Insights & Art

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The Collapse of Tradition

“IS THE GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES AN ANTI-WAR FILM?”

Animation produces emotional effects not by reproducing reality, but by heightening and simplifying it.
                                                                                          – Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert famously hailed Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka) as one of the greatest anti-war films ever created. Since its initial release this animated classic, directed by Isao Takahata, has been associated with the dangers of militarism and the dehumanising effects of war. As Takahata and author Akiyuki Nosaka were both victims of American firebombings, there are certainly elements of pacifism which underscore the duration of the film. However it seems the real battlefield is the Japanese home front, and it is these rules and expectations which Seita and Setsuko have to navigate. The war is arguably just a trigger to explore the self-inflicted cannibalisation of Japanese society and the disintegration of ie.

Throughout many interviews Takahata has maintained that the target audience was the younger generation of the 1980s, and this film was often used as an educational video within schooling institutions. Importantly, this was also the first generation that the horrors of WWII were just figments of the past and not actual lived experiences. The importance of this shift in the public consciousness and why Takahata so outwardly addresses the youth in the film will be explained further on.

The audience is abruptly thrown into a narrative where Japan is at war, neither the enemy or the cause of this conflict is discussed. It is as if Takahata is suggesting that such details are irrelevant compared to the fact this simply forces Japanese society to change and adapt to such circumstances. Takahata does not portray the Americans as the antagonist and the Japanese as helpless casualties of foreign aggression; as most traditional anti-war films would. Paradoxically it seems it is the Japanese who are both the oppressors and the victims. The ideals of uchi and soto are dismantled as the traditional markers of Japanese identity and tribalism are abandoned in the name of self-preservation.

This is immediately highlighted in the introduction of the film, the suffering of Seita and other orphans are contrasted to the rest of Japanese society. Their decrepit statute and stationary positions accentuate the fanatic (and interestingly directionless) movement of their fellow Japanese. As if an entire generation and their memory was discarded when Japan rose to the economic powerhouse it was in the 1980s.

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However, the most obvious scene of social criticism appears near the end of the film when three Japanese girls return to their wealthy home, excitedly exclaiming “It’s so good to be home… It hasn’t changed a bit.” Whilst initially it can be seen as an optimistic comment about the future of Japan, that fact it immediately follows after the passing of Setsuko paints these adolescents as callous and ignorant.

It is clear that from their western attire and their association with western technology (phonograph) that these girls are supposed to be the representations of the Japanese youth in 1980s; opulent and painfully oblivious. The proximity of the house to the caves that Seita and Setsuko lived in, is a metaphor that underneath the economic boom of the decade lie the painful memories of loss and defeat. It is not the Allied soldiers who are presented as indifferent to the suffering of the Japanese, but rather the Japanese themselves.

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In a very eye opening interview Takahata states that one of his original goals was to ‘depict the boy as a contemporary boy, rather than a boy in that time.’ It is with this new found knowledge that one must address the film and see Seita’s actions as not just as personal decisions but rather a mirroring of the ideals and values held by the Japanese youth of the 1980s.

In one of the opening scenes of the film, Seita carries Setsuko upon his back trying to find his way to the bomb shelter. However, during this journey, Seita pauses and the camera spends an usually long time lingering upon a bucket, ladder and pool; tools used to fight fires. Torn between giri and ninjo, Seita chooses to flee towards safely. Almost immediately afterwards, as if an act of divine retribution, the houses around him explode into an uncontrollable blaze of fire and the skies immediately darken. Symbolically, it would seem the reason why the city of Kobe fell to the fire was not because of the American bombings, but rather an embrace of kojinshugi over ie.

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Seita’s fire brigade uniform, iconic of Japan’s fashion during WWII serves not only to connect him towards the school attire of his modern day contemporaries, but also as a constant reminder of his failure to fill his obligation. Throughout the film as Seita becomes ever more removed from ie and the community, his uniform begins to disintegrate off his body. Yet in death, Seita’s uniform is restored, serving as an ominous warning that he (and the audience) will never be able to shake off their responsibilities to the nation, invoking some of the more fatalistic elements of Bushido.

Noting how consumerism has weakened the pillars of Japanese tradition, Takahata continues his criticism by stating ‘[Seita] doesn’t bear with hardships. When the aunt threatens him by saying “Let’s have our meals separately” he is relieved’… As a result, his life becomes harder. Such is the feelings held by today’s kids.’

The consequences of isolation is juxtaposed to the prior scene of surprising optimism as Seita rummages through his destroyed home and symbolically bathes in water spouting from a burst pipe. In a traditional anti-war film, this scene of returning to a destroyed community would have been a moment of intense emotional pain, yet Seita seems almost unreactive to the destroyed infrastructure. Seita and Setsuko may have lost their mother but they were still on good terms with their auntie, and thus the family unit survived: Japanese society was still adhering to its traditions, even after experiencing such causalities.

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The question must be asked, why Takahata was so intensely focused on having his film connect with the Japanese youth of the baburu keiki. The 1970s and 80s, falls into what sociologist Osawa Masachi terms as ‘kyoko no jidai’ or roughly translated as the ‘age of fiction’, a period marked by a public shift on tradition. Whilst the 1960s and 70s (or riso no jidai; ‘age of idealism) aimed to change society from within established perimeters. The period of Kyoko no jidai, fuelled by an explosion of capitalism combined with the radicalisation of leftist politics saw a desire to reimagine society completely, without adherence to past traditions. It is from within this context of cultural change from which Grave of the Fireflies emerges.

“… But [the youth’s] often nihilistic attitude combined with an aggressive materialism stand in distinctive contrast to their parent’s values.”
                                                                                         – Susan Napier

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(Nakanishi, 2003)

The post war years of 1979 to 1993 saw a steep rise in crime rates of juveniles, simultaneously followed by a dramatic increase in juvenile arrests. And it this troubled generation of Japanese delinquents which was the target audience of Grave of the Fireflies. The desire to rein the youth is expressed in Takahata’s comments; “Just like today’s junior high students, a 14-years old looks unemotional or grumpy.” Such comments leave very little room when it comes to addressing the objective of this film.

This is not to say that Grave of the Fireflies completely neglects to condemn war , but instead that its main focus is a close inspection on the Japanese character in times of trial. One of the most powerful scenes condemning militarism occurs after the fire bombings have ended and both Seita and Setsuko were able to escape (not with the rest of society at the shelters but rather to a sewer reminiscent of their eventual ‘ukiyo’). A hellish montage of soldiers and civilians dying is followed by a lone male feverishly screaming “Long Live the Emperor”. Situated amongst the backdrop of a burning building; his overly zealous rhetoric is the fan which fuels the self-immolation of Japanese society.

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However, in the scene above, one could just as easily interpreted it as an anti-war message or as a cautionary warning against Japanese society being swept up by the tides of far right politics. Tellingly, both Seita and Setsuko die after WWII concludes, during a period where Americans had ‘officially’ become an ally, and peace had technically been reinstated. One must question if Grave of the Fireflies is at its core an anti-war film, as it spends so much time addressing the consequences of social decisions and not exploring the horrors of international war.

This criticism of the Japanese youth is reflected in two highly emotional scenes where both Seita and Setsuko break the fourth wall and communicate directly to the audience. In the scene directly after Seita and Setsuko’s last encounter with the fireflies and the pleasant idylls of nature, Seita walks outside the cave to see Setsuko crouching in the dirt. Setsuko starts crying as she begins to bury the fireflies and in a highly emotional moment asks “Why do fireflies have to die so soon?” It is important to not only note her words but the manner in which this dialogue is conveyed. The linear narrative of the story is broken and the camera shifts to a point of view shot of Setsuko’s teary face; positioning the audience as the recipient of her question.

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Analysing the exact definition of what fireflies symbolise in this piece of work is rather difficult as they cover such a large myriad of ideas. But by immediately injecting flashbacks of Seita’s and Setsuko’s mother being thrown into a ditch, combined with the previous mention that ‘[a kamikaze plane] looks like a firefly.’ I believe that Setsuko’s question forces audience to confront why they have forgotten the memories of the fallen victims, relegating their sacrifices to pointless events along the spectrum of Japanese history. Did their suffering have any meaning and if not, then why not?

This is reinforced by the following scene, which is arguably one of the most manipulative within the entire film. A wave of intrusive Japanese children carelessly trespass on the caves that Seita and Setsuko lived in. After such a powerfully emotional scene just moments prior, the audience cannot but see their ignorance as anything but problematic. Regarding the previous example of the Japanese girls returning to their house, it is highly telling that Takahata constantly uses ignorant children as the symbol of those untouched by war.

Arguably the cause of Seita and Setsuko’s demise isn’t the war as apart from the opening scenes of the film, the audience is never again shown the graphic consequences of conflict. Likewise, Takahata portrays Japanese society as still intact after its surrender at the concluding moments of the film. In the scenes when Seita tries to buy charcoal for his sister’s funeral, there is an unusual amount of sunlight present and the farmer seems oddly optimistic, noticeably different to the feelings of the Seita and the audience. As someone who previously advised Seita to return to his auntie, this farmer stands as the ideological opposite to Seita, someone who did not abandon his station, even during turmoil. Life as a Japanese farmer and as a cog in the Japanese system continues, even in the face of defeat.

Likewise, Seita’s compliance in the selling of his mother’s kimonos is also used as a metaphor for the self-cannibalisation of Japan from within. In complete disregard for his mother’s memory and filial piety, Seita trades in a symbol of Japanese femininity and motherhood for instant gratification. The camera then pans to the ghost of Seita covering his ears and horrified by this ultimately pointless decision, as the children die anyway, and paradoxically due to a lack of parental care. This act is symbolic because it marks the start of the pair’s divorce from any forms of familial relationship, their relationship with their auntie rapidly decays afterwards: Seita’s pride and Setsuko’s willingness to follow her brother have made them orphans both literally and spiritually.

The final scene of this film however is arguably the most insightful look into the intentions of Takahata’s when directing this film. Having failed to receive proper Buddhist or Shinto burial rites, both Seita and Setsuko return as spirits, they’re marginalised on the outskirts of the city; disconnected to the wealth of the city. As Setsuko lays her head on her brother’s lap and the main theme begins to crescendo, Seita breaks the fourth wall and gives the audience an accusatory stare.

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Slowly the camera pans upwards, and the fireflies; symbols of the kamikaze pilots, Seita’s mother and other countless forgotten Japanese victims are drowned out by the overwhelming lights of Kobe. As audiences, it is not hard to see this futuristic city as the stark contrast to the poverty and suffering of those caught in WWII. Once again the question is asked whether or not the stories of the older generation have been forgotten, and if so then why? Nosaka’s words captures this sense of tension and discomfort with the rapidly changing Japan; “… High-rise buildings and super-highways were once just futuristic dreams… [I] cannot help but see them amidst sunlit ruins,” echoing a real fear that Japan will forget its past.

Perhaps the most conclusive proof regarding the stance of Grave of the Fireflies is found in Takahata’s continued insistence that “[The film] is not at all an anti-war anime and contains no such message.” Whilst Takahata and Nosaka’s played large roles in shaping what this film eventually became, it is fair that audiences should have the right to interpret this film however they wish. Nor does this essay wish to diminish Roger Ebert’s remarks that this film “involves war, the results of war and two victims of war.”

However, to insist that the film Grave of the Fireflies was created with a strict anti-war theme at its heart is rather dubious. I see this film as an attempt to bridge the generational gap between those who experienced and those untouched by Japan’s darkest days. Grave of the Fireflies doesn’t so much push an anti-war message but rather one cautioning against the abandonment of communal values. The fact that this story starts and ends with the death of the protagonist suggest that bloodshed, like the defeat of Japan in 1945, is unchangeable. Yet it is how a culture remembers their past which demonstrates what direction they will take in the future.

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A Feminist Interpretation of Islam

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As western nations become more multicultural, there has been a growing debate of how the west should juggle its existing values with the ideals held by Muslims, particularly ones coming from the Middle East and Africa. The Caged Virgin: A Muslim Woman’s Cry for Reason by Ayaan Hirsi Ali fiercely criticises Islam for its inability and unwillingness to adapt to modern (western) values, but also for its treatment and attitudes towards their women.

Ali who labels herself a feminist and an advocate for the freedom of speech, portrays Islam as an ideology which is unwilling and unable to change to its attachment towards its scriptures and the figure of Mohammad. In the chapter The Virgin’s Cage, Ali argues that the Qur’an’s insistence upon women and their sexual purity is a pillar of the systemic oppression which has prevented the sexual liberation of Muslim women. Ali draws a connection between quotes in the Qur’an like “Those who guard their private parts… will inherit al-Firdaus.” (23:5-11) and practices such as marrying off a (female) rape victim to her rapist in order to maintain the family’s honour by insisting she lost her virginity with her husband (p. 20). Interestingly, the book fails to mention how many passages regarding virginity are directed at both sexes, and what she seems to be criticising is merely the patriarchal values in nations which also has embraced Islam. For Ali, it seems Islam as a faith is not only responsible for its dogma but how different societies attempt to implement it; the two aspects of faith and culture are indistinguishable.

This obsession with virginity and purity has, in Ali’s view, created a polarising culture of shame and one of honour. Ali comments about practices such as Muslim women spreading rumours about their peers to taint their name due to the stigma of premarital sex (p. 20). Quotes in the Qur’an like “… that [women] should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments.” (24:30-1), inherently portrays female sexuality as something dangerous and alluring, whilst never fully criticising men for displaying their beauty and body to the same extent. Ali considers this desire to curtail female beauty not only as sexist but contributing to a culture where women are the recipient of all blame and sexual responsibility, whilst Muslim men are rarely taught that they are also responsible for their actions (p. 21). Ali further argues that this lack of understanding between the sexes combined with the oppression of female sexual agency in everyday life is responsible for the over representation of “Muslim men in prisons and Muslim women in shelters” (p. 18).

Furthermore Ali believes this focus upon female virginity is an accomplice in the cycle of entrenched poverty and instability which traps many Muslim families. The groom must penetrate the hymen of his wife to consummate the marriage, producing bloodied bed sheets for all to see. Ali adopts a feminist point of view on this act, seeing the importance of this ritual as a possible justification for rape. She writes “a Muslim marriage begins … [with] an act of force. It is in this atmosphere of mistrust that the next generation of children is born and brought up” (p. 24). Whilst I believe Ali to be justified in her reaction to this practice, I do find it unfair that she associates this tradition only with Islam as there are many Pacific-Islander cultures with similar rituals.

Since Islam has not undergone anything resembling the western Enlightenment period, many Muslim communities have not been able to fully separate law and Islam; also known as Sharia. Ali constantly warns that it is crucial that the Islamic world produces a thinker like Voltaire in order to challenge the repressive system of thoughts which places religion and tradition over human rights and science. In the chapter A Need for Self Reflection Within Islam, Ali discusses the cultural pedestal that Mohammad and the Qur’an is placed upon in a lot of Muslim communities. This prevents even the most liberal Muslims from reforming the doctrines into something more moderate and reflective of 21st century western beliefs. Ali believes the inability for these communities to distinguish between the Qur’an and law is the many reason why gender inequality is so ingrained within the Islamic communities and why the Islamic world lags behind in not just human rights, but economically and creatively (p. 152).

In the same chapter, Ali writes that “… Critical appreciation will have to come from within [Islam]” (p. 153). However, for Ali, there seems to be an expectation of the west to paternalistically lead the Muslim communities towards modernity. The Caged Virgin states many times that it is under the banner of misguided multiculturalism that the west refuses to challenge practices like female genital mutilation found in Muslim households. Ali berates these western liberals who supposedly champion ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘equality’ as selfish and obsessed with their image. By removing the incentive for Muslims to assimilate and by allowing Muslims to import their culture unchecked (for the sake of diversity), these liberals have commended the most vulnerable; the Muslim women, to a life under the patriarchy (pg 40-41).

Ali advocates for the adoption of affirmative/ preventative action when it comes to her fight against Islamic practices, especially female genital mutilation. Insisting that families migrating from ‘high risk’ areas, where this practice is still common, should have their daughters checked annually for signs of mutilation (p. 122). This position clearly puts Ali as a defender of the female body against unwarranted harm and her stance against female mutilation is understandable. Whilst I believe Ali has the best intentions and I think that such a policy can help (thankfully) reduce the continuation of these practices in the west, it unfortunately presents the entire Islamic global community as barbaric. By associating this issue with Islam, Ali also unfairly criticises many nations like Indonesia and Iran, where this practice is generally unheard of.

A running motif through her book is that Islam needs to mirror how the western nations treat Christianity; something of personal devotion which does not extend into secular and public life. For Ali, it seems that Islam needs to be almost entirely rewritten and reinterpreted for it to move away from its current manifestation; one which empowers the male and alienates the female. This idea that Islam is unsalvageable appears to even permeate her language, where she seems to use the word the word ‘Muslim’ to describe someone from a certain cultural heritage instead of someone who is an adherent to Islam.

This is stated most strikingly in the quote “[An] analysis of Islam and many Islamic dogmas… Would give Muslims a chance to end individual oppression and… [for] men, women and homosexuals [to be] treated as equals” (Ali, p. 135). In the eyes of Ali, she sees a direct connection between the teachings of the faith and the physical consequences within the Islamic world. The Caged Virgin presents Islam as the root of most, if not all of the issues of the Muslim community; since the Qur’an is held as the highest pinnacle of knowledge. This unchallenged respect for the text has stifled the ability for Muslims to be self-critical about their society, Ali cities the obstacles she has faced as evidence of this.

The biggest strength about Ali’s book; The Caged Virgin is also its biggest flaw paradoxically. Ali’s book paints a very simplistic picture concerning the entire Muslim population. However her unwillingness to differentiate between Muslim societies such as Indonesia and Saudi Arabia does hurt the validity of her points as it seems a majority of her issues concern patriarchal values found within Africa and the Middle East. However, at the same time, by not distinguishing between Muslims, she boldly demands that all Muslims critically analyse the human rights issues which seem to more frequently appear within their communities.

Continuing this criticism, one instance where I believed Ali failed to accurately distinguish between Islam and culture, is when she talks about marriage in the chapter What Went Wrong? Ali describes the expectations of Muslim women to only marry within the ‘clan’, reflective of their insular upbringing (p. 50). However, the Qur’an is quite liberal on divorce and explicitly describes marriage as a willing contract between two willing participants, whilst actually giving women some economic and social benefits. In sura 65, the Qur’an states that “when you [Muslims] divorce women, … Do not turn them out of their [husbands’] houses.” Thus what Ali is describing seems to be more reflective of the bastardisation of Islamic beliefs rather than something sexist stemming from the Qur’an.

Saliem Fakir (2007, p. 333) in a rebuttal to Ali’s book argues that Ali’s inability to distinguish between “archaic patriarchal traditions… and Islam… is the biggest weakness in her thesis.” Ann Snitow (2006) further criticises Ali’s broad generalisations by stating that Ali is “so worried about imposing sameness on ‘the other’ that she misses cross cultural similarities” (p. 107).

Whilst I do agree that Ali does unfairly question the entire Muslim population with her words, I do think Fakir is also over simplistic in his assertion that the holy texts have no relationship to some of the sexist practices in Muslim communities. Quotes in the Hadith such as “I looked into Hell and found that the majority of its dwellers were women.” can be powerful justifications of certain beliefs. Ultimately, this is what Ali is fighting against, the manipulation of Islam to justify the ingrained prejudices within patriarchal societies. I believe The Caged Virgin was a legitimately an honest attempt to combat the issues women face in some Islamic nations and it does call out many appalling practices. But with its simplistic depictions, it begs the question how thin the line is between critical analyse and Islamophobia within The Caged Virgin.

The Thinglyness of Thingly Things

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What do you make of Heidegger’s way of reading artworks, equipment and things in relationship with each other in “The Origin of the Work of Art”? 

Martin Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art attempts to explore the metaphysical aspect behind ‘things’ and their ‘thinglyness’. In particular, his essays focus upon the difference between ‘equipment’ and ‘art’, the uses of these differences and the consequences. By exploring the thinglyness within both equipment and art, Heidegger touches upon many important and reoccurring concepts such as Aletheia, existentiality and the rift between ‘Earth’ and ‘World’. Heidegger wishes for us to move away from the traditional western view of the subject/object dynamic, with the object having agency and the subject purely being a recipient of that will. Instead Heidegger argues for the being of all things, and all human experience involves the ‘sacrifice’ of the subject which willingly gives itself up to the object/human in order to create a new reality. Thus Heidegger’s views on things, equipment and art attempt to move away from these ingrained notions into his realm of metaphysics.

It is important to look past the physical material or earthliness of art or equipment and to understand what Heidegger perceived to be the core thinglyness of all things. Heidegger says one of the most difficult tasks is to simply “let beings be” and “let things be things”, because humans have constructed the world and their language in such a way that a book is not just a ‘thing’ instead there are many different associations and connotations which cloud the thinglyness from the view of humans. A book fosters up images of pages, font and book covers, yet it can fail to highlight the true thinglyness of a book; an instrument to communicate from the author to the reader; a physical instrument which if read can ‘melt’ away the physical world and teleport the author into the pages (Groden, Kreiswirth & Szeman). I think this speaks to the core of Heidegger’s philosophy which resonated around the core of simplicity and how these distractions chip away from the fundamental desires and goals of being. These distractions serve to cover up what is ‘nearest’ in our lives such as death, love and art whilst emphasising what is most ‘remote’, superficial relationships and attempting to foster social acknowledgement. These veilings of what is closest to the human ‘Being’ will lead us astray and cause humans to focus upon matters which are not important instead of striving for Aletheia or the desire to be great.

For equipment, Heidegger saw it as formed matter, something derived of the earth which was shaped by an external agency. Aristotle’s analogy of the wax stamp is another way to understand Heidegger’s thoughts on the creation of equipment: The wax stamp is comprised of two different ‘parties’ the wax and the stamp which shaped it; yet when understanding the wax stamp, it is impossible to fully separate the ‘form’ and the ‘matter’; the object and the subject. The most important aspect of equipment is the purpose which lies behind it; it is this linear objective which separates equipment from the realm of art. Understanding something holistically is a reoccurring theme within Heidegger and a key reason why he believes that science can never simply reach any truth within the realm of human understanding. The separation and the over-analysis of something conceals its thinglyness in pursuit of ‘more accurate information’. For Heidegger whose philosophy has elements of Romantic thought, understanding light as wave lengths completely destroys the other real effects and associations with light such as warmth, safety and the divine. Heidegger’s quote “the thingness of the thing remains concealed, forgotten. The nature of the thing never comes to light, that is, it never gets a hearing” reflects his belief that science simply rewords what is already ‘known’ and does not impart new knowledge. As a romantic and an admirer of eastern philosophy which moves away from the intense desire to categorise and rationalise within western philosophy, I appreciate Heidegger’s attempts to create a philosophy which is much more interconnected with the physical human experience. I often find myself asking whether western philosophy is motivated for the sake of information or if it is truly trying to uncover a ‘Truth’ to better human society.

Equipment’s main objective is to try to unlock what Heidegger calls the existentiality within things in order to create works of art. Existentiality refers to the glimpsing and unlocking of one’s potential and moving from the ‘actuality’ to the ‘possible’. Whilst this Heideggerian concept is often used to label people who never challenge the status-quo and simply ‘exist’, without deeper considerations for the philosophy of life. In many ways the unlocking of nature’s beauty from a ‘thing’ to a work of art also falls in line with this concept or ascending into something greater. The beauty behind an axe is found in its ability to shape the natural environment in order to create art, whilst art’s beauty shines its radiance or ability to transport an individual into another ‘World’. One may notice how this Heideggerian belief on equipment and its uses mirrors natural law, which rewarded the unlocking and shaping of the natural world in order to forward civilisation.

This stance upon equipment and purpose is noticeably different to how Heidegger perceives art; Heidegger is especially strong in his love and respect for art and its ability to unconceal the ‘Truth’. Whilst equipment prides itself on being ‘non-distracting’ and being formed in a way where the matter or its ‘earthly thinglyness’ doesn’t get noticed or get in the way of an objective: Art is the total opposite as the artist attempts to bring attention to every choice and decision made in the crafting of the artwork; whether this is a musical note, a paint stroke or the chiselling of a statute. In this sense, the art is the real catalyst and creative origin whilst the artist and the equipment are simply the conduits to Aletheia; “like a passage which destroys itself in the progress”.

In order to understand great works of art, it is necessary to decipher two Heideggerian terms; ‘World’ and ‘Earth’, which in true Heidggerian fashion sounds like synonyms yet represents something completely different. The ‘World’ is a fictional reality which one is transported to when they are engaging with high art, for an example, entering an ancient temple may sever one’s connection to the outside physical as they are moved to another realm where the gods dwell. The ‘Earth’ however is the physical ground upon which this temple or piece of art is built, yet the unlike the ‘World’ is in a constant sense of unveiling, the ‘Earth’ attempts to conceal itself, never fully letting a human comprehend it completely. For a painting or a vase, the ‘Earth’ comprises of the physicality of the thing, from the brushstrokes to the grainy texture and colours respectively. Yet the concealing of high art is why certain films, paintings and poems compromise of many meanings and that it may take many viewings before one can come to an understanding; and even then it may not be complete.

By immersing the audience in the greatness of their craft, an artist creates a rift between World and Earth, and the tension is which allows audience to glance at the ‘Truth’. It is important to note that equipment doesn’t have this worldly element to it, nor does it inspire great feelings since equipment is simply there to make achieving an objective easier. However, equipment and art share a mutual relationship, since art can only be formed with the assistance of equipment and equipment only has value in creating. Interesting, artworks are much more depended upon the ‘World’ which surrounds the thing; thus is an ancient statute is removed from their native ‘World’ which they naturally inhabit, their ability to bring viewers into their ‘World’ is severely reduced. Once again, equipment does not have this aspect to its thinglyness, instead, equipment remains linear regardless of the situation and is only not ‘useful’ if it is outclassed by other equipment.

I find Heidegger’s metaphysics fascinating because there is such a cyclical element to it and I see the joining of artworks and equipment to be in a sense a hermeneutic circle where one can only understood by exploring the other concepts in a circular notion. Continuing this metaphor of the hermeneutic circle, Heidegger also sees ‘Truth’ through a similar lens, ‘Truth’ or Aletheia is circular. By unconcealing certain information, another element gets shrouded in darkness and thus Heidegger entertains a relativisitic conception of Truth which is subject to a person’s context, instead of something which is self-evident and unchallengeable. Heidegger perceives great art as one of the few ways to uncover the Truth, and this is only possible when the audience or viewer concentrates deeply without outside distraction. Heidegger’s analysis of the Van Gogh’s painting A Pair of Shoes paints a vivid picture of the thinglyness of the shoes, “From the dark opening of the worn insides of the shoes the toilsome tread of the worker stares forth.” It is important to distinguish that Heidegger insists art is a window to Truth and not to what is ‘true’. Using Van Gogh’s shoes for an example, the painting’s objective is not to accurately depict the physical aesthetics of a peasant shoe, instead the brush strokes, colour and lighting all create a picture of suffering and scarcity which is the thinglyness of the shoes; the true soul of the object. Interesting that whilst Heidegger argues that equipment (shoes) will never be able to create the tension between the World and Earth which is necessary to inspire and communicate the Truth: Heidegger picks an artwork depicting a pair of shoes (equipment) to highlight the power of art to create Aletheia, ironically highlighting only through a work of art can a pair of worn out shoes transcend their physical equipment uses and create a World for the audience to merge into.

At the core of Martin Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art is his attempt to distinguish and identify the differences in the thinglyness of things. For Heidegger, acknowledging the physical differences between artworks and equipment was not enough; only through understanding the differences in objective and purpose did one understand equipment and artwork. Heidegger’s admiration of high art and its transformative power is evident through his essay; whilst equipment is not placed upon such a privileged status, it is still essential in the creation of art. Art’s ability to open a World is essential in Aletheia; the uncovering of Truth. In many cases, it is through this unveiling of Truth that humans are able to see the irony between ‘remoteness and nearness’ and how many beings attempt to escape from ‘confronting’ topics like death, life and purpose. For Heidegger, very few things are more important than art which has the ability to peel back this façade of social normativity which humans have imposed upon their surroundings. As stated above, art can only be created through equipment and it is equipment; the unsung heroes, which are responsible for creating the environment or situation for the art to come forth from. Equipment rarely draws attention to itself and unlike art, the less noticeable it is, the more effective it is at being equipment. This hermeneutic circle stands at the core of Heidegger’s metaphysical analysis of the thinglyness of both parties; connecting artworks and equipment in a never ending dance, as never ending partners.

Lost in Translation – Review & Analysis

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“I don’t want to leave.”
“So don’t. Stay here with me. We’ll start a jazz band.”

The title Lost in Translation captures more than just Bob Harris’ (Bill Murray) and Charlotte’s (Scarlett Johansson) confusion in an alien land with dizzying lights and lethargic frenzy. It alludes to what people have always wanted, simply, someone to understand and to be understood in return. Bob and Charlotte are two lost souls who find themselves wandering aimlessly around this neon playground, both entranced and uncomfortable with a country that seems incapable of rest; indifferent to the stragglers.

Bob is apathetic. As a declining movie star, he is in Japan selling whiskey to an audience he is completely disinterested in. He spends his time at the hotel bar, craving genuine human contact but too weary to start the conversation. Charlotte is young and intelligent but finds herself locked in a relationship which is already starting to disintegrate; she too, seems to be trapped in a web of pessimism. Yet their chemistry is immediate, their affection for each other is displayed through a string of subtle body language, the odd glance, the brush of the cheek, and the tenderness of their voices. Lost in Translation is a smart film because it uses nuance to communicate its ideas, the cliché of star-crossed lovers would be too easy, too obvious and Sofia Coppola is much too intelligent for that.

Most of Bob’s relationships have broken down; his wife calls him frequently to discuss everything but their relationship. She tries to put their children on the phone, yet they always seem to run away. After a string of biting sarcasm from both parties, she asks Bob if she “Needs to worry about him,” Bob responds with “Only if you want to…” and seconds later she hangs, stating that she has ‘urgent matters’ to attend to. Bob could be the life of the party, he could be cracking jokes but he is too jaded to entertain someone without getting something in return. At this point, he’s damaged goods and the years of wear have chipped away at his charismatic instincts.

Similarly, Charlotte tries to communicate with her husband but he seems too preoccupied in mingling with B-grade celebrities. He insists that she won’t enjoy coming along with him to his work and naively believes that a faxed sheet of paper with a hand-drawn heart can remedy their fracturing marriage. Later that night, Charlotte longingly flips through Polaroid photos of the pair in their younger days.

Both Bob and Charlotte are ‘lost in translation’. Somewhere in the past, both of them held their tongue, their partners reciprocated and their feelings got lost in a sea of comforting neglect. And it is these feelings of isolation that unite the two. Bob sees a beautiful, witty girl, who, like him, seems to have lost her way in life and Charlotte sees an older man who actually tries to understand how lonely she is. The most insightful moments are when the pair lie together and speak about cosmic themes in vague details, the absolutes don’t matter, only that they are next to each other; together. Charlotte asks about the difficulty of marriage and Bob attempts to pass all that he has learnt onto his younger student. The pair never have sex but they do something a lot more risky; they allow themselves to develop feelings for each other.

When we are spying upon their drunken adventures, there is a real sense of energy and enthusiasm. The night is forever young and each bend in the road offers the chance of another unforgettable experience. When the two are separate, the passion evaporates, a grey filter sets in and we divert our eyes, confused at why they are wasting their dwindling time on matters of little significance.

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“I just feel so alone, even when I’m surrounded by other people.”

But context is the sharp gust of reality ready to blow away this pink glazed dream. Bob is married with children, Charlotte is also married to another man and thirty years younger. The looming end of their impending separation accelerates the urgency of their unexpected friendship. Time is merciless, despite how perfect this pairing is, the audience and the characters know that it’s impossible. Charlotte has her path she must walk and so does Bob, yet for a brief, but powerful moment, their lives do cross. And this is why this film is such an understated masterpiece, it doesn’t pretend that Charlotte and Bob have solved all their problems by meeting each other, rarely does that happen in reality. I wouldn’t be surprised if Charlotte ended up dying from a drug overdose in five years, nor would I be surprised if she changes her mindset and allows her husband to share in her sadness. The same goes for Bob, maybe he divorces his wife and turns to alcoholism or maybe he returns home and holds her longingly; knowing that their relationship was once just like his and Charlotte’s.

That’s the beauty of this film, I don’t need answers. I am comfortable knowing that amongst the laughs, hugs and haunting stares of love, a genuine bond was forged in the most unexpected of locations.

Maybe one day, decades past, Charlotte will hear Bob’s name and then she’ll look down and crack a smile, or maybe even cry, or maybe not, because he is just a ghost in her past- And Bob will be on the other side of the world, attending to his own business, unaware that he had just entered the mind of a woman whom he loved, even if it was for a brief moment.

“I loved the moment near the end when Bob runs after Charlotte and says something in her ear, and we’re not allowed to hear it.

We shouldn’t be allowed to hear it. It’s between them, and by this point in the movie, they’ve become real enough to deserve their privacy. Maybe he gave her his phone number. Or said he loved her. Or said she was a good person. Or thanked her. Or whispered, “Had we but world enough, and time…” and left her to look up the rest of it.”

  • Roger Ebert, Lost in Translation Review, 2003

Genre: Romantic-Comedy
Certificate: R
USA Release Date: 3rd October 2003
Runtime: 141 minutes
Director: Sofia Coppola
Writer: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi & Fumihiro Hayashi
Synopsis: A faded movie star and a neglected young woman form an unlikely bond after crossing paths in Tokyo.

Up in the Air – Review & Analysis

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“Yes, it was pretty lonely.”
“Life’s better with company.”
“Yeah.”

You’ve made your bed, now go lie in it. Enter Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man who summarises the shifting values of the 21st century, someone you see, but never meet. Tasked with the job of firing employees for ‘weak willed’ employers, Ryan travels the nation, never rooted, always moving. George Clooney delivers one of his best performances, and stars in the ‘Clooney’ role, an aging silver fox, with a seductive combination of wit and charisma, yet tragically flawed.

In this film, a young enthusiastic new employee; Natalie Kenner, played by the adorable and remarkably short Anna Kendrick, attempts to ‘revolutionise’ Ryan’s industry by introducing technology as the method of communication. Director Jason Reitman quietly brings up the moral questions of such an industry, will Skype make an already soul crushing announcement even less human? And if so, does it justify the cheaper economic cost? For Ryan, a gamophobic, he sees this decision as a direct attack on his laissez-faire state of living, ironically forgetting about the ‘real’ victims who are actually affected by the Global Financial Crisis. Already angry at Natalie for her suggestions, Ryan is tasked with the job of introducing her to the business, giving her first hand experience in this occupation, bridging the few months wait before the technology gets implemented.

This of course, cramps Mr. Bingham’s style, who personifies ‘easy come, easy go’.

On this subtle journey of self discovery, Ryan meets Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga); the modern day film noir love interest and a perfect combination of flirtiness, wit and unreachable allure. A self described ‘road warrior’, Ryan along with the audience is hopelessly charmed by her aura, even against their better judgement. It is with these bumps in the once smooth road, that the story starts.

[INCOMING SPOILERS]

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At the core of Jason Reitman’s film are the themes of relationships and responsibility; two dance partners who endlessly circle around the life of Ryan Bingham. Nothing reflects this like Ryan’s first encounter with Alex at a bar, both sipping on spirits, both waiting for the world to come and embrace them, but too jaded to make the first move. They start off their relationship by comparing credit cards, we as the audience are disgusted by such behaviour, but equally fascinated by their charm. They laugh and banter for a bit before going back to Ryan’s room to have sex. Casual and flirty; a quick transaction between two parties.

“We are two people that get turned on by elite status, I think cheap is our starting point.”

Apart from firing employees, Ryan Bingham also lectures about his isolationist philosophies, his message? “We weigh ourselves down until we can’t even move.” The core motif of this philosophy is Ryan’s travelling bag; light, compact and ruthlessly packed to maximise efficiency. The quick series of cuts showing Ryan checking into the airport at the start of the film, immediate convey his sense of character; professional, calculated and deliberate.

When Ryan’s oldest sister (Kara) calls Ryan to discuss about their young sister’s wedding (Julie), she pleads him to participate in their ‘wedding gift’. This requires him to take a few photos holding a cardboard cut out of the newly engaged couple at iconic scenes around America. Begrudging, and after a lot of resistance, Ryan agrees. From the continuation of the bag motif we can see how disgruntled Ryan is, the cardboard cut out, is a little too wide, a little too longer to fit into the metaphor of his luggage; his indifferent lifestyle of constant movement, constant activity. We start to see and understand how detached Ryan is, an emotionally damaged man, incapable, or even worse, unwilling to maintain any relationship. A man whose definition of success is to reach a mathematical number; ten millions frequent flyer miles. It all makes sense.

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“How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to feel the straps on your shoulders. Feel ’em?”

Yet this motif comes to a crescendo when Ryan sheepishly invites Alex as a date to his sister’s wedding. When asked to pin the photos of the cardboard cutouts on a map, he stands there, transfixed. In front of him is a map filled to the brim with photos from all of the couple’s friends and family, it’s so crowded that Ryan struggles to find space. And there lies the irony, this humble homely couple in Milwaukee, unable to afford a honeymoon and with close to no travel experience, has connections all over the nation. In contrast, Ryan can boast about all the exotic places he’s been, all the five star hotels he has stayed and all the casual sex he has engaged in… Yet can’t describe the feeling of friendship, he can’t describe holding someone out of a genuine sense of affection.

Ryan Bingham lived for his resume and not his eulogy.

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Slowly, we can begin to see Ryan’s outlook on life change, his relationships with Alex builds and builds, overwhelming his once mathematical approach to life. Maybe, she wasn’t a burden, maybe love was more than just a transaction between two people. The wedding scene stands out as my favourite in the whole film; it was just relatable, so genuinely human. Reitman switches to a shaky cam and the tinge of vintage red makes the audience feel as if we’re attending the wedding of a close cousin. The following scene, when Ryan comes back to his unglamorous Omaha house contrasts the warmth and happiness he felt when surrounded by his new relationships. There’s no music, there’s no dancing, the world has lost its musky red filter. Only cold white walls, a vacant desk and dusty couch greet him.

During the middle of his ‘backpack’ speech in Las Vegas, a speech which was has been very excited for since the beginning of the film. Ryan stops and stutters, his philosophies have changed and the spark of superiority and sureness which glinted in his eyes previously was gone. He can’t even bring himself to say these words. He steps away from the podium, offers an apology and in an act of complete vulnerability and spontaneity, he catches a flight to Alex’s house to finally speak without his cool air of invincibility, without his sense of complete assurance.

And Ryan gets his heart crushed, Alex is married. With children.

Ryan’s whole life had been predicated upon his isolation and the distancing of himself from people. Now a middle aged man with his youth quickly fading away, Ryan realises the consequences of his actions. He made his bed, now he has to lie in it.

It’s ironic that for a man whose occupation demanded a total sense of aloofness, Ryan now stands as a victim to his own game. He hangs up on Alex after what is assumed to be their final phone call, “You are an escape… You are a break from our normal lives… You are an parenthesis.” Ryan Bingham was always very detached, unfortunately for him, he met the only person in America who was even more detached. Karma? You decide.

Dejected and demoralised, he catches a plane back home, when the announcement is made that he just hit the ten million miles mark. In celebration, the airline chief sits down beside Ryan and starts making small talk, asking him “Where are you from?” to which a disheartened Ryan can only respond with “I’m from here.”

When Ryan gets back to his office, he rings the airline company and tries to transfer his miles over to his sister and her new husband, giving them the chance to experience the honeymoon they deserve. Yet the decision is interrupted by an co-worker knocking at Ryan’s door, and he hangs up the phone. The thought is there, but whether or not he completes the action, the audience will never know.

The film ends with Ryan standing in front of a large destination board, once again called to be a ‘road warrior’. His figure dwarfed by the immensity of the screen. Stunned by the enormity of the task ahead, Ryan lets go on his luggage handle, silently protesting this lifestyle which molded him into a hermit. A man who has lived in many houses, but never a home.

And this is what separates Jason Reitman from the average director, with already a string of witty and clever films under his belt. Reitman refuses to give the audience their candy. A ‘happy ever after’ ending between Ryan and Alex would have been too smooth, too unrealistic, too impractical, and at their core, both were practical people. To have this joyous ending would have absolved Ryan and Alex from their past and ultimately, this was a film about responsibility.

You’ve made your bed, now go lie in it.

Genre: Comedy-Drama
Certificate: R
USA Release Date: 23rd December 2009
Runtime: 149 minutes
Director: Jason Reitman
Writer: Walter Kirn & Jason Reitman
Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga & Anna Kendrick
Synopsis: With a job traveling around the country firing people, Ryan Bingham enjoys his life living out of a suitcase, but finds that lifestyle threatened by the presence of a new hire and a potential love interest.

MythBusters: Learning Styles

“If there’s something strange in you neighborhood
Who you gonna call? (mythbusters)
If there’s something weird
And it don’t look good
Who you gonna call? (mythbusters).”

What the Research says about Learning Styles?

Background:

For the purposes of this assignment, we have chosen to suggest an approach for a school in the Western suburbs of Sydney, with an ethnically and linguistically diverse student body. Being engaged in professional development, the school has noticed the discourse of learning styles in professional spheres and wants to investigate before adopting it as school practice. The following is a paper evaluating the research on learning styles, and suggests an approach for the school to take.

Introduction:

The term “learning styles” is the constructed concept that “individuals differ in regard to what mode of instruction or study that is most effective for them”. Over the last fifty years, the myth of ‘Learning Styles’ has become one of the most popular aspects of educational theory, with it gaining traction amongst the wider academic circles. Pashler et al., states this education theory is very alluring because it presents an easy solution to the paradox of teaching inherently different students within a mass production system. However the popularity of this myth ventures into the field of pseudo-science as its catchy narrative is overwhelmingly unsupported by the current research. Furthermore Pashler et al. states that with the constant active promotion from vendors offering different tests, assessment devices and online technologies, it has allowed educational institutions to easily identify students learning styles, and adapt their instructional approaches accordingly.

It cannot be denied that it is important to recognise that students are diverse and learn differently, whether it is culturally, linguistically or cognitively. The concept of learning styles may seem like a credible approach to cater for this diversity, however there has been limited evidence supporting it. There is some evidence of neural correlation with a preferred learning preference, for example Kraemer, Rosenberg & Thompson-Schill (2008) had the first set of data that showed a neural correlation with a stated style preference, which suggested that those who are associated with the verbal style have a tendency to convert pictorial information into linguistic representations. However, in the majority of the research on learning styles, students who used their preferred learning styles did not fare significantly better than students who were prevented from using their preferred style. It is therefore important that educators are aware that learning styles are not reliable predictors of the most appropriate learning style for any given student.

Alternatively, Huebner suggests the use of “differentiated instruction to effectively address all students’ learning needs”. It cannot be denied that students come from complex backgrounds with a diversity of language, ability and prior knowledge in any given area. They will also have a preference with the way that they learn and retain information. However, evidence suggests that implementing differentiated instruction, rather than teaching to a single style or ability, proves to be the most effective when addressing diverse student learning needs. Instead of grouping students into learning styles, understanding how to promote student engagement and motivation, assessing student readiness and having effective classroom management procedures can enrich the student learning process. Huebner further affirms this statement by stating it is important to understand that with differentiated instruction, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ model, instead it builds upon the prior knowledge, interests and abilities that students bring to the classroom.

The Myth of Learning Styles

Massa and Meyer’s study was very effective at highlighting the wide divide between what is the popular narrative and what is academically supported. Altogether Massa and Meyer performed three separate experiments to test whether or not ‘visual learners’ and ‘verbal learners’ excelled when multimedia instruction was given in their respective fields, in a total of 51 cases, 49 showed little or no evidence, for learning styles, with some even showing evidence against.

When Massa and Meyer’s first experiment involving 52 participants showed no evidence to support the learning styles education system, they attempted the exact same experiment in a different context. In the first experiment, the mean age was 18 years old with all the participants coming from the Psychology pool at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In experiment two it, the participants were non-college educated adults, with 15 out of the 61 having high school as their highest level of education. However despite the shift in demographics, the results to experiment two were very similar, with no significant increases in academic scoring in 14 of the 15 experiments.

Out of the 51 cases, 52.94% (27/51) of the time, the results showed a minute leaning towards the expected direction (visual learners getting slightly better results on visual instruction), whilst 47.05% (24/51) the results headed towards the opposite direction. These scores highlight how inconsistent this educational theory is and that there was close to an equal chance of a person either benefiting or not benefitting from learning styles classrooms.

Instead it was found that adding images to aid any form of instruction was a benefit to both ‘visual’ and ‘verbal’ learners, further discrediting the notion that people can be cleanly categorized into either element. This has been validated by studies such as Mayer and Moreno (2002) and Austin (2009) who found multimedia which incorporated animation and narration were consistently shown to be the most effective when it came to student’s retention of knowledge and academic scores.

The Argument for Learning Styles

One of the most significant reasons that the learning style theory gained momentum was due to educators realising that each child is different in the way that they learn and process knowledge. In their book “The Importance of Learning Styles,” Sims and Sims assert that learning opportunities need to be designed with the strengths and weakness of the child in mind. This is an argument which stands true to this day, even though the nuances of the words ‘strengths and weaknesses’ have evolved since then. In Sims and Sims’ time, the goal of learning styles assessment was to “make distinctions that lead to meaningful differences”. This was carried out through theories such as the Experiential Learning Theory presented by Kolb and the Learning Styles model proposed by Grasha-Reichmann. Both of these researchers were making nascent responses to the dilemma which arose from the acknowledgement of individual differences, or perhaps preferences, for perceiving and processing information. Since then, research on differentiated instruction by ability level and all forms of expression have developed these ideas.

The preconceived notions of some researchers have inhibited the critical analysis of data leading some to believe that what was measured was an indicator of different learning styles. Sprenger states that differentiation strategies such as tweaking the content or making instructional changes, need to be implemented after analysing the student’s “learning profile” or style of learning (2008, p.xvi). For qualitative researchers such as Sprenger (2008), who work with small scale case studies or take part in action research in their own classrooms, the idea that a child’s behaviour can indicate the child’s cognitive processes would have been almost self evident as it would have been observable evidence.

Massa and Mayer (2006), although critical of the learning style theory, acknowledges that in their study a correlation between cognitive style measures and processing measures were found where an individual’s professed learning style (visual or verbal) matched with how heavily they relied on help represented through the two styles. However, these findings are few and far between. Given the dominance of the learning styles discourse, it is very possible that researchers and participants alike were unwittingly primed to form these conclusions.

Conclusion

The basic idea of cognitive styles, that different individuals process certain types of information differently, has appeared in many forms and has been part of many theories in various avenues of psychological research. Despite this widespread interest, however, a precise description of what constitutes a cognitive style, both from a behavioral and from a biological perspective, remains elusive.

Although many schools are still inclined to adopt the concept of learning styles into their pedagogy, we would advise not to use it as a basis for teacher practice due to the lack of evidence for it. An overwhelming proportion of the evidence is based on ‘preferences’ instead of an assessment of cognition, or contain flawed and insufficient methodology. Furthermore, numerous studies have shown that in fact, what can be described as ‘learning styles’ has no significant impact on achievement.

Given these findings, we encourage the school to adopt the approach of differentiation, where pedagogy is designed to treat students as individuals based on their ability, prior knowledge, literacy and appropriate forms of engagement and management.

This was written by Gi Eun Lee, Kasturi Murugavel, Erica Sung and myself; SC. Thank you for being an amazing team, even if it was for a short period of time.

Game of Thrones: The Winds of Winter – Review

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“Jon, a raven came from the citideal; a white raven… Winter is here.”
“Well, father always promised didn’t he?”

[MAJOR SPOILERS]

Whilst there are certainly lulls in season six of HBO’s record breaking, culture changing franchise; Game of Thrones, the final two episodes; Battle of the Bastards and The Winds of Water were absolutely magnificent.

As film director Rolf de Heer famously said “Sound is sixty percent of the emotional content of the film” and the music in season six was breath taking. So whilst, the season finale was a celebration to how amazing the actors and actress are in this franchise, not enough credit gets given to Ramin Djawadi; the lead composer for Game of Thrones. Without Djawadi’s magical touch, this franchise would only reach a fraction of its true potential and the awe-inspiring scores helps elevate this piece of art so much more. Kudos to a true musical genius.

JON TARGARYEN

“Listen to me Ned, his name is… If Robert finds out he will kill him, you know he will, you have to protect him… Promise me Ned… Promise me.”

Rejoice Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark theorist, today is our day! Today our goblets shall be filled with wine, we shall sing merry songs and we shall dance in the hall of the kings!

This was perhaps my favourite scene from such a splendid, action packed, violence packed episode. For the last two seasons, Jon Snow Targaryen has been my favourite character, he is one of the only currently living characters (along with Ser Davos and possibly Daenerys) which acts as the moral compass of the franchise. Whilst Daenerys has her compassion for the slaves and her desire to liberate the Free Cities, Jon is really the only character that constantly demonstrated his beliefs through his PHYSICAL actions, to the point he was ready and willing to die for his beliefs, I always respected him for that.

So, my heart was pounding during Lyanna and Ned Stark’s final conversation. This series had been teasing out this reveal since episode one and to the disappointment of the fans, the directors seemed to have completely forgotten about this plot during the middle of the season. However, the exchange was every bit as sad, emotion and epic as I could have hoped for. The transition from the little baby opening its eyes to Jon Targaryen sitting at the head of the Stark house, as the music crescendoed, sent shivers down my spine.

I’ve also grown particularly attached with Lady Mormont of House Bear, her confidence, wit and Ayra-like charm won me over the moment she appeared on television. But the scene after Jon’s heritage was revealed, completely cemented my love for her.* In a moment which mirrored the original ‘King in the North’ christening of Robert Stark, the great Lords of the North pledge their allegiance to Jon Targaryen. However, despite the similarities, there was clearly a tonal shift from the conclusion of season one; those were simpler, more innocent times. This christening didn’t have the glamour or the glory which accompanied Robert’s affirmation, instead it foreshadowed even greater conflict and death as the North prepares for the war against the dead.

Jon Targaryen, first of his name, the King in the North, the Lord Commander, the blood of old Valyria, the Dragon and the White Wolf.

*I was nearly in tears at that point, for a character who had suffered the shame of being a bastard, the shame of being abused by Ser Alliser Thorne and even being betrayed by the Night’s Watch. It felt amazing that finally, finally, his fate was turning.

Ayra Stark is also finally in the game again, the Starks have really bolstered their position compared to the beginning of this season. As much as I enjoy Ayra’s tomboyish traits and her confrontational charms, it is slightly concerning to see a teenager display such a ruthless desire for revenge. Whilst the audience has always supported Ayra avenging her family and having a goal to work towards, it is slightly unnerving to see the awe and joy in her eyes after slitting Walder Frey’s throat.

QUEEN CERSEI LANNISTER

“This is Ser Gregor Clegane… He is quiet too… Your gods have forsaken you… This is your god now… Shame… Shame… Shame.”

A Lannister always pays their debt. After close to two whole seasons of being lurking in the shadows, Cersei is ready to become a major player in King’s Landing again. In one suspenseful scene, Cersei managed to destroy most of her opponents in one single blow with wild fire under the Great Sept of Baelor.

Cersei is back, with a vengeance, except this time she is without any of her children, her only link to sanity, the only things which were able to humanise such a vicious woman. Cersei was always power hungry, yet she always seemed to symbolically cover that up with beautiful floral dresses and sparkling jewelry, as if to distract from her less than stellar personality. But it seems Cersei has no time for such trivial fancies. As she ascends the Iron Throne dressed in a dressed in a beautiful black dress, perhaps to foreshadow her fall into madness, Cersei begins to resemble Aerys II Targaryen; the Mad King even more. Shockingly, it was not the Dragon which burnt King’s Landing with wild fire, but instead the Lion. Isn’t it even more symbolic that her most trusted adviser Qyburn was an former maester who was shunned by the order for practicing forbidden arts?

In many ways, the scene of Cersei preparing herself for the explosion at the Great Sept reminded me of the infamous baptism scene in The Godfather. Where Michael Corleone stands completely stoic at the altar after ordering the assassination of the rival families, his unflinching stare making the audience question whether or not he had become an emotionless monster. This time it was Cersei who failed her child, her kinder traits seemed to have been blackened after Tommen declared that trial by combat will be outlawed specifically to handicap his mother’s only trump card; Clegane. Cersei wasn’t at Tommen’s room trying to comfort the naive boy after he had lost his wife and his faith. In fact compared to her reactions when Joffrey and Myrcella, she seemed cold and aloof. No one crosses Cersei and lives to tell the tale, not even her own children.

The question remains, how does Mad Queen Cersei aim to keep not only her Iron Throne, but also the love of Jaime Lannister? The cold glare between the two signaled a clear shift in their relationship; she had become the very monster he killed to protect the city. How does a woman who has isolated all her allies and supporters maintain the crown against Daenerys Stormborn, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons?

Will Jaime Lannister be adding the Queen Slayer to his long list of titles?

DAENERYS TARGARYEN

“What is my heart’s desire?”
“Vengence… Justice.”
“Fire and blood.”

I am so glad that Daenerys finally got out of Meereen, she was a big fish in a small pond. It is time for Daenerys to leave her isolated world and join the rest of the cast in the battle for Westeros. It is time to announce to the world that the Dragon is back.

I thought that Meereen was rather dull this season and it was only Peter Dinklage (Tyrion), Jacob Anderson (Greg Worm) and Nathalie Emmanuel’s (Missandei) performances which were keeping this narrative afloat. After all the entire point of the unrest and the emergence of the Son of the Harpies was to teach Daenerys how hard it is to rule and that the crowd is fickle, particularly if you do not know the city’s culture. I thought season five really effectively showed us the pains of leadership with Daenerys facing the first real test of her queenship; public backlash. However in season six, Daenerys was completely missing from Meereen, her absence meant that the rise in tension lead to more character development for Tyrion than the Mother of Dragons, thus I just wasn’t very emotionally invested Meeren during this season. The Free Cities always felt like a stepping stone to Daenerys’ true purpose and I’m glad she has is on her way to her true goal.

Whilst the main theme of Daenerys’ character growth has been her becoming more stern and less forgiving, changing from a beautiful, soft young lady to the authoritative and inspiring queen. It was very touching to see Daenerys display a more compassionate side of her personality with Tyrion. His emotional reaction, shows just how much his past has shaped him and despite having killed his father and been exiled from Westeros, Tyrion belongs in the western continent. He will never be able to undo his love for Shae, he will never be able to forget his brother or wash away the emotional scars caused by his father.

The ending sequence was also breath taking, the transition from Theon Greyjoy standing alone to Grey Worm standing proudly to the rest of the immense fleet was breath taking. The sheer scope of this production combined with Djawadi’s perfect composition ended the season in a manner befitting on of the greatest television series ever to grace the screens.

Valar Morghulis. Westeros, doesn’t know what is about to hit it.

CONCLUSION

In general, I find that the later seasons of Game of Thrones haven’t been as ‘lean’ or ‘sharp’ as the first three to four seasons. Part of this is because they lost George R.R. Martin as a key editor on the show and also because David Benioff and Daniel Weiss have started to drift into territory which isn’t covered by the novels. In particular I felt this season dragged on from episode six to eight (straight after Hordor’s death to before the Battle of the Bastards). There were a few questionable decisions, such as why bring Sandor Clegane back if he is not going to spar with his brother during the Trial by Combat? Why reestablish the Brother Without Banners so many seasons after they were first introduced?

So this wasn’t a ‘perfect’ season, but the final two episodes in particular was one of the best pairs of episodes I have ever seen. It reminds me of Avatar Wan’s double episode in The Legend of Korra for raising the bar in animation and television respectively. Most of all, I am hyped for season seven already and it pains me to announce that we as the fans, have to wait another ten months before we can get our weekly fix of this show.

THE KING IN THE NORTH.

Professional Teaching Relationship with the Community

“My classroom is my castle, and the sovereigns of other fiefdoms are not welcome.”
– Palmer, 1998.

Teaching is one of the most privatised public professions and this isolation has a lot of negatives effects on this occupation and how teaching relates to the wider public at hand. In Australia, one of the pillars of teaching culture is individualism, the ability for the teacher to make choices in their classroom without the collective scrutiny of the staffroom or their peers. Not only are many teachers disconnected from the wider community such as parents and carers, often many teachers teach without the support of their colleagues though this isolation has been interpreted as ‘academic freedom’. Yet many teachers recognise the importance of interacting with the wider community to support their students. The teaching profession must better integrate itself into the wider community, not only because it results in better academic benefits, but because teachers also stand to benefit from this transparency.

Whilst the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” does hold merit, teaching is a profession where often the teacher is the only adult in the room. Unlike many other professions where teamwork is an essential part of success, it is possible for a teacher to shun cooperation and yet be an ‘effective’ teacher in the classroom. However, this creates many issues, by not embracing the wider community; consisting of other staff members and parents/care takers, teachers are isolating and further ‘mystifying’ the occupation.

In my first practicum, I experienced firsthand the consequences of teachers allowing their pride to stand in the way of collaboration. The teachers of the English staffroom had to hold a lunch meeting to decide whether or not they should share notes and handouts with each other. Not only did this disadvantage the students, resulting in classes being given an uneven amount of help, it also meant that teachers could not improve their craft due to a lack of constructive criticism. The lack of teamwork added another variable which contributed to whether or not students were successful. Socio-economic status is already such a big factor in academic success and by not providing an equal opportunity for all students at learn at the same quality, this further entrenches the possibility of success. When teachers are not willing to question the teaching practices of their colleagues due to an unspoken rule to just absentmindedly respect their peers, this leads to the privatisation of the craft. Without the ‘supervision’ of other teachers, this leads to a profession which is very divided since ‘universal’ academic standards cannot be established.

By isolating the teaching profession from the wider communities, teachers are harming themselves by unconsciously hurting the development of the occupation. When the profession is removed from the wider community, what rises to take its place is stereotypes and uneducated guesses. The privatisation of teaching has resulted in many unrealistic and unfavourable depictions of teachers in western popular culture and also a lack of influence within the political spheres.

Whilst a lot of teachers lament the fetishisation of statistics and the focus upon data as an over simplistic measurement of quality teaching. How else will the general public be able to evaluate the profession when teachers have not been the most vocal about what they do in the classroom? A big reason for the shift towards statistics is because the public has an outdated perception of education, that creativity isn’t as important as regurgitation or that written texts are still the ONLY important text in the English curriculum. Whilst, part of this blame falls upon the general populace for not keeping up to date with such an important public institution. Teachers must also shoulder the burden, for creating an ‘us versus them mentality’ and failing to educate the wider community about the shifting demands of 21st century education. John Holt summarised his concerns with the shift towards neo-liberal, economically driven education in the quote “The more we concentrate in trying to teach all the content, the less our students tend to learn.”

In the 2015 PISA tests, which are used to measure a national standard level of education, 9.1% of 15-year-olds Australians failed to achieve the basic levels of reading, maths and science literacy. The more Australia begins to slide down the international education hierarchy, the more the public begins to latch onto an ‘easy fix’ solution. This has generated the wave behind the shift towards neo-liberal education and the focus upon standardised testing and statistics by the wider community. And these changes to the general mindset has had negative impacts upon Australian education but it also has further cemented the negative perceptions of teachers in this nation. One of the most common criticisms of modern day university courses is that it is too focused upon the theoretical and academic aspects and thus when new teachers are finally placed in the workplace, they are insufficiently prepared to deal with the emotional burdens.

Thus the isolation of the teaching profession creates a vicious cycle; the public reacts by insisting that teaching returns back to something which can be easily measurable. Instead of embracing more ‘intangible’ skills which are necessary for a modern economy built on human capital, thus teachers are cornered to teach an outdated syllabus. For most teachers, this change is demoralising, as statistics dehumanises the complex and emotionally charged task that we’re required to perform. For many students, teachers are the most stable adults in their lives and their professionalism and attention may inspire or motivate; intangibles which cannot be measured. Yet these relationships become undervalued and instead classrooms have become more competitive as standardised testing ingrains regurgitation but at the price of creativity or passion. And when education becomes standardised to only reflect and emphasise white middle class values, then questions have to be asked whether education is fighting or creating inequality.

However, on the bright side, this rift between teachers and the wider community can be reversed, and I was fortunately enough to see the teaching staff, at my second placement, actively go out of their way to bond with the parents. Whether or not the teachers were aware they were following the Proficient Professional Teaching Standards (PPTS), a lot of the positive forms of communication between the two parties fell in line with these guidelines. Dot point 7.4 of the PPTS states that a ‘lead’ teacher will “take an active role in establishing community networks and provide external learning opportunities.”

Due to the high levels of refugee and English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) families at my second placement, the school provided weekly English lessons which were headed by a learning support teacher and a teacher who was bilingual in English and Arabic. Many parents were thankful for these opportunities to learn and this further allowed them to become more connected and active in the schooling life. These English classes would also provide opportunities for parents to get a translation on permission notes that get sent home and also a chance for parents who are not that familiar with the Australian education system to get some firsthand experience. Dot point 7.3 of the PPTS summarises the positive actions and attitudes displayed by this school in its goal of engaging with the wider community: “Build opportunities that engage parents in their child’s learning and the priorities of the school.” A lot of the miscommunication and uncomfortableness in parent-teacher relationships are marked by the factor that the welfare of a student is a very emotionally charged topic and because both parties involuntarily enter this relationship. Yet by providing these chances for parents to become more involved, the school is transforming from a simple educational institution to a trusted pillar of the Middle Eastern/ Islamic community.

In general, studies have drawn a link between increased parental involvement in schools and increased academic success; however questions must be asked whether this is ‘correlation and not causation’. Increased involvement may be because the parents are fluent in English or that one parent stays at home because they are middle class, all signs of social-economic and cultural capital. Those who argue that parent, teacher relationships are important state so based on two premises. The first premise is called the Pygmalion effect, where positive views of a student’s background and family members directly translates to better and more enthusiastic interactions with said student. Hughes, Gleeson and Zhang found that teacher’s perceptions of students accounted for 6.9% of variance in the academic rating of students. Likewise this is supported by Domagala-Zysk’s study  which found that 73% of students who are experiencing academic success, believed their teachers trusted them outside the classroom environment. Likewise, teachers were significantly more likely to rate a student’s social skills as positive or engaging if they perceived their own relationship to the student’s family in an optimistic light. Thus if it is a teacher’s job to help student’s succeed academically, the profession needs to shed the idea that it can ONLY help students within the classroom, instead more focus must be placed upon networking with the community.

Secondly, by unifying the school and the home environments, the student will be more exposed to positive views about schooling and learning. The reinforcing of these positive attitudes to school will not only give the student more incentive to succeed but also make it a lot easier to tackle issues which might transcend both the home and school environment. For an example, on issues of drug abuse, bullying and sexual health, the involvement of the parents and the wider community shows the importance of these topics but also relays to the students that this is an issue which occurs outside the safety of a school. My high school was very active in trying to establish a channel of communication between the parents and the teachers with many situations and opportunities for for meetings. On Saturdays mornings, my peers and I would complete in school sport together against other schools, allowing parents a chance to interact with teachers outside a ‘tense’ academic environment; like parent-teacher nights. This is a good way to build chemistry between the two parties since many parents feel that teachers only contact them with negative information about their child and rarely to compliment or to motivate. Dot point 7.1 of the PPTS states that ‘lead teachers’ will “model exemplary ethical behaviour when dealing with students, colleagues and the community” It is this desire to engage the parents and caretakers, to go beyond the ‘call of duty’, which separates a good teacher in the classroom from one whose influences will ripple across the community.

Because teaching is a very emotionally charged profession, it is important to collect evidence to become reveal the weaknesses in one’s abilities, but also as an insurance blanket to protect rookie teachers. Dot point 5.5 of the PPTS details the importance of amassing information not only to relay to the parents but so teachers can better understand how to improve their craft: “Monitor, evaluate and revise reporting accountability in the school to meet the needs of students/ parents.” In order to rationally explain why you assigned a student a certain mark, it is important that teachers, particularly rookie teachers, assemble model responses which demonstrate the difference between an A, B, C and D mark. These scaffolded examples will make parent-teacher nights a lot smoother as teachers will be readily able to highlight their thinking behind a certain mark with a physical reference at hand. This preparation shows that you’re merely following a rationale structure when marking, and that any poor or low marks you’ve assigned are not because of bias. And this sense of professionalism is something which rookie teachers need to embody in order to protect themselves against questions of ability from parents and students alike.

Furthering emphasising this point of protecting one self, I also think it would be helpful if teachers collected assessments off students, this is getting easier and easier in an increasingly technological world, since a lot of the assessments are now submitted electronically. However, even for writing in-class examinations, I think it would be wise to maintain either a physical or electronic copy. If a school wide system is implemented, the documenting of student work can become a routine. For an example, when it is time to hand back assessments, write the feedback on a separate card and then go through the questions about the assessments with the class. When the class is done reflecting on their efforts and they understand how or why they scored well or poorly, collect back the assessments but let them keep the feedback card. This a written example of what the strengths and weaknesses of the class are, but also allows teachers a chance to reflect on how they need to improve their teaching: For an example, what were the specific topics most students tended to forget and why? Did they understand the literacy requirements of the discipline? As the education system becomes more and more academic and there is greater focus upon students excelling at their studies, teachers must collect this data in order to open the channels of communication with parents about their child’s grades. Dot point 6.3 of the PPTS requires teachers to do more than just teach in the classroom, they must be constantly trying to improve their craft and devising new methods to further engage the students and their parents. Yet this is a tall task if the teacher does not have any data to reflect back upon, and without such information, the teacher’s opinions of how to improve usually don’t move past the stage of speculation.

It is time for the teaching profession to drop the belief that teachers ONLY work within classroom. In an increasingly digital world, technology has opened many new doors of communication which do not require a lot of time or energy. It is up to the teachers to reach out to the wider community in order to educate them about what and how exactly the teaching profession has changed within the 21st century. Not only does interacting with the parents and carers have been shown to have a positive academic and social effect upon the students (the primary concern of any teacher), it can also dispel the misconceptions which plague the teaching profession. By being more vocal, perhaps teachers can accumulate more social and political capital needed to shift education away from standardised testing and towards ‘intangible’ values like creativity and technological literacy. Teaching has always been a ‘public service’ and it is time that the occupation truly embraces this title.

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
– John Dewey

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