Reading Night of the Living Dead

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As we all bunker down for a long stay at home during this new era of social distancing, it’s the perfect time to indulge in simple pleasures. Perhaps it’s reading a great book, drawing, mastering a new recipe or diving into a pool of board games. For folks like me, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Shudder, Disney + and my own DVD/BluRay collection are being put to good use.

Speaking to the world of cinema, the teacher in me couldn’t remain silent during this time of isolation. Thinking about folks who may be looking for a bit of mental stimuli, the goal is to present  two movies a week that speak to film genre is compelling and transformative ways. This week is: Night of the Living Dead and Us.

So, as much as watching movies during the the day is to pass the time, there is a great opportunity to think critically and to “read” popular film as cultural text.

Here is an critical reflection I attempted to livestream on Night of the Living Dead. Unfortunately, it seemed as if  the YouTube streaming live studio function was zombified itself. So, after experiencing technical difficulties with little resolve, I’ll be recording short video provocations for interested viewers.

Here’s my brief cultural exploration of George A. Romero’s 1968 classic – Night of the Living Dead.

 

 

 

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Stay at Home Watch List: Week One

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If you’re like me, then most likely your brain is hurting from world reality being consumed on social media. From your typical Twitter hysterics to the pressing realities being shared by actual experts in the medical field, the time of today is to listen and truly be cognizant of our shared responsibility for one another. This means, staying in and sacrificing a bit of one’s liberty and freedom to ensure that our communities are safe.

I know I say this from a place of privilege as I’m fortunate to be an Ontario educator as is my wife. As such, being home with our two elementary school aged children comes with little sacrifice. We’re getting paid, we don’t need child care and we’re able to navigate the next weeks without extra anxieties.

Yes, we’re terribly worried about our kids, our elderly parents, nieces, nephews, siblings, friends and colleagues. We’re worried about those we see each weekend working in our local grocery store and neighbours who are ill. It’s with this worry, that we’re committed to scarfing our wants to be “out and about” with social distancing. Going to the local mall or movie theatre at this time isn’t responsible. It’s potentially putting those who work in those places of business at risk and so many others.

So, as we all await next steps from our government leaders, thankfully, streaming can help us stay at home with a bit more calm and distraction from the twenty-four hour news cycles and trending social media feeds about the apocalypse.

So, with an overt awareness that bigger issues are shaping our urgent collective reality, the following “the kids are in bed” watch list is an attempt to find solace in the time indoors. The malls will still be there as will the movie theatres when the crisis over.

Let’s do our part to keep our communities safe. Take care of yourself, families and others.

Monday March 16: Booksmart (Amazon Prime)

Tuesday March 17: Jo Jo Rabbit (Google Play Movies)

Wednesday March 18: Rocketman (Amazon Prime)

Thursday March 19: The Farewell (Amazon Prime)

Friday March 20: Joker (Google Play Movies) and Child’s Play (Amazon Prime)

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Two Suns: A Call to Serve

TWO SUNS

Over the course of the past four weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to settle into my new role as Vice Principal. As a very active classroom teacher, the journey from the classroom to the main office was one with intentional and meaningful discernment that has proven to be critical in my work thus far.

With a focus on culture building and serving all community stakeholders, the last four weeks have provided me with an opportunity to reflect on the complexity of leadership and build reimagined relationships with staff and students who I’ve known for a number of years. These relationships are so very important in my goal to help my school continue to thrive as a safe place that empowers all learners to become what God intends them to be. This is to say that as I continue to learn about my new role, I thrive to be a Servant Leader who is responsive to community and one who enables others to see and harness their potential.

Speaking to Servant Leadership, I was recently visited by a student who looked perplexed to see a poster for the original Star Wars on my office wall.  As the student stood in the doorway, he asked “Sir, what’s with the Star Wars poster?” I suppose he was expecting the decor to be a bit more formal. Nonetheless, I asked the student to sit down, invited him to take a chocolate from my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles candy jar and promptly began to give him an unsolicited disposition on Luke Skywalker and leadership. The poor soul was most certainly looking for a quick exit but I suppose he took pity on me.

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As I shared with him, the original Star Wars provides a master class in leadership education. As Luke travels upon Joseph Conrad’s hero’s journey, he is faced with the leadership provocation: Who are you called to be? He is challenged to look into this soul and embrace his sense of self, while looking to his past and the potential of his future. This is very much echoed in the scene of Luke looking at the two suns of Tatooine.

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So much more than a feat of special effects wizardry, the suns represent Luke’s discernment and his reflection on who is and who he wants to become. As such, the moon’s rest as a symbol of dual fates as Luke reflects on where he is and where he yearns to be. As he looks onto the sunset his stands in discernment about who he is called to be.

Now even more perplexed and truly looking for his quick exit, the student continued to humour me as I shared that the poster really resonates with me and who I am working to be as his Vice Principal.  Like Luke, I was looking for a new beginning and an opportunity to answer a call of action. Like Luke who wanted to serve the Rebellion in the epic battle against the Empire, I too was looking to serve – called to serve.

In this new journey of leadership, my hope is to learn immensely, serve and like Luke, help others to be empowered, autonomous leaders themselves. Like Luke who helped Hans Solo see himself as a hero, I look to the two moons of leadership with continued contemplation and positive outlook.

 

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From Strike Captain to VP: We’re all in this Together.

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Dear OECTA and Education Colleagues,

Over the course of the past week, I’ve had much to reflect on. From standing with my colleagues as their Strike Captain just days ago to my work with the OECTA PD network over the course of the past six years, it has been an overwhelming past few days of looking back and looking forward.   

It’s in looking forward that I share these reflective notes and thanks:

Earlier this week, I was honoured to be appointed as the new Vice Principal of Chaminade College School at the Toronto Catholic District School Board.  I’ve had the distinct honour to call Chaminade my home for the past six years and in this time, have learnt so much from my colleagues and have been inspired by the staff’s collective commitment to excellence in Catholic all-boys education. Prior to teaching at Chaminade, I had never taught in a single gender school and thus arrived wondering what the experience would be like. Nonetheless, I quickly found it to be a truly transformational one and an experience I yearn for my own school-aged children when looking ahead to their high school years. 

My journey to Chaminade in 2014, began after three years as a Resource teacher with 21C and Academic Information Communication Technology at the system level.  From the expansion of tech-integration across the board, to all aspects of eLearning and the focus of competency-based education, being a resource teacher gave me so many new tools that I was yearning to use myself as a classroom teacher. The role provided me with incredible professional learning and is one that truly transformed how I see teaching and learning.  As such, I ventured to Chaminade, declining a resource position renewal, with the goal o see if I could put into action the learning I shared with teachers as a trainer. 

I wanted to see if I could actually implement what I was preaching to colleagues. I wanted to ensure I wasn’t a “pseudo expert” who was able to “sell” but not “build.” As I was already discerning about formal leadership, I truly felt that I needed to spend more time in the classroom not only to hone my craft but to learn from others.  Nonetheless, humbly, I think that “experiment” was a success and I leave my teaching role as the Department Head of Business and Technology with pride and appreciation in all of the great work accomplished with fellow teachers and students alike. This is important to note that the success experienced is not in isolation. It’s a result of my dynamic administrators, teacher colleagues and students who journeyed with me and many others who supported new ideas. From senior staff to community partners, the support was real. Needless to say, education is a shared reality and success for our students comes as a collective. 

In regards to OECTA, as I began my journey at Chaminade, I also grew more invested in the association’s mission to provide members with enriched professional learning opportunities. As an active member of OECTA’s PD network and AQ program, all of the learning and wonderful relationships I formed will most definitely serve me well in my new role as a VP. For this, I will remember my roots. Although this new chapter will come with unique realities,  different perspectives, successes and challenges, my deep admiration for the classroom teacher and belief in the potential of students will guide me in my administrative practice. 

With all of this, I feel truly blessed and privileged to start this new chapter at Chaminade. It’s a testament to the school community and the positive relationships that all stakeholders have. I extend my thanks to the school’s past and current administrators, all staff, students, parents and board senior staff for their confidence and trust. 

Importantly, as we all look ahead to an Ontario educational future that is still unknown and defined by critical issues that matter to all stakeholders, I deeply value the great work OECTA teachers do to enrich the lives of their students and advocate for a better tomorrow. It was a true privilege to be an OECTA teacher for 15 years. Life changing.

To all OECTA teachers, know that you are valued and that you matter. I am so proud to be a parent of two elementary children who are flourishing because of the publicly funded Catholic education they receive. Their love of learning is a testament to their  teachers and an entire school community that works together for the students. I trust my kids’ teachers with the two things I love most in the world. As such, I stand with them in every capacity and deeply appreciate all of their hard work and sacrifice. 

In closing,  I look forward to an incredible new learning journey and doing my part to ensure that Ontario publicly funded Catholic education continues to flourish, that teachers feel actively supported, stakeholders have confidence and that all students feel empowered to become what God intends them to be. 

We’re all in this together. You are not alone.  

God Bless. 

Anthony

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Whatcha Gonna Do? Reading “Bad Boys”

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As a Communications Technology teacher there are a number of great pleasures found in my day-to-day. From observing the student joy of production or the laughter of collaboration gone right, it’s truly a unique classroom where all learners readily show what they know within the context of media and the power of voice.

As students progress in their critical and creative prowess, all learning is grounded in the deep study of genre. It’s through genre that the study of media becomes transformative. Genre provides students with a rich cultural window and enriched opportunities to share their own sensibilities about who they are and their perspectives on the world.

This is not a new stance I take but one that I have readily addressed on this very site. With this, the more students watch critically, the more engaged they will become. This doesn’t mean that the study has to be “high brow” but can be one that entertains and provokes. So, as a new semester soon begins in many high schools across Ontario, ignite genre studies with some good old 90s infused theatrical antics.

With Will Smith and Martin Lawrence now in theatres with Bad Boys for Life, there’s a great opportunity to explore the politics of the action genre. At a time where capes and superpowers have shaped the consciousness of action cinema in the mind of young audiences, the idea of what I call the “exuberance of everyday” has been lost. This is the idea that the 80s and 90s action hero, achieved heroics, without superpowers but rather an “exuberant” extroverted signification of self.

Whether it be John McClean in Die Hard (1988) or Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible (1996), the movies and their heroes provide for hyper escape from self. It’s within this framework that 80s and 90s action movies (the most popular of the two decades), can provide ample opportunity to explore culture and individual selves.

Looking to Bad Boys (1995) specifically, the buddy-cop movie is more important that it’s often given credit for.

Let’s explore through the following lesson plan:

Rflect

As a whole group, shape an opportunity for students to reflect on genre and what they know.

Guiding questions can include:

  • What type of movie or television show is your favourite to watch and why?
  • What type of movies are the most popular today? Why do you think this is?

Within the context of these questions, the goal is to shape an in-class conversation about film genre within the framework of time and space. It’s important for students to know that genre is more than a category of film, television or music. Importantly, genre is a window into history and culture. As such, to study genre is to understand culture at a particular time. This is to say that genres do evolve or change over time as culture changes and evolves. Also, although genre is shaped by culture, genre can also shape culture. As such the study of genre is layered.

Once you have a conversation about genre with your students, screen the following film in class:  Big Guns – Bigger Heroes

After watching the film, have students in small groups share their ideas.

Distribute chart paper and markers to the students. Have them discuss and document three critical takeaways from the film screened above.

The goal is to cultivate knowledge construction within the context of 80s action films.

Action

Now that students have had an opportunity to meaningfully engage with the concept that genre is shaped by and shapes culture, watch the film Bad Boys in class or take your class to a theatrical screening of Bad Boys for Life.

Before watching the film, share the following excerpt with students:

Bad Boys

With this excerpt from the text A Companion to the Action Film by James Kendrick, the buddy-cop sub-genre is defined. In the writing, respective films’ race pairing is noted. In regards to Bad Boys, the coupling of two African American leads is pressing. Evolving from the 80s templates such as Lethal Weapon (1987) where blackness is white-washed, Bad Boys featuring of two black police officers is very much a rejection of traditional genre norms. Marcus, a family man and Mike a wealthy bachelor, are both officers that yearn to serve and protect. In doing so, they both exist outside of the institutional norms as “Bad Boys.” They’re aware of their racial identity and find humour in their narrative existence.

Consol

With the goal to have students show what they know, encourage learners to dive deep into their understanding of genre and provide a critique of either Bad Boys or Bad Boys for Life in the form of a pod-cast.

Co-construct of the specifications of the pod-cast with your class. Think about length, key outcomes etc. Like a three part essay, the pod-cast should have a: beginning, middle and end.

Suggestions:

Beginning: In the beginning, students should define genre and why it is important to study. From genre, students introduce the either film.

Middle: Students provide a summary of the film and key critical points as a genre piece. What did they find compelling? How is race represented in either film? How is either film “meta” in it’s approach?

End: Bring forward a conclusion that reinforces the relevance of either film within a genre context.

In regards to technology, students can record their audio using their smartphones. This can be very low tech. A free program, Audacity can be used to import MP3 files and edit the recording.

Encourage students to brand the pod-cast; make it sound like an “authentic” audio show. Perhaps, including audio excerpts from either film and an formal branded introduction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Karate Kid Saga Continues…

Lessons

As any teacher will know, being a teacher means that you often look at the world through a teacher-lens. You see things and read things from a perspective that often relates to your existence in a classroom and working with students. Whether, observing social behaviour in line when paying for groceries or the dynamics at a family function, as a teacher your social and classroom world can become easily blurred.

As a Communications Technology teacher with a background in film production and theory, this blurring readily occurs when I watch movies. Whether it be streaming or in the theatres, I can’t help but explore a respective film or series through a cinephile and teacher-related lens. Actually, I watch through many lenses, which include: pleasure, academic and professional. Sometimes, this means I have to watch a movie or television series multiple times to satisfy anyone appetite for consumption.

One recent Christmas holiday watch (and re-watch) that has resonated deeply with me is the YouTube Original Series Cobra Kai. A continuation of the classic 80s movie The Karate Kid (1984), I can’t get the series out of my head. Like the original film, the series deeply resonates with me and importantly my own school-aged children.

As a watched the series with my kids, we chatted about the adult and teenage characters. From Cyber-Bullying to complicated friendships and family ties, the series is an incredibly effective continuation of the original Karate Kid with “time” providing so many unique opportunities for meaningful character exploration and the presentation of topical themes that relate to teen youth of today.

In Cobra Kai, Johnny Lawrence (the lead bully in the original Karate Kid) is far past his teenage prime and lives a sadly obscure adult life. Still living in the memory of the 1980s, Johnny has been lost since losing his All Valley Under 18 Karate Championship to Daniel Larusso back in 1984 and being attacked by his martial arts teacher John Kreese for “failing” the Cobra Kai dojo . Whereas Johnny is trapped in obscurity, Daniel has found personal and professional success. A doting husband, loving father and wealthy, Daniel has an envious life and one that it far from his working class roots of the original film.

Although the now adult Johnny and Daniel are living different lives with a still existing feud between them, their central personal narratives insect with their teenage children and are shaped by something similar: teachers and teaching.

As Johnny (original actor William Zabka) opens up his own Cobra Kai dojo in Season 1 and Daniel (Ralph Macchio) counters with Miyagi-do Karate in season 2, the show readily becomes a master class in educational leadership and what it means to be a teacher to young people.

Its within this narrative space of conflicting dojos and teenage drama that we learn about perception and personal narratives as it relates to students and teachers. It’s within this context that Cobra Kai becomes so much more than a continuation of The Karate Kid. It becomes a teachable lesson is cultural responsiveness; who people are and how their personal narratives shape their actions, sense of self and importantly, relationships.

Most interestingly within the series is the character of Johnny Lawrence himself. Whereas, audiences have engaged with Daniel over the course of three films and as much as he still remains critical to the sagas’ story arc, the driving force of the series is Johnny Lawrence.  As Johnny works to be a better person and version of his teenage self, the audience engages with one of the most interesting characters (and portrayals) currently on a broadcast or streaming platform. Transforming from a one-dimensional 80s bully in the original film, Johnny of Cobra Kai is deeply multi-dimensional and a teachable affirmation that personal stories matter. Who our students are behind their social identities matter as do the realities of their teachers.

This is all to say that “teaching” and “teachers” are at the core of Cobra Kai. Whereas Daniel has benefited in life greatly from good teachers including his mother and importantly martial arts sensei Mr. Miyagi, Johnny has suffered as a result of an emotionally abusive step-father and aggressive karate in film’s classic villain, Kreese. As such, Johnny is not mere a quintessential 80s movie bully but rather a human being cultivated into hatred by men who hate and could not show love. In Cobra Kai, flashbacks of Johnny as an adolescent searching for love and acceptance provide a window into the adult character’s soul. Like Daniel, he was an outsider. However, unlike Daniel,  Johnny wasn’t blessed to have male-figures in his life who showed love and kindness.

As a teenage member of Cobra Kai dojo, Johnny was taught to “Strike First”, “Strike Hard” and show “No Mercy.”  Now as Sensei and parent (albeit estranged from his teenage son), he now knows that showing mercy is honourable and that the Cobra Kai of his teenage days did not serve him to be a winner in life.  As he tries to change and teach his own students martial arts in the right way he faces many challenges including the return of his old teacher in Season 2. Through Johnny, we’re reminded that being a teacher is about delivering lessons for life and that being good and hopeful is of critical importance.

With all of this, Cobra Kai has recently wrapped production on Season 3 with what should be a Spring time release on Youtube’s premium paid service. Of all the streamers producing entertaining and provocative content, Cobra Kai is simply the best around. It’s so much more than nostalgia.

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[Photoshop Tutorial) Sarah Connor Returns

Sarah

Well before the Me Too Movement, Times Up and the repositioning of gender politics within popular Hollywood film with movies such as Ghostbusters (2016) or the introduction of superhero heroines such as Captain Marvel, there was Sarah Connor.

For the movie going audiences my age who grew up re-watching James Cameron’s high octane tech-noir Terminator (1984) on VHS or sat in the theatres (multiple times) for the game-changing phenomenon of Terminator 2: Judgement Day in the summer of 1991, it should be understood that Sarah Connor stands on the mountain tops of female action heroines.

Like Ellen Ripley, who Cameron militarized as a maternal figure in Aliens (1986), Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor is a canon for gender equality. From her transformation from victimized waitress to survivor in Terminator to the T-800’s hard-bodied partner in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the narrative of humanity against the machines has always been grounded in her story and shaped by her resilient pursuit to stop a future enabled by man’s obsession with technology.

It’s this pursuit that continues in the Tim Miller helmed Terminator: Dark Fate, which finds Hamilton returning to her star making role for the first time in twenty-seven years. It’s the time that has passed that reminds us franchise devotees that Sarah has always been the story, not the machines.

In honour of Sarah and for teachers out there who may be looking for an opportunity to shape a media literacy based gender discussion in class, here is a classroom tested Adobe Photoshop design tutorial to enrich and expand students’ potential new learning. With this poster, Sarah returns from the ashes of the past – choosing her fate.

Terminator

Click here for the tutorial files: Terminator Dark Fate

 

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[Media Smarts Lesson Plan] Finding the Truth in Deep Fake Video (Gr. 9-12)

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Teachers’ Note:

As global citizens entrenched in a digital and thus interconnected world, we are now officially in uncharted territory. Just as mobile video shared through social media applications promised to disrupt oppression with the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the onset of video deep fakes has the potential to threaten democracy and re-shape history. 

Although photo manipulation is known to be a common practice within mass communications culture, whether it be Vogue or Instagram, video altering was more nuanced and difficult. This is no longer the case. Now, without a Hollywood blockbuster budget, amateur mobile technology has now arisen that is alarming in its Deep Fake effectiveness.  

Whereas “Fake News” littered on Facebook and grass-roots websites impacted the 2016 United States election, imagine the potential of Deep Fake videos shaping the Canadian election. Nothing is impossible. As shared in the article titled “How Deep Fakes could impact the 2019 Canadian election” Nicole Bogart asserts that Deep Fake videos “tests the fundamental belief of “seeing is believing.” 

As such, we educators must teach their students to really see. Start with this. 

Lesson Plan:

Minds On:

Teachers Note:  The goal is to decipher students critical awareness of Fake News. As a form of “Assessment for Learning” this opening task will provide you with formational observation. What do students know? 

Using chart paper and in groups suitable for your classroom size and learners, have students address the following question:

  • Brainstorm the good and bad of social media. How do you think social media is positive? How do you think social media is negative?

Importantly, walk the classroom and engage in small group conversation with students. Support this structuring and sharing of critical reflections and ideas. 

Once the group brainstorming is completed, allow for whole-group sharing. 

From all of the ideas shared, present or build upon the idea of Fake News. 

Action:

Teachers Note: The goal is to build upon students’ critical awareness of social media. As a form of “Assessment as Learning,” the goal is for students to define Fake News. 

With access to the Internet and an internet connected device, have students in small groups define Fake News.

  • Where did this term come from? Why has it become disruptive?

Once Fake News is defined, have students research Video Deep Fakes. In researching Video Deep Fakes, have students address the following:

  • Why are video Deep Fakes a concern in today’s digital society?

As a whole group, have students share ideas with the class. Below is a video Deep Fake that went viral a few months ago. 

 

Consolidation:

Teachers Note: The goal is to have students show their critical understanding of Deep Fake videos within a cultural context. This activity will provide an “Assessment of Learning” opportunity. 

Individually or in groups suitable for your classroom size,  have students read the following article “Social Media Users Entranced, Concerned by Chinese Face-Swapping Deep Fake App” published by Time Magazine. 

After reading,  have the student or students create an infographic that summarizes the article, defines Deep Fake videos and presents critical concerns. 

Students can use such graphic design programs such as Canva, Adobe Photoshop or go non-tech and illustrate the infographic. 

Here is a working rubric that can be revised for classroom use or you may like to co-construct the rubric with your students.

Screen Shot 2019-10-06 at 3.52.17 PM

For more, read my article titled, Media Literacy in the Deep Fake Era, published in OECTA’s Catholic Teacher Magazine.

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David Morrell on Rambo and the need for Hope

BannerDavid

Now in my 15th year of teaching, I can look back on many fond memories of truly unique teaching and learning experiences in and out of the classroom. However, I’m not sure that yesterday’s experience will be easily matched.

As an 80s kid and movie buff, I grew up on an assortment of action cinema. Stallone and Schwarzenegger were staples of my VHS collection of movies recorded from broadcast television. With a mix tape of 80s action heroics, I would run home to revisit the likes of The Terminator (1984) and Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (1985) with consistency. They were my homework.

In looking at character of John Rambo, specifically, it’s undeniable that he was a transformative American figure. As a kid growing up in Niagara Falls Canada and inundated with the Hollywood dream factory, the lure of such a national figure was all encompassing. From action figures to lunch boxes and Saturday morning cartoons, Rambo was entrenched with a global psyche as an American hero who will sacrifice his quest for redemption for the greater good. Rambo by all accounts was Reagan’s America.

As a kid watching the character of Rambo on television in the mid 80s, I would never have thought that I would have the opportunity to engage is such a deep critical study of the character as I did yesterday. I’ve taught about genre and Reaganite cinema through First Blood (1982) , Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (1985) and Rambo 3 (1988) for sometime now, but yesterday was a true education for me and my students.

Connecting with David Morrell via his website and Twitter, my students and I had the humbled privilege to chat with the First Blood author via Skype. What transpired was not merely an examination of his Rambo as an American national figure but importantly ourselves within a larger social and faith-based framework.

Morrell, a Canadian and American dual citizen, who was born and raised in Kitchener- Waterloo area, attended Catholic elementary, secondary and post-secondary schooling before heading off to Penn State to pursue his dream of being an author. This early learning experience shaped his cultural sensibilities as he shared with the students.

From the onset of the Skype conversation, he shaped a compelling narrative about the importance of stories, understanding time and setting and definitive moments of one’s life. All of this was in establishing what First Blood, his first novel, meant to him and the importance of Rambo, as a character shaped by the psychological depression experienced by the United States during the mid 1960s to late 1970s.

Rambo, like all great heroes is on a journey. For Morrell, this journey of self-discovery and redemption was shaped by being a Canadian in the United States a critical time for the country and observing from a distance, the impact war has on the soul of the individual and nation. As he shared “being born and raised in Canada influenced the writing of FIRST BLOOD because I was an outsider, an observer. If I’d been involved—eligible for the draft for example—I might have had a different perspective. There aren’t any politics in the novel. I think that’s one reason why it hasn’t aged and why it’s never been out of print in 47 years.”

Within the context of the novel, Morrell shaped a rich study of genre for my students. As I’ve shared in my Communications Technology classes and within media literacy PD circles, its critical for student producers to have a sound understanding of genre. This allows for media literacy to become an enabler of culturally responsive teaching and learning. This is to say that through genre, personal stories can be shaped and resonant with an audience.

Within the audio excerpt below, Morrell provides a rich framework for the novel First Blood and one that reinforces that popular culture is a mirror onto ourselves – a great social experiment to determine what we value at any particular time. In regards to First Blood and Rambo, the idea of war and consequence seems to be themes that unfortunately pass the test of time.

 

With all of this, Morrell provides all of us with a provocation to produce popular culture in the spirit of doing good. As he shared in response to the new film, Rambo: Last Blood, which has created controversy for its level of violence, “at this time in the world, do we want to promote rage or hope?”

For us in a Catholic school setting, the answer is always “hope.”

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[Trailer Review] Rambo Returns in the Trump Era

Rambo

There’s something to be said about the durability of Sylvester Stallone’s action brand. Since the release of his career defining Rocky in 1976, Stallone’s creative body of film work has been continuously prolific. Regardless of critical acclaim, respective projects may have received, his catalogue is shaped like a cultural time capsule. From the transformation of Rocky from New Hollywood 70s drama to action serial in the 1980s to the characterization of John Rambo as a broken and isolated Vietnam veteran to unsung American hero of Reagan’s America, Stallone reminds us that genre studies is a cultural discourse and as such it evolves with time.

It’s with this, that the soon-to-be released actioner Rambo: Last Blood harkens back to the time of old school 80’s action epics that places anti-heroes into arenas of carnage all while reminding audiences of the power of the American male. In fact, it’s the Stallone starring First Blood (1982) directed by Ted Kotcheff that ushered in the era of 80s action set pieces. Like Star Wars (1977) and the birth of the space opera, First Blood was an onscreen spectacle not seen before with guns, grand stunts and explosions galore. Although Hollywood had a history of producing action adventure serials, the gun trotting and explosive antics of a Vietnam veteran pushed too far and suffering from PTSD, was new and riveting cinema. Furthermore, the material was brave in that it placed the violence of the war directly into the “heart” of America with the pulse and complexity of the Vietnam War living throughout the narrative.

From there, as early American thinking evolved from a distaste of Vietnam (and the memory of its failure) to a pro- American military philosophy and foreign policy about re-victory during the height of the Reagan era, the tale of Rambo evolved from physiologically broken outcast to hard-bodied American hero who saves POWs from Vietnam (Rambo: First Blood Part 2, 1985) and halting the Russian invasion of Afghanistan (Rambo 3, 1988).  Its with the original trilogy that a summary of 1980s American political thinking can be traced. With the release of Rambo in 2008, filmgoers where treated to a hyper-violent franchise entry that continued with Rambo: First Blood Part 2‘s saviour narrative. Now, living in Thailand, Rambo enters the communist country of Burma to save a group of Christian missionaries. Like in the past, Rambo with his military know-how must become a reluctant saviour.

Now, with the forthcoming release of Rambo: Last Stand, the story of John Rambo embraces the action genre’s cultural sensibilities as a Trump-Era exploration of domestic policy. Now back home on his Texas ranch, Rambo goes to war against a Mexican Drug-Cartel (Trump’s unilateral threat) who has kidnapped the grandchild on his family friend and caretaker (aligned with Trump’s assertion that Mexico is dangerous and thus a wall is needed).

Recognizing that genre artifacts rise from a shared political consciousness, the film seems to align itself with conservative thinking and the notion that Mexico (stereotypically defined by its crime) is a domestic threat. Needless to say, Rambo as he has done before, will fight to protect the American way.

It’s through a cultural exploration of the Rambo films that we’re reminded that genre provides for an exploration of the individual and the collective. It’s interesting to see how audiences respond to this Taken-like entry into the Rambo series.

As I look forward to taking my students to see the film, I’m confident that this Rambo entry for the Trump Era will provide for some very rich conversation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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