Posts Tagged ‘speech’
Politics is universal, and a sham. So much of what we see is theatre put on for our benefit, as demonstrated by a British series from the 1980s called Yes, Minister.
Yes, Minister — and, eventually, Yes, Prime Minister — is a show about the internal workings of the British Department of Administrative Affairs, analogous to our Department of the Interior. As a satiric sitcom, this television show has to be a thousand times more realistic than the bunk you see on The West Wing.
Although Great Britain’s constitutional monarchy is an odd beast, and although its parliament is just different enough to warrant brushing up on comparative government before watching an episode or two, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of deja vu as I breeze through the 38 or so episodes. I’ve seen all this intrigue somewhere before.
One of the great tropes of the series is when one of the characters gets into a monologue about how government really works, patiently explaining that the job of the civil service is to prevent the elected officials from messing up the government. The best official, the civil service frequently says, is a puppet. Later that episode, when main character and career puppet Jim Hacker is coerced into making an ultimately successful mid-term campaign for Prime Minister, his advisers tell him exactly what he has to do.
If asked if he wants to be Prime Minister, the generally acceptable answer for a politician is that while he does not seek the office, he has pledged himself to the service of his country, and that should his colleagues persuade him that that is the best way he can serve, he might reluctantly have to accept the responsibility, whatever his personal wishes might be.
Hacker does this.
Hacker: The next Prime Minister would have to be someone you could trust. An old friend.
Duncan: Do you mean you?
Hacker: I have absolutely no ambition in that direction.
Duncan: You do mean you.
Eric: So Duncan would get No. 10. My God.
Hacker: Not if I can help it. [takes a drink] Cheers.
Eric: You don’t mean you?
Hacker: Me? My children are at the age where my wife and I would like to spend much more time with each other.
Eric: You do mean you.
I don’t know about you, but I saw more than a little bit of Fred Thompson, whose campaign peaked just before he announced his candidacy. Before that, he had no ambition. He wanted to spend time with his family.
He wanted to be the head of government, no doubt about it.
The eeriest scene involved what turns out to be Jim Hacker’s campaign speech. It’s full of melodrama, patriotism, triviality and overdone pomp. In other words, though him crying out against repressed British sausage will sound foreign to our ears, his rhetoric will remain very, very familiar.
Why is it that British shows always seem so American?
Monday’s lesson went like gangbusters.
In case you don’t know what we’re talking about, it’s this lesson.
Students read aloud comments from CNN which ostensibly reacted to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s “God Damn America” sermon and what most-famous-parishioner and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama should do about him. Then, they watch the sermon and argue amongst themselves.
The first period loved it. Half of the class thought Wright’s phrasing was outrageous and should not be tolerated under any circumstances. The other half thought that it was reasonable, given the context. There was arguing even before we got to the comments read aloud.
Once the comments were read aloud, students were required to write their response to that comment on a sheet of binder paper, noting how effective and how fair that comment was.
Second period was more sedate, but most of the really high performing kids were absent. Fortunately, even though there wasn’t much talking or arguing — we finished a two-hour block with half an hour to spare, while the first period went into the passing period — their written responses were just as insightful as the first period.
Next time, I’ll get students to volunteer to read the comments aloud. Those who were handed the comments read them grudgingly and unenthusiastically — hardly the effect for which I had hoped.
Next up: a timeline of the Civil Rights movement since the Dred Scott decision. Naturally, we’ll bookend this by listening to Sen. Obama’s well-spoken response to the criticism of the Rev. Wright.
I expect nothing but good things from this class this week.
Moral of the story? If you, the history teacher, has trouble finding standardized content relevant to students’ everyday lives, read a newspaper once a month. You’ll find something.