Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Pay's the Thing, of nothing

I want to speak with you a bit about culture. I often shy away from discussions of culture because I pretty much have none. I affect a cultured demeanor when it suits me, but mostly I'm just a slob with a job. I guess you could say I appreciate aspects of low culture, but I do like some items higher up on a culture ladder. Thing is, I mostly just like being left alone so any culture runs the risk of getting on my nerves.

But I teach English and part of teaching English is the acceptance that people need some sort of culture. There is such a thing as cultural literacy but that doesn't quite capture everything because it stops at expecting my students to be familiar with their world as it is. Knowing culture means appreciating the world as it was, as it could be and as it is, but on a deeper level. So I strive for that. Part of bringing culture to the still growing teen aged mind is exposing them to pieces of great literature, so I try to do that. One piece that I have used in the past is a wonderful play by Eugene Ionesco, entitled "Rhinoceros." It is silly, it is difficult, it challenges and troubles while it amuses. I find that reading it sometimes misses an aspect of the story, the visual, especially in the directorial choices surrounding the (non)presentation of the titular beasts. However, I lack the ability to act the whole thing out for the class every year. So I rely on performances readily available to the public.

There are, on Youtube, a couple of versions of the play, lovingly performed by some college or local acting groups. They aren't bad per se, but the sound is inconsistent, the staging is clunky and the acting is often overdone. So, OK, they are bad (IMHO, baby, IMHO...chill). There is a film version which I often show. It stars Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel, so you'd think that it would be a home run. I mean, I LOVE Gene Wilder (in a totally platonic way, mind you) and I use another of his films (The Frisco Kid) with another class of mine. And Zero Mostel? Hilarious! But the film is from the early 70's so the scenery shows it, the music is horrid and Karen Black is, well, not my favorite part of the movie. I try to resist showing this version because it becomes so surreal towards the end that even Ionesco would view it and say, "what the hell was that? Did I even write that?" So I troll the interwebz looking for another version.

Yesterday, while comparing opening scenes for my class, I saw a link to a version of Rhinoceros starring Benedict Cumberbatch. The video shown was an interview with Mr. Cumberbatch in which he discussed his character, Berenger. In the middle, the image shifted to 5 seconds from the version in which he performed. It was good -- really good. I thought to myself that if I had access to that, I could retire Messers Wilder and Mostel and let Mr. Cumberbatch carry the rhinocer-torch. So I looked online. I found no links to it. I found reviews but no visual content. I was stumped. Finally, I stumbled on a listing for a museum/library in London which had a video from 2007 starring Mr. C. Success! I almost shouted. Until I kept reading. Apparently the version they have must be viewed on their premises.

That struck me as weird. Remember, this is about disseminating high culture. Wouldn't they want more people to share in this experience? Wouldn't it be desirable to have a larger audience aware of this and able to celebrate something of brilliance instead of hiding it away ON VIDEOCASSETTE? So I emailed them. I mentioned that I teach the play. I pointed out that I wanted it for educational purposes. I made the case that flying 22 teenagers to London might prove impractical. And then I waited. The website cautioned me that responses take up to 10 days. Museum life must be very busy.

About an hour later (which, because of the time difference means that they sent it before I made the request), I got a response. Huzzah. It was very nice and proper and explained that the archives are for research done on site. In other words, they said "no." Strange. They want to keep this to themselves. Well, actually, in their words,

Regrettably, the recordings in our Video Archive are not available online or for purchase. We have a strict agreement with the British entertainments unions and are only allowed to make recordings if those recordings are viewed on V&A premises.

​We are sorry not be of more help.

And yes, they typo is theirs, not mine. Look carefully at what they said -- they "make recordings" but they assure the artists who get recorded that NO ONE can see the performance outside of that building. That limits audience, not what would think an artist would want. Note that they also say that they don't even sell the recording. So no payment can go to anyone. They have it but I can't see it or pay for the chance to see it. Think about that. I want to throw money at them for this but apparently, my cash isn't green enough for them. Or blue. I don't know what color money is in London.

I went to the librarian at school, Mrs. Geller. She's wonderful. She can look up anything and find most anything. I sent her the link because I thought there might be honor among libraries and maybe there was some sort of loan program. There isn't. She couldn't find anything. Now our collective honor was at stake so I decided to take matters to the next level. I figured if anyone had a copy, it would be the star of the production so I decided to contact Benedict Cumberbatch. Swing for the fences, that's what I always say (which is awkward when the question is "do you want fries with that?"). I did my research and found the name of the agency which represents him (you generally are represented either by an agent or a lawyer. I am without representation. There is a political joke in there if you want to go look for it and report back to me) and decided to contact him through them. I eschews the expected course of emailing his specific department and figured I should go through the "front Desk" as that is where all real power resides.

So I emailed them and explained my situation and the relative dearth of culture experienced by my neanderthal students. I pointed out that flying the class to England to watch a videotape might not be feasible. All my co-workers laughed at me, insisting that I would never hear anything about this and telling me that I was tilting at English windmills. I persevered because nothing ventured, nothing gained. Or lost, like dignity, but whatever. A few hours later, I received a response. It read, "Sadly we don’t have a copy of this performance nor access to it. I believe that it would have only been taped for archival purposes and not for distribution I’m afraid." It appears to be case that Mr. Cumberbatch and his people (I have no people. I want people) simply have no copy of this recording. I told the author, a wonderful person by the name of Nicholas Gall (I asked for his permission to mention him by name and he graciously granted the permission. In return, I believe that the masses who read this should send him all sorts of good stuff. Hi Nick) that I would probably then have to find a way to get all of my students archived so that they could be stored near the videocassette. The joke crossed the ocean and earned a virtual giggle so I'm feeling pretty good on that front.

My next alternative was to find the only English person in my workplace and present her with the following request: could she please ask her parents to make an appointment time, go to the museum wearing Google Glasses or carrying a video camera, and watch the performance so it could be recorded. Interestingly she said that she thought that her parents might not want to be involved in this. Something about criminal charges and such. The details are fuzzy; I stopped listening after "No." I then figured that my best bet is to hire a computer hacker who could break into the computer system and get access to the recording. It works on TV so it must be true, right? Except for one thing -- the recording was on a cassette, not uploaded as a digital file, as far as I could tell. So I widened my net and decided to hire a crack team of mercenaries who could break in, replace the tape with a fake, and spirit the performance away. I would watch it and then mail it back anonymously. It would be wrong to make an unauthorized copy so I wouldn't, but I would tell the thieves that I would need their services next year, same time.

Eventually, I gave up that plan when I realized that I don't know how to hire a crack team of mercenaries.

I decided to give it the old college try once more (England has many old colleges). I went down the list of actors affiliated with the performance and saw a name I recognized -- Zawe Ashton. It just so happens that I show another class of mine a performance of Othello and she is in that and is great. But do I track down her agency and go the same route? NO! I decided to go a different route and I found her Twitter account.

I hate Twitter. I have had 2 different accounts and I stopped using both of them. I have lost my passwords and I don't mind because I hate Twitter. That would prove to be a problem. So I found the school tech guy and had to explain to him why I wanted to co-opt the school Twitter account to send an unsolicited tweet to Zawe Ashton asking if she had in her possession a videotape from 2007. Once he stopped laughing at me, he agreed. I typed up the tweet and sent it via email to him. Yes, I emailed the a tweet. He reworded a bit and sent it out.

At this point, I have started showing my class the 1974 version but I await good news at every moment.

And if you are reading this, Mr. Cumberbatch, you might want to reassure the good people at the V&A that you are ok with a larger, paying audience. And give Nick a raise.

Friday, February 13, 2015

It is time for The Talk

Another milestone is about to be reached so I steel myself for it by hiding behind a computer keyboard. That gets boring, so I move to the other side, in front of the keyboard and start typing. I find it easier to unload myself to the vast emptiness that is the internet than to try to maintain the attention span of a child who was raised by "2 Second Frenzy." So here is the talk (and since the Bard said it better than I could, I'll rely on him to help out).

My elder has a friend in town. A friend I knew about before today and whose picture I have seen. This is (as far as I know) her first "real" boyfriend. I put "real" in quotes because what it means is "I really don't want to know about the romantic life of my child and this is the first boy whose name I have heard." So, real boy (no strings). She has visited him, spent time with him, and now, he's in town and I run a really good chance of meeting him. Hurrah. I am full of mixed emotions -- how am I supposed to feel? Should I feel like I am being edged out? That I, the closest approximation of a male in her life, am being replaced? Should I have a kind of hurt, a loneliness seeing her wish to spend time with someone else? Maybe. Maybe on some level I feel a little left out, but not as much as I have seen others hurt. I have known that this was coming and even if this boy is not "the one" I know that he will then be the first in a line of males who will take my place. Desdemona said it best and I understand what she meant in I, iii:

I do perceive here a divided duty.
To you I am bound for life and education.
My life and education both do learn me
How to respect you. You are the lord of duty.
I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband.
And so much duty as my mother showed
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor my lord.

[copyright Shakespeare and stuff]

I know that I am just the caretaker, the one borrowing my child's heart until the rightful owner is born, raised, and courts her properly to snatch it away. That's OK. I stole a girl from her dad and I am deeply indebted to Mr. C for allowing me the privilege...this is the way of the world. But as she is moving to that new stage, I feel like I want to share with her some thoughts (profound or otherwise) to let her know that I'm still her dad.

Kid: (yes, I often DO call her kid...h/t Arlo Guthrie)

I look at you and I see a 6 year old. I see a small, sleeping child. A small sleeping child who is really difficult to get up in the morning. A small child who can take 15 minutes to tie her shoes but who can be out the door in 10 seconds when the motivation is right. I see my big girl getting bigger - that strange mix of fearless world traveler and scared mouse who hates going to the basement alone. As I teach you to drive I see the opportunity to help you become aware of the world on a whole new level as I provide the wings through which you will inevitably fly away. I see a complex person who can be as lazy as lazy can be (without expending any effort to be lazy) and who can turn on the jets and get huge amounts done. But I still see a sleeping child who has crawled into my bed and is hogging my covers and kicking me in the face.

I am looking forward to meeting your friend. You have decided that he is someone special to you and that makes me happy. I hope you have high standards and that he meets and exceeds them. Demand greatness from others and show greatness to them, that's what I wish I always said! I want you to be happy. Every day, all the time. I want you to have someone you can laugh with, and cry to, and who makes your heart skip a beat. When I look at your mother, I still get nervous. After all these years, I still want her to be glad she chose me. I want you to find someone who inspires that feeling in you. When you are sad, it crushes me and it always will, so if you find someone who can help you out of sadness, day or night, then I celebrate that. But don't settle for someone who doesn't make you laugh and think.

I want you to be safe [he said, diplomatically]. Safety is multi-faceted. I want you to be careful in all decisions you make. You have, thus far, made many good decisions, and a couple of bad ones (which I don't intend to let you forget). You have been getting better at making good ones, but the temptation to do something stupid, or worse, rationalize stupidity until it appears as reasonable will become more pronounced and insidious and persuasive every day. [Laertes said something to this effect when lecturing Ophelia, "Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister, And keep you in the rear of your safety lies in fear: Youth to itself rebels, though none else near."] I will always want to be the one you call when you need help, but I fear the call and hope you never need that kind of help. The world will become less and less forgiving as you grow. Surround yourself with people who respect you, your ideas, your priorities and your wishes. Find people who support and protect you, and whom you want to respect and protect. Polonius's speech jumps to mind (you might recognize this from the SparkNotes you read while avoiding the play):

Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledged comrade.

Choose friends wisely and with discretion, and intimate friends even more carefully. Make choices that reflect who you are and who you want to be, not what someone else wants you to be. To that end,

I want you to remember who you are. You are, as every teacher and principal has no doubt told you, an ambassador. You represent (among others) your family, your city, your country and your religion. You are how others will view your heritage and your pride and practice, your commitment to a cause and to the preservation of a way of life will leave a lasting impression on your world. You are bigger than you know and make an impact on the world at every moment. Make it meaningful and understand how infused with power every step you take is. No pressure here, but I hope you choose to live a life in accordance with an ancient set of rules which are struggling to evolve and yet stay true to an historical heritage. I hope you become part of that struggle, helping a people move forward while holding fast to the past.

I hope you find your place. I want you to find a geography which suits you personally, professionally and emotionally. I want to support your decisions, be they to live in the capital and work for some agency, or move to a farm and raise bunnies, or move abroad and show your pride in your ancient homeland. I want you to make the decision after a lot of long, hard thought: a decision which completes you and which you can live with, because you are the one who will have to. I hope you find your place in a community of like-minded people; I don't want you to find a group who are "ok" but whom you have to inspire, lead, or mold. I want you to share the burden of inspiring others with those others. Take your turn by doing something magical, but be around people who show you how to improve yourself as well. Don't try to be the angel in a group of devils because you think they will look up to you. Hamlet, again

the power of beauty will sooner
transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the
force of honesty can translate beauty into his

Bottom line, the bad drags the good down before the good pulls the bad up. As your mother and I have said, we generally don't worry about what you will do -- we worry about the rest of the world and what it does. And sometimes, what you do.

I want you to be successful, but I can't measure that for you. I want you to create a vision of success which is informed by your heart and your head and which leads you to people, places and experiences that are as unique as you are.

I want to meet this boy, look him in the eye and tell him, "for now, and maybe for longer, someone I care about thinks you are OK. So I share that opinion. Don't ruin it." I won't stand there with a shotgun (or the modern day equivalent, a larger shotgun). I won't try to scare him or embarrass you, though, in time, I will do the former if I fear he hurt you and the latter because that's a separate obligation which I take seriously. I will respect your ideas and decisions up to a point as I hope you will respect mine. I will loosen the leash as I let you wander farther and farther away, while I hope never to give you enough rope to hang yourself. I will mix metaphors with impunity. I will trust you some today, a bit more tomorrow, and let's not get too far ahead of ourselves and worry about next week just yet.

I will love you, sometimes like you, and worry about you constantly. I'm your dad. I hope you find a guy who makes your heart sing, but remember, I'm the guy who wrote the words to the song and etched them there.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Do You Have a Sense of Humor

Hello and thank you for taking my online quiz, "Do you have a sense of Humor," number 17 in my series of online self assessments. By now, you should have taken such quizzes as "Do I know where both my legs are?" and "Am I on the internet" so you should consider yourself a power user. Congrats!

Note, this assessment is different from my self-check work entitled "Am I funny?" If you recall, that assessment went as follows:

Step one: check name
Step Two: Compare name with "Dan Rosen"
Step Three: Check result -- if your name is Dan Rosen then, "Yes" you are funny. If not, then no. You aren't funny.

If you received the answer of "No" but are still unsure as to whether you are funny, then there was also step Three-A:
Step Three A: Ask Dan Rosen if you are funny.

Note that step Three-A requires the additional correspondence fee of $3.95 per request, plus applicable state and local taxes and shipping and handling fees. And the answer is probably still "No."

This assessment is designed to test whether you have the kind of sense of humor which allows you to appreciate what those of us with a sense of humor call "jokes" and see if they are what we call, "funny." Please read directions and move through the steps at a comfortable pace.

Step 1: Find a piece of stand-up comedy which you think is funny.
Step 2: Replace a noun in the line (not a pronoun) with the words "battery acid."
Step 3: Repeat the line.

Results: If you still laugh at the revised version, you do not have a sense of humor and you are possibly a psychopath or a non-English speaker, or both (to be sure, please take our popular self-assessment #6, "Am I a Psychopath or a non-English speaker, or both?")

Example: I will take Steven Wright's classic line (used without any discernable permission, but until I hear otherwise...) "I poured spot remover on my dog and now he's gone."
I will replace "spot remover" with "battery acid." I am left with, "I poured battery acid on my dog and now he's gone." I do not find that funny. Ergo, I have a sense of humor.
Note, if you attempted to replace the other noun in the joke and have "I poured spot remover on my battery acid and now he's gone" then you have successfully completed self-assessment #14, "Am I an idiot?" Please send me $45.

If you replaced the pronoun then you are illiterate. I said "not a pronoun."

The supplement to this assessment allows you to see the type of sense of humor you have. Assessment 17-x.

Step one: Click on "Ask me what I think of you."
Step two: When you hear the answer "you are a jerk" gauge your reaction.
Condition One: If you are angry, you have no sense of humor
Condition Two: If you are not angry, you might have a sense of humor, you jerk.

If you wish to ask me for clarification, click on "Are you serious?"

Assess your feelings based on the answer "No, I am kidding."

If you smile, you have a well-formed sense of humor. If you think "Well, that still wasn't very nice." Then you have a poor sense of humor.

Thank you for your participation and I hope you have a better understanding of your own potential sense of humor.

My next assessment will be released next week, entitled, "Is that a dagger I see before me?"