Friday, February 11, 2005

Please use the word “metaphor” in a sentence…

Last night I made the mistake of showing the most recent film version of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies to my Government II class. Well, the real mistake was in asking them to analyze the film, particularly the final scene when Ralph is being chased by the other boys who have all become savages and are out to kill him. Ralph runs for his life and ends up stumbling at the foot of a soldier who dumbfoundedly asks, “What are you guys doing?”

My question to my students: “Is there any difference between what the boys were doing and what the soldiers were doing?” Because none of them--or at least none of the ones who tried to answer--could understand the metaphoric content of this story, the only answer was, “No. The soldiers were fighting other people, not themselves.” One student who has served in the military and apparently seen combat offered, “Not even in combat would a group of people turn on each other like that.”

Oh, god! As I always concede in such situations: you just can’t argue with that logic.

Reminds me of the first time I heard the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”: I got chills listening to Mick Jagger’s confession that he killed President Kennedy. Who else has heard this song? Why isn’t he in jail? Or when I heard Barry Manilow sing “I Write the Songs”: “I’ve been alive forever, and I wrote the very first song.” How is that possible? I mean, I had heard of other singers and songwriters who had already died--like Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. Was Manilow older than them?

Of course, that lack of metaphoric understanding is a bit more acceptable when you realize I was a mere child and living on a farm in east Texas. These people are college students and--for lack of a better metaphor--are the future of this country.

On a positive note, they did seem to get the abstract notion of political capital, although not too many of them could see what sort of political capital President Bush talked about earning and spending the day after the most recent elections. I always like to point out possible examples from the film: fear & the monster. Like fear of WMDs & Jihadists, no? And yet, like the characters in the film, the only "monster" is themselves. I guess it does all boil down to what the meaning of is is. Or terror. Or marriage.

So, will we have another "pre-emptive" war and destroy the infrastructure and civil society of Iran? (Of course, "pre-emption" implies that you are actually preventing something from happening instead of merely acting as an agressor nation on a much smaller and weaker one. But I won't hold my breath until our people understand that.)

And yes: I never metaphor I didn’t like.

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