all about exploring the diverse perspectives of humanity?

    The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity
    When Shakespeare lost out to ‘rubrics of gender, sexuality, race, and class’ at UCLA, something vital was harmed.

    Oh wait, I forgot. Women, minorities, and non-heterosexuals are not human.

  16. 16
    unclefrogy

    as some who works for a company that performs Shakespeare in the park in the summer I hope this helps to increase attendance and the contributions .
    Though who is inspired to come may be not so friendly to the unbelievers present.
    What a bunch of crap!
    uncle frogy

  17. 17
    Rey Fox

    And surely there are better saviors of the written word out there than Milton.

  18. 18
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    The People would rather not read Shakespeare — only out-of-touch liberal elitist academics who attend the MLA do that — but I suspect that won’t matter.

    You got it wrong, and they, too
    Some of the most interesting classes I took in literature were about postcolonial adaptations of Shakespeare with this amazing lady*
    Shakespeare isn’t what some long dead dude wrote, Shakespeare is what people are doing today. I think our classes covered Race, Gender, Ethnicity, Sexuality and Postcolonial Studies.

    *Don’t be fooled by the picture, she can be really intimidating :)

  19. 19
    zekehoskin

    Scr…Archivist #7 – wasn’t it to Shakespeare that God dictated the Bible?
    Of course not. It was most of the practicing British poets who were around when King James I found himself the head of a religion and decided that it might as well have a literate thingie for the ministers to quote.

  20. 20
    John Horstman

    Similarly to Giliell, the Shakespeare course I took when I was still considering an English major was basically an examination of a number of Shakespeare’s plays through postcolonial and gender theory lenses. The writing provides a really rich set of texts for examples and analysis, as many of Shakespeare’s plays deal with various gender, racial, and class norms of his time (many of which resonate with our contemporary norms), often critically or subversively. For example, we used ideas of performativity from Butler’s Gender Trouble to analyze Taming of the Shrew and discussed various staging possibilities to make the messages in the play variously feminist or anti-feminist. It’s totally possible for one to do both Shakespeare AND social-justice-oriented academia, though I’m not really opposed to doing away with requiring single-author courses (I’d be sad if we got rid of Shakespeare courses entirely, though, as I loved mine, and was very much looking forward to it even before taking it, having produced a fair number of Shakespeare plays by that point and having read more).

    Of course, theater itself is intrinsically subversive in the context of a cultural discourse that elevates essentialism – this is a big part of why theater has typically been a haven for queer people. Because everything in theater is a self-conscious performance/facade, the audience’s suspension of disbelief implicitly puts the lie to claims that things like class status, gender, race, etc. are essential characteristics instead of social constructs. If I can intentionally construct something like a class division on a stage, it’s at least possible we can collectively and unintentionally construct the same in the broader culture.

  21. 21
    Sili

    But the “War on Women” was offensive appropriation and disrespectful to the troops?

  22. 22
    carlie

    Right. Because if there’s one thing the Right really respects, it’s the humanities.
    *eyeroll*

  23. 23
    ChasCPeterson
    Chaucer,…Shakespeare, and… Milton —the cornerstones of English literature.

    [Citation sorely fucking needed]

    Pretty much any history of English literature would serve. What’s your problem with that statement? You fill in the rest of the foundation betwen the cornerstones and build up from there. Seem like good choices to me. If you insist on a rectangular building, throw in Spenser.

    Shakespeare isn’t what some long dead dude wrote, Shakespeare is what people are doing today.

    That’s weirdly emphatic. If what people are doing today ain’t based on what the long-dead dude wrote, then it ain’t Shakespeare. And his writing can be (and usually is) studied fruitfully with no reference at all to contemporary interpretations.

  24. 24
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    And his writing can be (and usually is) studied fruitfully with no reference at all to contemporary interpretations.

    Huh? That makes no sense.
    Whatever is studied today is necessarily a contemporary interpretation. And as the discourse goes, it references other contemporary work on Shakespeare.
    If you specifically mean “postcolonial interpretations” or “feminist interpretations” you’re right, but whenever some highschool teacher asks their students “what does that mean” it’s a contemporary interpretation through todays’ eyes.

  25. 25
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Also, your “usually is” is some pretty eurocentrist perspective dismissing some decades of work by postcolonial writers in anglophone world.

  26. 26
    ChasCPeterson

    whenever some highschool teacher asks their students “what does that mean” it’s a contemporary interpretation through todays’ eyes.

    sort of, I guess. Except that the teacher is probably really asking “what did he mean by that?”

    But of course who can deny that postcolonial intersectional heuristic exegesis deconstructing eurocentric precolonial textual hegemony is the only proper kind of scholarship?

  27. 27
    stripeycat

    But of course who can deny that postcolonial intersectional heuristic exegesis deconstructing eurocentric precolonial textual hegemony is the only proper kind of scholarship?

    Stop being an arse, Chas. It’s a fair point that you can only interpret literature (or history, which is more my area of interest) through your own experience and mind. Even if you’re playing the “what did he mean” card, you’re still understanding it through the lens of your own thoughts. If you think your interpretation is entirely free from bias, and exactly that of the original author, I have a bridge I can sell you.

  28. 28

Comments have been disabled.