Sunday, May 31, 2009

True Genius

Let's just cut to the chase. If you're not watching True Blood, you should be, and this post will hopefully tell you why. 

Based on Charlaine Harris's brilliant 8-book Sookie Stackhouse series, True Blood is a series full of surprises.  It's not your typical vampire story; it's about Sookie, a mind-reader, and her efforts to uncover the murders plaguing the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana.  She has quite the motivation, too; both her brother and her new vamp-boyfriend Bill are under suspicion, especially since Vampires have just "come out" and not everyone in Bon Temps is happy about it.  Think you know how this story goes? You don't. Sookie never becomes a vampire. The most lovable character is a black effeminate gay drug dealer/cook at Merlotte's, where Sookie works.  The most intriguing is Tara, her best friend: a girl who nursed her mother (briefly) out of alcoholism, all the while building a tough-girl veneer so she could cope. And just when you think you've figured out the key paranormals in the series, Harris introduces shapeshifters, blood drainers, and, in the next few series, will coax out the witches, fairies, werewolves, werepanthers, and whatever other army of strange she can come up with.

The story is enough to make it worth your while, but it's the attention to detail that highlights its excellence.  Sookie's grandmother drinks Community Coffee, the only coffee any sensible Louisianan (and east Texan!) will have as a wake-up call. Rene speaks perfect Cajun -- none of this ridiculous fake Hollywood BS -- although that turns out to be a bit ironic later in the story.  And Sookie's coworkers and boss speak like East Texans, which they basically are, rather than Georgian Southern belles.  Hollywood always confuses the two, but finally, and perhaps strangely, we get verisimilitude in the most unlikely place.  Many of the characters are faithful friends and closet racists, diligent workers but close-minded cops, devoted family men and murderers.  Everybody has a twist. 

Look, if it's escapism you want, walk away from Paris Hilton's My New BFF. Run screaming from Heidi & Spencer's wedding in The Hills. And pick up True Blood (and the Sookie Stackhouse series of course).  Then recommend something for me to watch or read; I'm in full and utter Sookie Stackhouse withdrawal.  

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Teaching under Tension

I haven't written much lately because I've been teaching an intersession course, which means I left for work at 4 PM and got home at 10:30 PM and basically wanted to curl up under my bed and never come out again. This is not because the class was bad -- it was a modern american drama course with an interesting class roll of former students and a few new firecrackers -- but because the people that keep me sane were denied me during this period.  I couldn't see friends or family, and I saw Andrew about 10 minutes each day if we were lucky. 

The class started off as intense just because of my schedule. 

The tension increased when I introduced the reading list. My students read The Emperor Jones, W;t, Doubt, Angels in America, Streetcar Named Desire, and Crimes of the Heart. Despite that I told them on day one that modern drama is by its nature reactionary and at times outlandish -- that it remains important because it addressed taboo topics concerning race, sex, and gender -- my students were still shocked to read about graphic gay sex or child molestation.  

There were several times during the class that the room got uncomfortable, not because the students said anything incendiary, but because they were discussing possibilities they'd rather not entertain (such as the idea that gender is learned rather than innate).  It was an odd experience: though the students were comfortable with each other and with me, just about every play made people shift uneasily in their seats.  

Is tension necessary for growth? Have you learned something if you've been introduced to an idea that made you feel a little out of sorts?