Sunday, March 4, 2012

To Quote My Grandmother: "Why Are Teenagers So Stupid?"

I am slowly but surely breaking down teenagers' mental stability. All those things that parents have done to make their children feel safe in the world they live in, I taint with my radical pedagogy. What little ego, what little self-esteem, what little confidence they have in their beliefs, I am picking apart like a vulcher tearing off the last bits of meat on a bone.

I am not producing articulate young men and women; I am producing cynics.

Sacred truths are being exposed in room R102. Look out Mulder, I am on the scene. Government conspiracy the cover up the existence of aliens? Whatever.  I, a mere school teacher, have recently ripped the mask of deceit from a sacred truth. 


That Van Helsing is not Hugh Jackman.
I know, some might think me callous. Some could rightly say that I've lost all reverence for faith, fantasy, innocent. But I cannot allow my students, my protegees, to go into the world blinded by such falsehoods.

Currently, I am teaching my seniors how to write a research paper.  In order to model this, I use the topic of vampires in literature. One of the keys to teaching is modeling, and I figured why not use a subject they might find interesting and a subject I know a lot about? I also find it a good opportunity to tune up their analytical skills: the vampire isn’t just titillating entertainment; it can be used as a way to interpret the beliefs of an era.

Don't get me wrong; we aren't watching The Vampire Diaries, True Blood, and Twilight (I do get to Twilight, but it at the end of a survey of all kinds of vampires). In fact, I start with some mythological background and then the first piece of literature I expose them to is Bram Stoker's Dracula. Throw in some classical vampires; go back to the roots, yo. I understand that the dense Victorian prose might lose them, but I make sure to pick the "juicy" parts to read. Yes, read; not watch.

This year, when I announced that next class Van Helsing will be making his appearance, students visibly perked up: they sat up straight in their desks, eyes popped open, a few excited "really?"s humm through the room. 

"Van Helsing is in Dracula?"

"Yep. Stoker created the original."

"Wow!"

They seemed more excited than students in the past at meeting the father of all slayers.
  
It's the next day and I am reading the parts from the novel where Van Helsing is introduced and examining poor Lucy (the first of Dracula’s English Victims—those who have seen the film, the hot red-head whose breasts will not be harnessed by any nightgown), I sense the energy that had carried over from the class before waning. Whispers. Students twisting around in their seats.

Pausing, I look up to make sure everyone is following along and am met with perplexed stares.

A student raises his hand. "I'm lost.”

"We are on page 123," I say.

“No, about Van Helsing." He stabs his book with a finger, "Van Helsing is some old guy?" 

“Well, I guess you might think him old. He’s a college professor from Amsterdam. Dr. Seward sends for him because he's an expert in strange diseases. He's the perfect balance of scientific man who has, as Dr. Seward says, 'a completely open mind'.  These characters living in this time would never think of vampirism as the cause of Lucy's illness. They weren't nearly as mainstream as they are now. Stoker needed a character who is both educated and yet a bit quirky, a bit nonconformist, if you will, to bring this to light.”

The student frowns. He is not pacified by my articulate and thorough justification of Van Helsing's character.

"He doesn't work for the Vatican?” the student almost pleads.

For a second, I think What in the Hell is he talking about? but then remember the Hugh Jackman flick. Laughing, I say, "You're thinking of the movie. That is not an accurate depiction of the original character."

Another student asks, “He turns into a werewolf, right?” His voice pitching, and it's not because puberty hasn't kicked in yet. It's panic. 

I make a mental note to add "accurate" and "depiction" to next weeks vocabulary list.

“That movie didn’t create character of Van Helsing. He’s been around for a while.” I hold up my copy of Dracula, “Stoker invented him. In fact, he’s based on a good friend of the author.”

The students are not impressed. At all.

I downshift to their mode. Picking up the DVD of Francis For Coppola's Dracula (if you want to stay alive, you have to intersperse movie clips throughout the study of a classic) I throw it in and hope that Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of Van Helsing will pull the students back in.


It doesn't. His social awkwardness, his sardonic humor, his ability to go from Victorian gentleman to blood-drenched avenger in the flash of a fanged mouth.

I emphasize how the original Van Helsing, a mere mortal without the aid of Rome, specialized weapons, the reincarnated soul of an archangel, and the ability to transform into a werewolf can still defeat such a powerful, nefarious preternatural creature as Dracula. 

Despite his accomplishments, my students are still disappointed. "The Van Helsing in the movie is cooler," a few reiterate.

Well, I guess I better not tell them that Frankenstein's monster and Dracula's stories don't really intertwine. But, there's no sense in kicking them when they are down. Not even am I that cruel.

Actually, I am. Did you know that Dr. Frankenstein not once says, "It's alive!" in the novel? Not once.

4 comments:

  1. Ah, the dreams of the young you shatter ;-)

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  2. I'm pretty sure my English teachers in high school were thinking the same things. We didn't cover Dracula, but we did cover Frankenstein and I just hope our poor teacher didn't have a heart attack. I was surprised to find that I like the book Frankenstein much more than the later movie renditions, although I can't say the same for Dracula -- sorry!

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  4. Haha, yes, I recently read elsewhere that "It's ALIVE!!!" isn't actually in the book. (I confess; I've never read it, *she said shamefacedly*) But I still like to quote it like it really was. Too fun to say. And yep, I can see how the movie version of Van Helsing would be more appealing to teens. And adults!

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