“If you’re a star, they’ll let you do it,” Donald Trump explained in his boastful account of casual assault on women. This rant, known as the Access Hollywood tape, was released years after he said it, during his presidential campaign. It did not, however, keep him from becoming President. He was right about the privilege of stardom. We are a country that protects power, whether it’s the star, the producer, the tycoon, or the supervisor in the department store in Topeka, Kansas. Women learn early: disrespect power at your own risk.
As many of you might know, Hidden Figures (2016) is a biopic directed by Theodore Melfi based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s popular history book and New York Times Bestseller, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race (2016). The film about the NASA’s black female computing group at Langley’s Research Center during the Space Race was nominated for three Oscars and has reaped high praise from movie critics the world over. I was among the droves of people who rushed to the theater to see the movie when I read that Hidden Figures is an inspirational film that makes little known achievements of intelligent, determined women visible. I also appreciated the fact that this ‘feel good’ Christmas film might encourage girls to seek Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers. The plot also avoided all too familiar themes in black films, such as brutal beatings and rape of black women, which were taken to an extreme in Precious and 12 Year’s a Slave. It seemed like a win-win situation for all and the perfect story of triumph in dark times. And to be honest, that is exactly how I experienced the film. Well, at first. Then I read the book.
During the spring of 1971, 19-year-old American table tennis player, Glenn Cowan, wrapped up his training session in Nagoya (Japan) in order to prepare for the 31st World Table Tennis Championship about to take place later that week. He had been concentrating on perfecting his game for hours before he left the building. To his great surprise, Cowan encountered an almost empty parking lot. His team bus had left without him. But when the Chinese players, who were about to leave as well, saw a young American who looked lost, they motioned to him to hop on their team bus. During the short bus ride, Glenn was approached by the Chinese star player Zhuang Zedong. Against instructions to not seek contact with the American players, Zhuang introduced himself to Cowan and presented him with a gift – a silk-screen portrait of a Chinese mountain range. The next day, this friendly gesture was repaid in kind when Glenn gave Zhuang one of his personal t-shirts which had a peace symbol and the Beatles’ lyrics for “Let It Be” on it. These small, spontaneous acts of human kindness triggered a series of events with great political consequences. Read more
For most students, exposure to the English language is largely restricted to the chalky classroom and – outside the classroom – to watching movies or series in English. Yet there’s so much more to work with – just think of the digital world and its potential. Have you heard of the rather political “Pod Save America” or “S-Town” with its Southern Gothic story? The list of podcasts is sheer endless. So why not jump on the podcast train and use it for didactic purposes? You wonder how? Alright, let me give you an idea:
“Our story is about a town. A small town. And the people who live in that town” are the first words we hear on Riverdale (2017 – present). These words are spoken by a narrator who turns out to be a seventeen-year-old boy – with a beanie that looks sort of like a crown – sitting in a diner booth, typing away at his novel in the works.
His name is Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse), and the people living in the small town of Riverdale are Archie Andrews (KJ Apa), who’s torn between being a high school jock and a sensitive musician; the good girl Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) as well as rich rebel Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes). And, of course, all their friends, enemies, frenemies, and parents.
These names may or may not ring a bell because Riverdale and its ensemble of characters are based on the Archie Comics, which have been published since 1942 and have reached iconic fame in the USA. Since then, the characters have appeared in several shapes and forms, even as a virtual band called “The Archies” with their most popular hit song “Sugar, Sugar” from 1969. Read more
On Friday, October 16, our group of five – two master students, three bachelor students, and I – set out from the Institute of English and American Studies at the University of Oldenburg for a four-day excursion to the ecological field station of the University of Potsdam in Gülpe. This small village is located approximately 70 kilometers northwest of Potsdam, or circa 85 kilometers northwest of Berlin, along the eastern border of the Nature Park and Dark Sky Preserve Westhavelland. Here, we wanted to study, debate, and directly experience darkness in an area that still afforded a phenomenon that is increasingly lost to our brightly illuminated European continent: dark night skies. The plan for this long weekend was to have the afternoons set aside for text discussions and to venture out into the dark after the moon had set. The mornings were free to either recover from our nocturnal activities or to explore the wetlands of our immediate surroundings.
Included in our considerable amount of luggage – the ecological field station requires self-catering – were three seminal texts for our ecocritical studies of darkness: Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder (2005); Paul Bogard’s The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light (2013); and the chapter entitled “Ridge” from Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places (2007). Although the titles of the first two books express a sense of loss and therefore suggest a yearning for an earlier, better, more “natural” life, Louv and Bogard both investigate the Anthropocene with an attitude that combines curiosity, fascination, and pragmatism rather than regression, nostalgia, and moralizing. Read more