Modern Medea: Rhianna & Chris Brown?

This semester I am teaching a World Lit class for our burgeoning Honors Program. It’s a new experience for me and it’s proving to be very enjoyable. I am familiar with much of the reading, but I still spent the end of the spring semester and the entire summer prepping the course. My class is small (seven students) but they have proven to be an enthusiastic and dynamic group, which is great for discussion.

This week (the class meets once a week for three hours) we read and discussed Medea, so I spent much of last week/end re-reading the play and preparing for discussion. If you’re not familiar with the play by the Greek playwright Euripedes, you should read it. It is my favorite of the Greek plays and I prefer it over Oedipus Rex and Antigone.

While re-reading Medea, I started thinking about connections/references that a modern day audience could make to the play. This is something that I always think about when teaching literature to students who are not familiar with the work already. Currently, my class is split almost in half in terms of students who have at least heard about some of this reading and students who thought I was talking about Tyler Perry when I assigned Medea. No matter what the level of familiarity is with the reading, the students still need an entry point to the story. They need to find a reason to connect to the plot and the characters because once that connection is made, then they can begin to discuss why the piece is relevant to a modern day audience. In other words, they can begin to answer the age old question: “Why are we still reading this stuff?”

*While I was reading Medea and thinking about modern connections, I happened to come across a story about Chris Brown on Facebook. As most of you know, Chris Brown is a popular pop singer who made headlines for a physical altercation with then girlfriend, pop superstar Rhianna. Her bruised and beaten face made all the news outlets and many radio stations temporarily banned his music from the airwaves. The story has raised it’s head several times in the past year, partly due to celebrity involvement in helping Rhianna and Chris “reconcile,” her decision to publicly forgive him and most recently, because of the tattoo that Chris Brown has on his neck. I’m not particularly interested in whether or not the tattoo depicted on his neck is a battered woman, a zombie or Osiris (all speculation on the internet). My opinion of Chris Brown wasn’t good even before his altercation with Rhianna, so that’s a closed case in my mind. However, Rhianna’s public response to the incident and in turn, the impact it has on young women and how they view physical abuse is something I  care about.

How does this relate to Medea? When Jason (Medea’s husband and hero of golden fleece fame) decides to leave his wife for the younger, more powerful Corinthian princess, Medea’s rage knows no bounds. She is what the phrase “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” epitomizes. In the end her rage and desire for vengeance leads not only to her murder of the princess and her father, King Creon of Corinth, but also the murder of her two young sons. She was a powerful woman, a queen, and the daughter of the sun god, Apollo. To say that she was not a woman to cross, is an understatement.

Clearly, I am not advocating murder as revenge and the tale penned by Euripedes was meant to scandalize and tantalize Greek audiences. However, the play Medea is also about power and control and when Jason tried to take that power and control, the consequences were devastating. In the case of Chris Brown and Rhianna, where is the rage? Where is the power? Who has the control?  It seems to fall with the same individual.  His rage. His power. His control.

A final thought, in the introduction to Medea, the textbook makes this observation:

For the Greeks, a hero was not necessarily a good, kind person, but rather a strong, larger than life figure whose deeds were somehow performed on a grand scale (The Bedford Anthology of World Literature, 1003).

At the conclusion of the play, Medea flies off in a chariot pulled by dragons, leaving Jason in misery. Many Greeks could have considered her hero. Can we say the same of Rhianna?

* A few disclaimers: 1). I understand Chris Brown and Rhianna are public figures, so I am basing my  thoughts on the information I have as a public consumer. 2). I am in no way, shape or form blaming Rhianna for what happened to her. 3). This is what happens when a bunch of different thoughts converge in my head. At the end of the day, it’s just my opinion.

Thursday (Concert) Musings

Tonight we’re going to see PJ Harvey. This will be a nice way to end my week.
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The Argument of His Book

I sing of brooks, of blossoms, birds, and bowers,
Of April, May, of June, and July flowers.
I sing of Maypoles, hock carts, wassails, and wakes,
Of bridegrooms, brides, and of their bridal cakes.
I write of youth, of love, and have access
By these to sing of cleanly wantonness.
I sing of dews, of rains, and, piece by piece,
Of balm, of oil, of spice, and ambergris.
I sing of times trans-shifting, and I write
How roses first came red and lilies white.
I write of groves, of twilights, and I singThe court of Mab and of the fairy king.
I write of hell; I sing (and ever shall)
Of heaven, and hope to have it after all.

Robert Herrick
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Another gem from McSweeney’s:

INTERNET-AGE
WRITING SYLLABUS AND
COURSE OVERVIEW.

BY ROBERT LANHAM

– – – –
ENG 371WR:
Writing for Nonreaders in the Postprint Era

M-W-F: 11:00 a.m.–12:15 p.m.
Instructor: Robert Lanham
Course Description

As print takes its place alongside smoke signals, cuneiform, and hollering, there has emerged a new literary age, one in which writers no longer need to feel encumbered by the paper cuts, reading, and excessive use of words traditionally associated with the writing trade. Writing for Nonreaders in the Postprint Era focuses on the creation of short-form prose that is not intended to be reproduced on pulp fibers.
Instant messaging. Twittering. Facebook updates. These 21st-century literary genres are defining a new “Lost Generation” of minimalists who would much rather watch Lost on their iPhones than toil over long-winded articles and short stories. Students will acquire the tools needed to make their tweets glimmer with a complete lack of forethought, their Facebook updates ring with self-importance, and their blog entries shimmer with literary pithiness. All without the restraints of writing in complete sentences. w00t! w00t! Throughout the course, a further paring down of the Hemingway/Stein school of minimalism will be emphasized, limiting the superfluous use of nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, gerunds, and other literary pitfalls.

Friday (Poetry Floods My Inbox) Musings

One of the best parts of National Poetry Month, as far as I’m concerned, is getting poems from different places everyday. A number of list serves, blogs, and organizations I belong to or follow are flooding my inbox with poetry. I love it. There is such a great variety.

I’m at school today until 5. This is usually my “free day,” but grading and interviews were on the agenda for today. It seems like this week has flown by. I think the main highlight was last night in my creative writing class. My students are working on drama, the last unit of the semester, and their assignment is to write original 10 minute plays. They’re in small groups and last night was their first official brainstorming session. I dismissed class about 15 minutes early and every group left, save one. These three stayed in the back of the room until 9:50 (at night mind you) and practiced kung fu moves for their play. Is there anything better that can be said about teaching?
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While grading I’ve had Hazards of Love on repeat…

Won’t Want for Love

Margaret:

Gentle leaves, gentle leaves
Please array a path for me
The woods are growing thick and fast around

Columbine, Columbine
Please alert this love of mine
Let him know his Margaret comes along

And all this stirring inside my belly
Won’t quell my want for love
And I may swoon from all this swelling
But I won’t wait for love

Mistle thrush, mistle thrush
Lay me down in the underbrush
My naked feet grow weary with the dusk

Willow boughs, willow boughs
Make a bed and lay me down
Let you branches bow to cradle us

William:

O my own true love!
O my own true love!

Can you hear me love?
Can you hear me love?

Tuesday (Happy Poetry Month!) Musings

Yesterday kicked off National Poetry Month. I had posted about the writing contest (is it really a contest) that the Academy of American Poets is putting on. Write a poem every day for the month of April. I briefly considered doing this, but then looked at my schedule and decided that I would have to scale down a bit. I plan to read more poetry and write more this month. I’ve written three new, actual poems since January and I don’t feel that’s so terrible. I’ve started countless others but they have not panned out. I’m also judging a poetry contest here at school, so I think that counts for something.
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Vernal Equinox

The scent of hyacinths, like a pale mist, lies between me and
my book;
And the South Wind, washing through the room,
Makes the candle quiver.
My nerves sting a spatter of rain on the shutter,
And I am uneasy with the thrusting of green shoots
Outside in night.

Why are you not here to overpower me with your tense and
urgent love?

Amy Lowell
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I’m listening to the new Decemberists album, The Hazards of Love, while I’m in the office today.


I love this group. It doesn’t hurt that their lead singer was a creative writing major, but I also like how their albums all have a story and a concept and that the lyrics are excellent.
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