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A Few Parting Shots

English should be the study of the language and how it is used to disseminate our culture's most expressive, creative, and meaningful thoughts about the nature of our existence. As English scholars we should be studying how films tell stories, how computers can be used to tell and create stories, and the role all our other arts play in storytelling. We need to look at works that are normally considered to be lesser genres to see why they are firstly considered lesser and then examine how they relate to what we consider as "higher" forms of expression. It isn't good enough anymore to say that everything on television is junk, that movies are not as good as books, and that computers are really only for crunching numbers, and yet our field (English literature and writing) still does this all the time. Our way of expressing these simplistic prejudices have become more sophisticated and internalized to the point that we feel as though we have moved way beyond them, but we haven't.

Every time we tell a student that she can't write "genre fiction" for a creative writing class, or when we chastize students for knowing more about Married with Children than about James Joyce, or when we tell a student his work on a hypertext essay doesn't actually count the same as his work on a printed essay, we put all our deeply entrenched biases on display, and we continue to prove to our students that English study (by the way the field is now defined) is a waste of time because it seems intent on walking around with blinders on. As experts on one specific medium of storytelling (print -- one of the most established mediums of expression upon which most others are founded, and a medium to which all other mediums respond) we are well positioned to begin our examination of the other mediums now being used to tell our stories.

We all watch television. We all go to movies in an attempt to fill our lives with the fictional stories (the myths and ideals) of our time. We all use the phone. We all (well, nearly all of us, and many more of us who don't admit to it) use computers for our writing and research. We interact with each other every day in a wide variety of English mediums, and yet we choose to only study one narrowly defined media form which is becoming less and less important and less powerful every day. Instead of rushing out to embrace all the powerful variations on printed text, we just sit around and moan about how no one reads any more.

This is not to say that we need to give up the study of text completely, or that we need to elevate the junk of every-day pop-culture to the status of our best works of literature. We simply need to eliminate the fear that including the actual world of ideas outside the closeted field of English studies will somehow dilute and permanently pollute the study of printed literature.

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©David Gillette, 1996