Saturday, August 2, 2014

Trigger Warnings for a Tragic Syllabus

USA Today 4/6/12:  This branch of the University of California's student government unanimously passed a resolution in support of trigger warnings on syllabi earlier this year. Although the resolution still doesn't require [the warnings] to be placed on syllabi, [the resolution] shows that the student body supports professors using these warnings on material that could be upsetting."  -- USA Today, April 6, 2014

Well, okay. Here's my revised syllabus for my fall, 2014, section of "Tragic Drama," now retitled:

The following warnings are in place for students who have not played a video game, seen the evening news or an action movie, or read a work of fiction at any point before this, their freshman year of college.
 Week 1. Euripides, Medea. Students are warned that the text and clips of televised
dramatic scenes present depictions of maternal violence that far surpass any wicked stepmother’s attempt to poison Snow White. The play also contains language. Themes: adultery, murder of children. THE ACTIONS ARE NOT ACTUALLY TAKING PLACE IN REAL LIFE, NOR ARE THEY RECOMMENDED. PLEASE PAY CAREFUL ATTENTION TO CHORAL DISCLAIMERS.

Weeks 2-3. Shakespeare, Cymbeline. Speaking of wicked stepmothers, this play contains a really strident one who, like Medea, commits language. She also poisons cats and dogs, and -- taking a page from “Snow White” -- tries to off her stepdaughter. Scenes include one which features a headless corpse, and another which contains references to farting. Oh, and a creepy guy jumps out of a trunk. THESE ACTIONS ARE NOT ACTUALLY TAKING PLACE IN REAL LIFE, NOR ARE THEY RECOMMENDED. Please grip chair, close eyes, and hang on for happy ending.
Weeks 4-6. Shakespeare, Hamlet. Students are warned that dialogue contains lots of LANGUAGE as well as several references to suicide and incest. Videos include frank representations of fratricide and uncle-cide. THESE ACTIONS ARE NOT ACTUALLY TAKING PLACE, NOR ARE THEY RECOMMENDED. Please pay careful attention to uncle's soliloquy, in which he expresses regret for prior sensational behavior.

Weeks 7-8. Shakespeare, Othello. SPOILER ALERT: Students may wish to leave the classroom before instructor screens clip of final scene, in which a misogynistic murder followed by a suicide is represented. Those who choose to remain are advised to bear in mind that THE ACTIONS ARE NOT ACTUALLY TAKING PLACE, NOR ARE THEY RECOMMENDED. Please attend carefully to FINAL SOLILOQUY/DISCLAIMER/HALF-ASSED APOLOGY for tragic actions.
Week 9. Sophocles, Oedipus Rex. Students are warned to expect wordy if vague discussions of incest and parricide, and to see, in the film clip, a large wooden smiley mask replaced at one point by a scary one with bloody holes painted where the eyes once were. THIS IS JUST A MASK. IT IS NOT REALLY THE ACTOR’S HEAD. Further, NEITHER THE INCEST NOR THE PARRICIDE HAS REALLY OCCURRED, LIKE IN REAL LIFE, NOR ARE THESE ACTIONS RECOMMENDED. Students are advised to play close attention to all choral disclaimers, as well as to consult dictionary for definition of “myth.”
 Weeks 10-11. Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus. Don’t get me started. Maybe just drop the class NOW, while there's still time.

 FINAL WARNING: English majors fulfilling Renaissance distribution requirement are reminded, oh, yeah, we don’t have one. But if you find yourself in a seventeenth-century poetry seminar anyway, or a British literature survey, please heed this warning for:

Milton, Paradise Lost: Married couple consigns human race to total destruction with limited chance of salvation. Interaction with Satan a major theme. Author strongly suggests that these disturbing events are REAL, and, further, that the WORLD is real.

Instructors are on call at all times to help students process the  thoughts and emotions provoked by all these works and by the world, by means of essays and class discussion. 


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