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Some very smart teachers I know (much smarter than me) think that this year’s HSC English Paper could possibly focus on the concept of identity as an aspect of belonging. Earlier this week I came across a series of images, Untitled Film Stills by Cindy Sherman, that encapsulate this theme brilliantly. Not only that, but thanks to the wonderful educators at MoMA Learning, there’s some pretty substantial study resources to go with them. Consider this image, Untitled Film Still #3:

cindy-sherman-untitled-film-still-3

 

What might you imagine about the subject’s sense of identity? How might this affect her sense of belonging? Are the objects around her significant? Do they symbolise anything about her life? She is looking away, what might be occurring off-camera? This photograph is a self-portrait of the artist. How might this knowledge affect your relationship with the image?

For a deeper discussion of this image in terms of the theme of identity, see this recording of a MoMA Google Hangout.

I also think this series of images could work well with another potential essay question: Barriers to belonging. Consider ideas of gender roles and social expectations, particularly if your core text is the poetry of Emily Dickinson or the film Strictly Ballroom.

 

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A good way to get started analysing your related texts is to treat them as unseen texts from Paper 1 Section1. Sit down with your text (or, if it’s a long text such as a novel or a film, one or two extracts) and annotate it (for a film, write a detailed viewing log); then answer these questions:

  1. What is the text’s message about belonging (or conflicting perspectives or history and memory)?
  2. Identify and explain at least two language (or visual or aural) features that explore this aspect of belonging (or conflicting perspectives or history and memory).
  3. What is the tone?
  4. Identify and explain at least one language (or visual or aural) feature that reinforces this tone.

Now you should have at least two points to make about the piece and at least three quote/technique/explanations (triangles of doom) to support them. That’s a paragraph’s worth of information. Need more? Sit down with a study buddy and do this for each other’s related texts. This is great practice for Paper 1 Section 1 and should also result in more notes for both of you.

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My last post on this topic generated more real world discussion than the rest of my posts put together. I want to clarify a few things and add one more point.

There are layers to the way a game can be analysed. Like a novel, a game has character, setting, plot, theme, and style. Analysing what these convey about the idea of belonging is the first layer. Like a film, a game has visual and aural elements: colour, depth, music, camera angle, shot length, and dialogue. Analysing these is the second layer. Unlike a novel or a film, the audience is more than a reader or a viewer, she is a PLAYER. Analysing the experiences of the player is the third layer.

User Generated Content

Some games, most notably Little Big Planet, the Sims games and the all consuming Minecraft, offer players the opportunity to do more than interact with the world of the game, they offer the opportunity to build it. These games aren’t really my area (I prefer novels and films where the composer has done most of the work for me) but if they’re yours, it is worth considering the level of engagement you have within a game where the sense of achievement comes not only from conquering the world but also adding to it.

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The Area of Study in the HSC requires students to choose related texts. It’s generally a good idea to choose at least two texts that are different text types from your core text and from each other. For example, if your core text is Immigrant Chronicle, choose a novel and a film, or a short story and a website. But what about video games? Video games are probably the most engaging text type for a large proportion of HSC students. The problem is that most students (and most teachers) don’t know how to analyse them effectively. Here are some tips with examples.

In a video game belonging can result from character or mechanics. The very best games use both strong characterisation for the player-character and of other characters in the world and game mechanics that draw you into the game. For a game to work for the AoS, the story needs to be about belonging or offer an element of belonging through the player-character.

Character

Games often have a player-character who doesn’t belong. They are a loner because only they can save mankind, turn back the tide etc (otherwise, why are they doing it?) There is to be something special about the character and therefore marginalising and alienating. What is this attribute and how is it shown within the game?

Adam Jensen, the protagonist of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, undegoes a series of augmentations that enhance his physical attributes but also make him an outsider in a world suffering moral panic over the ethics of transhumanism. One way his uniqueness is expressed in the game is through his name: Adam is a biblical allusion to the first human, suggesting that augmentation is the way forward for the human race but also that it may result in moral degradation. It is also relevant to note that Adam, although portrayed as the father of humanity in the Bible, begins life alone.

Other aspects of belonging/not belonging to look for in the protagonist and other characters include:

  • shared purpose (World of Warcraft)
  • belonging in a personal relationship (Mass Effect 2)
  • estrangement from family (Red Dead Redemption)
  • feeling out of place/time (Assassin’s Creed)
  • cultural marginalisation (Dragonage)
  • individual enriching a community (Fable II)
  • alienation from a community (Fallout 3)

The above list is just a starting place for you to see some possibilities. Although novels and films also engage viewers through the experiences of characters; it is games that draw the player in and give them some control of the story.

Mechanics

Game play draws players into the world of the game and, more than other text types, offers a sense of belonging through textual engagement because the player is an active participant rather than a passive observer. There are a number of ways games offer a sense of belonging within the text to players.

Character Customisation: many games, mostly RPGs, allow you to make choices about your character. These range from basic (playing Commander Shepard as a male or female character in Mass Effect) to complex (the thousands of combinations available in World of Warcraft). Customisation allows players to have a character that they feel reflects themself, or an ideal or otherwise repressed version of themself. Many games also allow further customisation of the character–learning new skills, or buying new clothing and equipment–as the player levels up. This continual reward enhances a player’s feeling of connection to and belonging within the game.

Discoverable Items: older games only allow players to interact with a limited number of objects. Newer games tend to offer more discoverable items, allowing the player wider choices as to what may be important and also enhancing the modality of the player’s experience of the world. Compare an old platformer like Commander Keen, where the player-character could only move in two dimensions and only interact with enemies and bonuses, with the more recent Little Big Planet, where many of the levels have a limited third dimension (fore, mid, and background), allowing the player greater interactivity and connection.

Point of View: video games may offer first person or third person viewpoints. In first person (most often seen in first person shooters or FPSs) the player is the character, or rather, the camera is the character. This view limits the player to what the character sees. This can be very effective in games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, where the player can experience that character’s disorientation first hand. That is not to say that games in third person cannot also offer the player a strong sense of connection; however, the perspective of the game is worth commenting on in you responses.

Emergent Game Play: this is a fairly recent innovation in games and what it means is that the choices you, the player, make within the world of the game have meaningful consequences within that world. This is, in my opinion, one of the most engaging aspects of modern games. Emergent game play ranges from a non-player character noticing your new hat in Fable, to your entire experience of Mass Effect 2 being shaped by the decisions you made at the end of Mass Effect.

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There are, as I have said in previous posts, a couple of different ways to approach the selection of related material for Module C. This is true also for Peter Carey’s The True History of the Kelly Gang (which, by the way, I think is quite a difficult text) in the History and Memory elective.

Approach One: Stick to Ned, his gang and 19th Century Victoria

Some other texts that would work for this approach are:

Gregor Jordan’s 2003 film Ned Kelly. It has Heath Ledger, it has Orlando Bloom and it opens with a scene which it represents as being Ned Kelly’s personal memory. What more could you want?

The Jerilderie Letter. This link is to the State Library of Victoria page on this artefact/text. You can find the full text of the letter (I think this is also reproduced in the novel). There are some other text links from this page that also look interesting.

Stringybark Creek. Ballads are interesting because they have the status of being oral history but are actually usually quite recent. This one supposedly comes from the Kelly era and the story goes that people caught singing it could be fined up to five pounds.

And while we’re on songs:

For a broader approach, I suggest looking at the National Museum of Australia’s webpage about their current exhibition Not Just Ned: A True History of the Irish in Australia. Its appropriation of Carey’s title is deliberate. Like the Smithsonian site (another core text for this module and elective) this site includes personal stories as well as official history. Websites are brilliant to analyse because of their multimodal nature.

Approach Two: Explore other Historical Personalities, Events and Situations

For example:
Constitutional Crisis 1975

Situation: The Whitlam government was elected in 1972 with a small majority in the House while the Senate was controlled by the Opposition. In 1975 the Opposition used its Senate majority to block supply, effectively shutting down the government and causing a constitutional crisis.

Personalities: Gough Whitlam, Prime Minister; Sir John Kerr, Governor General; Malcolm Fraser, leader of the Opposition.

Event: The sacking of Gough Whitlam by Sir John Kerr on November 11 1975.

Texts:

Whitlam’s Speech This link to an audio extract of the speech at Australian Screen Online  includes curators notes and links to other visual and audio texts.

Whitlam Dismissal Online This site contains links to songs, official documents and new clippings about the situation, event and personalities. There is also a sound and picture archives.

Jeff’s Cartoons Political cartoons from 1975.

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The HSC is an endurance event and the Trials are the last corner before the finish line. Most students probably have at least one internal assessment (my guess is for Module C) remaining but, for the other modules and the AoS, all that’s left is two exam responses: the Trials and the HSC. Studying at this stage should consist firstly, of making summaries and, secondly, of writing practice responses.

The first part of any summary should be an annotated copy of the module rubric. You can use key words from the rubric or the ETA’s aspects of belonging as subheadings. Choose the ones that are relevant to your texts, but make sure that you have a good range to work with. Under the subheadings, list quotes from your texts (both prescribed and related) with an analysis of the techniques and an explanation of how the quote/technique relate to the aspect of belonging.

For example:

belonging in historical contexts

“beauty” and “truth” in ‘I died for beauty’ by Emily Dickinson are literary allusions to the Romantic poet, John Keats. This connects the persona, who feels isolated from her own context, to a tradition of poets.

“the night of Europe” is Primo Levi’s metaphor for the spread of fascism in his own historical context. He feels isolated because he is Jewish but finds a sense of belonging through his “comradeship” with Sandro. This term is used specifically for its political connotations, as the communist Sandro is an antidote to the otherwise pervasive fascism.

A simpler way to approach this would be:

belonging in historical contexts

‘I died for beauty’ – ED. “beauty” “truth” – literary allusion to Keats. Belonging to poetic tradition.

‘Iron’ – Primo Levi. “night of Europe” – metaphor for fascism. “comradeship” – political connotations. Belonging through friendship.

REMEMBER THAT BELONGING ALWAYS IMPLIES NOT BELONGING

belonging to place

‘I had been hungry all the years’ – ED. “Nature’s dining room” – personifiction – persona feels more at home with nature than in human society.

‘Iron’ – PL.  “a new communion with the earth and sky” – biblical allusion – similar to but also contrasting with ED. Primo and Sandro belong in the mountains, away from the politics.

Even thought the BOS seems to be moving towards specifying ONE related text in the Area of Study response, it is worthwhile having at least TWO thoroughly prepared. Your summary should be around three pages long. The real value of a summary lies in the making of it but it can also be a kind of security blanket, something for you to clutch onto the night before an exam.

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Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua was, according to the author, “supposed to be a story about how Chinese parents are better at raising kids. But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures and how [she] was humbled by a thirteen year old.”

This book is a valiant defence of the traditional Chinese way of parenting, in the face of overwhelming cultural opposition. Amy Chua explains the challenges of maintaining family pride and achievement in a sympathetic and thoughtful way. The different styles of parenting–“western” vs Chinese–are framed within different values systems and the entire story is told with charm and good humour.

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