Archive for the ‘social critique’ Category
A few nights ago, my wife and I had the distinct pleasure of watching Teeth, the 2007 comedy/horror by writer, director, and co-producer Mitchell Lichtenstein, son of the famous artist Roy Lichtenstein. As some readers of this blog may know, I’m a big horror movie fan. But Teeth interested me for political reasons as well. Call it a horror film or a dark comedy, Teeth was in fact a brilliant political satire. And it was totally awesome.
The plot is simple enough: protagonist Dawn O’Keefe suffers from the mythological condition of vagina dentata: she has razor sharp teeth in her vagina. What gives the film its gravitas, and its humour, is the broader context. Dawn is the leader of an abstinence group in her high school, she dons a promise ring vowing to wait until marriage, and embraces traditional gender roles prizing women’s purity, all in a clearly over-the-top satirical manner. It seems as if nearly all the male characters are potential rapists, and several appendages meet their untimely demise beneath the sharp, interlocking teeth at Dawn’s crotch, and no, I’m not talking about her zipper.
Though I know many are turned off by gruesome horror (I’m thinking of you, Luce), this movie is really the ultimate in feminist schadenfreude. It’s a little scary, a little gory, but mostly funny, and with brilliant parodies of the Religious Right and the latent sexism and fear of women that lurks in the hearts of heterosexual men. This movie is truly great.
There’s a good round-up of commentary at Cliopatria on the Bill Cronon affair, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison released a packet of his emails a few days ago, exempting a broad range of materials and declaring Cronon’s conduct above reproach. Hopefully this will take the blowhardiness out of the Republicans’ sails. But it was distressing to learn a few days ago that a conservative group had issued a public records request for the emails from professors at three Michigan state university labor studies departments, looking for political involvement in the Wisconsin labor toil. The material these scholars study alone made them targets, raising the question of whether conservatives have decided on a new method to attack academic freedom.
In his post on Cronon, Wiz wrote that this is “a clear attack on the idea that historians might engage in public debate and dialogue,” and I agree. Cronon began his blog Scholar as Citizen to reflect on “the public practice of history and the ways in which academic scholarship in his chosen fields of history, geography, and environmental studies can offer useful perspectives on contemporary political debates.”
Obviously not all scholars are held to the same regulations as Cronon is as a professor at a state university, but I think think this episode presents an opportunity to consider the think about what connotes proper conduct on the part of the scholar in relation to his or her society. Should s/he be a social critic? Should s/he advocate some sort of social good? It might be useful consider how a few well-known German scholars thought about the role of the academic in society, particularly as German universities have historically been state institutions and German professors civil servants. This selection obviously has nothing to do with the fact that I will be examined on these guys in three weeks time.
Kant‘s “What is Enlightenment?” is a good place to start.