Today I pulled the “do you see that paper over there? It means I know what I’m talking about.” In a conversation about inference and theme I made a sweeping generalization that, with the exception of a FEW things that I can’t even think of right now, there is no such thing as pure entertainment. Now, stay with me…
We’re crafting our Science Fiction stories about injustices in the world and my students would NOT accept what I had said about entertainment. So I clapped my hands and asked, “Raise your hand if you have graduated college. Raise your hand if you have a degree in literature.” Some smart asses raised their hands, but at the end of the day: they’re still just smart asses. I proceeded to tell students that while I am not an expert, it seems I am the only one in the room close enough to one. So I started to explain to them why my statement was true.
I back pedaled for an example they’d understand. Three or four months ago, one of my very bright seniors crafted a story about pancakes. I asked her to explain what the story was about. The story centered around an agency one could call, one being a pancake, if they felt threatened or belittled. Her witty and satirical story was captivating and funny — it was entertaining. I asked her why she wrote the story, “Because another student told me he didn’t like pancakes and I think that’s silly so I wrote it to — oh, I see what you did there.”
I proceeded, “While you were just being funny, and we were all entertained, you had a purpose in writing the story, did you not? You sought to defame the student’s prejudice and to make fun of it — you had a purpose. You had a reason. You had an underlying cause for writing the story.”
Lightbulbs dimmed and students began to yell at me saying I was just searching for meaning, to which I retorted, “Without some significance or meaning, what is there?”
Another student told me he wrote a story in church about a flower that strangled a hiker and said he had no meaning. I couldn’t get into it in class but there is meaning there whether he knows it or not. He feels suffocated by church, and has told me as much, and said that he saw the flower on the pulpit and thus concocted the story. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar… but that’s coincidence.
If we are the sum total of our experiences, then one cannot believe in coincidence because without those “coincidences” (ie experiences) we wouldn’t be who we are today. Until time travel is invented and alternate realities are brought into existence, all we have is this one chance as survival. One cannot believe in coincidences. And if one cannot believe in coincidence, then one cannot believe that there is no such thing as entertainment. Instead, there is purpose and only purpose. There is purpose and there is theme and there is something to “take home” from every story, whether crafted with a purpose or not.
And no, I do not exactly know what Philip K Dick was thinking when he wrote “The Crystal Crypt,” but I can tell you that he wouldn’t be as highly acclaimed, as widely published, or as well-read as he was/is if there wasn’t PURPOSE in his writing.
Also, if you stuck with a last name like that… you’d HAVE to be purposeful in all you did.
But I didn’t say that in class either.
Some things you just can’t teach high school students. And I’m sure some of my college professors are reading this thinking the same thing about me. And thus the dialogue and the Promethean struggle continues.