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Posts Tagged ‘context’

Here is how I would approach Paper 2:

Tactic Time (mins) Count Down Clock
Reading Time
Read the questions for Modules A, B, and C. Make sure you check that you read the correct questionfor your elective/text. 5 2h
Writing Time
Annotate the question for Module A and plan your response, including a strong thesis statement and between two and four main supporting points. Remember the focus of this module is CONTEXT. 5 1h55m
Write your Module A essay. 35 1h20m
Annotate the question for Module B and plan your response, including a strong thesis statement and between two and four main supporting points. Remember the focus of this module is RECEPTION. 5 1h15m
Write your Module B essay. 35 40m
Annotate the question for Module C and plan your response, including a strong thesis statement and between two and four main supporting points. Remember the focus of this module is REPRESENTATION. 5 35m
Write your Module C essay. 35 0

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Looking at Module A responses recently, I have noticed something strange: students understand the context of Frankenstein, they have a handle on Romanticism, the Enlightement and the effects of Industrialisation; however, they don’t get the context for Blade Runner. There are some vague references to globalisation and capitalism but no real evidence of the values underpinning those movements. I think that it’s possibly because many teachers (like me) grew up in the 80s and so we assume that part of history is common knowledge. It’s not. Students completing the HSC this year were born in the early 90s and 1982 is outside their experience (and, let’s be honest, their interest). Here are some points to help rectify this problem.

The Cold War: Although it broke out into “hot” wars throughout the 20th Century (Korea and Vietnam being the most obvious examples) the Cold War consisted mostly of spying and tense international relations between the US and the USSR. It also manifested in the Space Race, the over-emphasis of western nations on capitalist policies and their continued interference in the politics of developing nations. The tone of this period of history was pessimistic, with the constant threat of nuclear war hanging over the world. This pessimism about the future of the human race and of the planet is clearly seen in Blade Runner.

Globalisation: this is a term which refers specifically to the unification of economies through free trade. It can also be used to describe the shrinking of the world through media and communication technology. Its effects can be seen in Blade Runner in the Chinatown scenes, where the movement of peoples and languages across borders is evident.

The Reagan Doctrine: Ronald Reagan was President of the US from 1981 to 1989. His policies were shaped, at least in part, by the Cold War, and so included funding anti-Communist groups overseas  (like the Taliban Рoops) and being aggressively pro-capitalist.

Thatcherism: Margaret Thatcher (who famously said, “No woman in my time will be Prime Minister” ) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. She was aggressive in her economic policy, which involved prioritising the control of inflation over the control of unemployment; and limiting the power of trade unions. Many people saw this attitude as being “money over people”. To understand more about the potential of Thatcherism see…

Alan Moore was not a fan of Thatcher or her politics.

One of the main practical outcomes of both Reaganism and Thatcherism, was Deregulation. This is the removal of government controls on corporate activities. Usually the justification was “free market competition”. The consequences of deregulation can be seen in Blade Runner in the unrestrained commercialisation of not only our planet but the offworld colonies. The looming presence of the Tyrell Corp over the government offices is a visual representation of the power shift which took place during the 1980s. It was during this time that many companies went multinational, thus breaking down national boundaries, furthering globalisation and the disempowerment of governments.

A useful word to use for this worldview is Neoconservatism. The main values associated with Neoconservatism are competition (in the free market sense of competition between corporations, free of government interference), economic freedom and traditional “family” values. In some ways, Neoconservatism is the natural child of America’s puritan past and its focus on the Protestant work ethic.

Another consequence of the deregulation of corporations and the commodification of everything is Environmental damage and its reactor, the Environmentalism. The fear of irreversible environmental damage is clear from Philip K. Dick’s 1968 source novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

The message that is explicit in the novel and implicit in the film is that the destruction of natural habitats, and the animals that live in them, is ultimately dehumanising. The key to passing the Voigt-Kampf test is demonstrating empathy with animals. This is almost ironic as the corporation that administors the test is probably one of the corporations responsible for the utter destruction of nature. The potential for mass extinctions due to human interference became a real concern for a number of people by the 1980s.

Technological Innovation. In the 1980s scientific progress had moved from the industrialisation of the 19th Century to a new medium: information. Innovation of this time focused on computers and software. The ’80s were the era of the personal computer (for the first time people had computers in their homes) and of arcade gaming. The replicants can be seen, perhaps, as just another consumer gadget, like a PC.

Space Exploration was also huge. American had won the Space Race in 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the surface of the moon but there was more to explore. In 1977 NASA launched Voyager 1, a probe designed to visit the outlying planets of our solar system and continue beyond. It also carries a “golden record” designed to convey information about the human race to any extraterristrial life the probe may encounter. Space exploration was the antidote to the pessimism of the Cold War. In Blade Runner the optimism of colonising new worlds is undermined as they are necessary refuges from the polluted ruin of Earth rather than symbols of human endeavour.

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It is strange to be reminded that Jane Austen’s classic romance, Pride and Prejudice, was published (sans zombies) just five years before the first edition of Mary Shelley’s gothic horror tale, Frankenstein. The contemporary social upheaval caused by the competing ideologies of the Enlightenment, Industrialisation and the Romantic Movement is evident in Shelley’s text but can seem invisible in Austen’s more restrained social novel. Austen, however, was not unaware of social injustice and three key issues are relevant to an understanding of her novels.

1. Enclosure. By th19th Century, almost all arable lands in England had been enclosed,by hedges or fences, restricting their use as pasture to the owners. Prior to this, much land had been available for grazing to the landless poor. One of the consequences of enclosure was to increase the number of seasonal labourers requiring poor relief. In Pride and Prejudice, this allows Darcy to be held up as a more generous land owner than others (and his housekeeper to brag about him to Elizabeth). Although enclosures began as early as the 13th Century, it was really during the Industrial Revolution, when land was increasingly commodified, that the practice became dominant.

2. Entailment. The Bennet sisters’ desperate situation is due in part to entailment laws. The purpose of these laws was to ensure the line of succession for important houses. The reality of them was that the owner was unable to sell or bequeath their estate. It was, instead, entailed to the legal heir. The result of such laws was often families who were impoverished by debt in spite of being in possession of impressive estates or, as in the case of the Bennet sisters, women being left at the mercy of, often distant, male relatives. The abolishment of individual entails was made simpler in 1833 but it was only in 1996 that the law was abandoned altogether.

Military Meritocracy. Although during the Regency it was still common practice for a young man to purchase a commission (that is, an officer’s rank) in the Army or the Navy, it was during this period that the military in England (particularly the Navy) began to reward meritorious service with rank – both military and social. This allowed landless gentlemen to improve their social standing and aspire to more profitable matches. Perhaps the best example of this in Austen is Captain Wentworth in Persuasion, who becomes wealthy and a socially acceptable match for the daughter of a Baronet, through his service in the West Indies. The social signficance of the soldiers quartered at Meriton in Pride and Prejudice is another example.

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When first learning the superficial details of Emily Dickinson’s life, it is difficult to avoid developing a mental picture of her that looks something like this:

If, however, we are going to discuss Dickinson’s poetry in the context of Area of Study Belonging, we need to explore a life that was much more complex than “Emily Dickinson felt she didn’t belong”.

I have put together a powerpoint with some further information. See the link below.

Emily Dickinson Contextual Notes

Some notes to accompany the powerpoint:

Slides 3-4: Emily Dickinson was highly educated for a woman of her time. When compared to other female poets of the era like Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rosetti, she had access to a huge amount of formal education as well as books and journals to continue her education through reading.

Slide 5: Darwin’s and Lyell’s theories were both hugely controversial when they were first published (still are in some places).

Slide 8: Emerson’s and Thoreau’s essays and/or articles might make good related texts for this module. Particularly if you’re interested in the ideas of belonging to a tradition of writers/poets or belonging to nature.

Note for teachers, tutors and extra keen students: you are free to download and use any of my docstoc powerpoints. It would be nice if you mentioned where you got it, particularly the Module A powerpoints that were actually put together by some of my students.

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