Archive for January, 2008

January 28, 2008

Some thoughts on Fairytales and Nursery rhymes and politicizing children’s literature

The discussion in the comments at Krish Ashok’s blog got me thinking about this. In his post he referred briefly to “politically correct” nursery rhymes, and some of the commentors expressed their opinions of the idea. A few (unconnected to each other) thoughts:

1. Baa baa rainbow sheep is a hilariously bad idea. It does not scan. It is quite odd when visualised (though I may be prejudiced in saying this – there are references to striped and spotted goats in the Bible, aren’t there? That Jacob creates through divinely inspired selective breeding?) Whoever came up with it seems to think “black” has political connotations but “rainbow” does not (either that or they have a very odd notion of normalising homosexuality). Sheep of indeterminate colour? Neutral beige? (If you got rid of the completely unnecessary “baa baa” this would sound fine).

2. Most of the time when people talk of “reworked”, “politically correct” tales/rhymes/songs disparagingly, they’re taking for granted the existence of an “original” version (the version they grew up with, of course) that fell perfectly formed from the sky but now has been profaned by this modern belief that children’s stories are, you know, politically relevant. Which is rubbish, of course, and if you’re interested enough in the history of fairytales or nursery rhymes you can trace them back, and they do change over time (I used to think modern fairytales were watered down versions of Grimm’s. Only as an adult did I learn how much watering down the Brothers Grimm had done themselves), and they changed because the world around them changed, and if that’s not political I don’t know what is.

Also, lots of fairytales have had very visible morals, and the morals are not always fluffy, context-free things like “be nice to everyone”. Witness the much sexualized Perrault “Red Riding Hood” (don’t have sex, girls! With wolves, or anyone. Don’t talk to strange men, and don’t wear bold colours.) – How on earth is that not politicized when removing the golliwogs from Enid Blyton is?

3. Earnest EngLit students (myself included) often focus too much on these aspects of children’s literature – where do they come from? What did they originally mean? And so on, and completely ignore the fact that they’re not just about indoctrinating/twisting innocent young minds (hah) but they’re part of children’s earliest encounter with language and sound and rhythm, and all those things are probably more important. (If you can see literature for children only as indoctrination, I suppose at some point you’d become one of those people who thinks the gay penguin book would cause ‘rampant’ homosexuality).

4. There’s this bizarre argument that since children aren’t aware of the potential offensiveness of what they may read that it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying this. I remember sitting through a seminar on children’s literature in my first year of college as two of my seniors clutched their pearls and asked us if we were not shocked, shocked at the idea of little children reciting rhymes about the Black Death. I was unmoved – unless you’re telling them where it came from (and there’s an interesting little area- what if you did?) I can’t see why it would matter. But this is because said children would be unlikely to meet people for whom the Black Death was an emotional issue unless some serious time travel occurred. On the other hand, it’s very possible for children to pick up certain attitudes about things like class and race and gender and sexual orientation that might later lead to great awfulness since these things continue to be real issues.

5. I remember someone on a messageboard I used to read complaining that everything nowadays was so PC that books about mothers who baked cakes were practically taboo.
I’m not sure how far this is true, since the vast majority of the books I read (for children or otherwise) stick to traditional class and gender roles.

6. Rewritings of fairytales, nursery rhymes, etc are far more interesting to adults since we can see what ideas are being adapted/reversed. The PL is currently pleasing me by reading Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. Then there’s the marvellous “Snow, Glass, Apples” by Neil Gaiman. And lots more.

7. I wonder if the people who dislike PC rewrites enjoyed Shrek?

8. Gak, this is a ridiculously long post.

January 22, 2008

Education

Hilarity. The wikipedia article on Anil Kumble (as it currently stands) contains these fantastic lines on his academic career (emphasis mine, of course):

Kumble did his primary schooling at Holy Saint English School. Kumble graduated from Rashtreeya Vidyalaya College of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering in 1991-92. Anil’s studious dispensation is not without a basis in fact. Prior to his selection for the England tour, he did exceedingly well in his academics. Anil was dedicated enough to be promoted at the end of each year to the next grade.

I squee. This pleases me even more than the existence of Anil Kumble Circle.

January 22, 2008

7. Antonios Nikopolidis


Just. The pretty. I’m one of the fangirls who only discovered him during Euro 2004 (older fans regard us with some contempt). I also object to the widespread belief that he looks like George Clooney. It’s the hair, I suspect, and grey hair is a thing of beauty. But, more importantly. The Pretty!

January 18, 2008

In which the scope of Project: Objectify is widened

About a month ago, Swatie asked me why project:objectify limited itself to only sportspeople, when it would be equally efficient to objectify pretty much any famous attractive male. she had a point, of course, and I will soon be doing a special, politician-objectifying post. I do plan to stick to sportspersons though, mainly because there’s more raw material to work with (actors don’t count).

But women don’t necessarily need to be famous for an unnecessary emphasis to be placed on their looks in whatever career they choose. Most women aren’t. And while I am not likely to objectify men-who-aren’t-famous here (because why would any of you care?) it would be nice to know someone was doing it.

So my joy when Shreyas linked me to this knew no bounds.

Peter Burkill, a British Airways pilot, seems to have prevented a crash landing from turning into an utter disaster. This is good. But far more relevant is this, from his neighbour, one Valerie Firminger:

She said: “He’s absolutely gorgeous. He’s all you imagine an airline pilot to be. He’s very good looking, very calm.

I propose that Mrs Firminger be made an honourary member. Effective immediately.

January 18, 2008

Anti – Climatic

Calcutta is far, far warmer than Delhi. Calcuttans think this is cold and travel around be-sweatered and monkeycapped (recent events in the world of sport have led to my flatmate calling them teri maa ki caps) and slightly shocked at my seeming indifference to the weather. To which I reply, in tones of superiority, that I am from Delhi.

Embarrassingly I have now caught a cold and am living on soup and tea. There is a lesson to be learned here.

Then again, if it hadn’t been for this cold (and its attendant sore throat) I would never have discovered the joy that is Dilmah’s wild cherry tea. So. Not so bad, really.

January 13, 2008

On being childless and abnormal

In a couple of recent posts, Aadisht has been mocking mommybloggers, which has (understandably) led to some rather angry comments (and posts) from the mommybloggers in question.

One of the responses to the posts has been a sort of knowing “you’ll know when you have kids of your own” thing.:

IBH Says:
January 11th, 2008 at 11:47 am
Aadisht, dont know what actually made you write this post..but heres what it is…wait till you have your first one (if you do not have one already) and let us see how the tables turn

Similar feelings were expressed some months ago when Jai’s post about the new Vodafone ad turned into a debate on childrearing, childlessness, and the like. Examples:

At 11:28 AM IST, Anonymous said…
lets wait and see J.Wock when u have a kid .. i have a kid baby boy Dhruv and he is my life and more

At 12:12 PM IST, Anonymous said…
hey DD parenthood is not abt. propagating genes .. its a wonderful feeling to feel a life develop inside you nad see that life grow into a human being .. it makes you realize whats imp. in life . hope one day u r also blessed to become a parent

At 7:03 AM IST, Anonymous said…
hi j.wock, DD, the other anon and all other people who dont like kids , i feel sorry for u , thankfully u r a minority and most people love kids .. obviously u have too much time on your hands to write such long posts , maybe u need to be gainfully employed having kids …if u’r parents thought the same way u wouldnt be here to blog

Aditya then wrote a post on his blog, suggesting that maybe it was okay for some of us not to want children. One of the anonymice on Jai’s blog then replied with:

At 3:41 AM IST, Anonymous said…
…but aditya B. i did read u’r blog and can only that obviously u r confused and not ready to be responsible for a child..
bv

and

At 3:45 AM IST, Anonymous said…
and AB i am assuming u r unmarried , once u get married u will have kids coz all women naturally wanna become mothers ..thats why god made them a certain way..thats why J.wock and dd and other naysayers all will also have kids
bv

This is all probably very boring, especially for those who have already read the post and the vastly entertaining comments thread that followed it. And obviously these comments are more funny than anything else, and the people who posted them most mockworthy. But there’s an obvious pattern here. Everyone must have children. Normal people have children. Aadisht may make tasteless jokes about children now, or say he doesn’t want any, but just you wait, he will change his mind. As will Aditya, who, in saying he doesn’t want children, has only proved that he is too young for them, not that he is an adult who is capable of making his own choices. As will I, of course. In fact, if one of Jai’s commentors is to be believed, the Force of my Womanhood will create an almost fanatical need in me to reproduce. DD states repeatedly that he doesn’t want children, yet commentors continue to hope that he will be blessed by them. (I am reminded of christian friends who offer benevolently to pray for my atheist self)
I faced this in another context at a family wedding a few months ago. I was a little tired of all the “you’re next” type comments and suggested that I might actually choose not to get married. A cousin (who is my age!) actually tittered,and
told me that everyone goes through this “phase” but changes their mind when they grow up. Obviously, no one is capable of choosing to do anything that doesn’t fit perfectly into a cookie cutter pattern of adulthood, because the fact that they would choose anything else only proves that they’re unfit/too immature to make that choice. There is only one valid choice.In the comments to Adi’s post, Jai complains that he is still being told he’s too immature to choose right, even now he’s over 30.

And I realise that there are a lot of people on the internet talking about their dislike of children (often giving unwanted childrearing advice to the people who actually have kids and presumably know a lot more about what bringing up a child entails), and a number of bloggers have written intelligent and thoughtful posts about whether or not disliking children is just a preference or if right up there with racism and sexism and so on. But as Ritwik points out here, people with children, people who plan to have children; in the real world, they’re in the majority. And (at least here in India) they’re the ones that get to be normal. Those of us who choose not to have children are still going to have our life choices invalidated regularly by a large number of the people we meet.

Also, I don’t know if I’ve ever talked about this on the blog, but I have PCOS, a condition that impacts fertility, among other things. This aspect of it has never really affected me since I don’t plan to have children, but I have met women with PCOS who do want children and have worried that it will be difficult to conceive, and I know it’s been really hard for them. And I can’t imagine that being constantly told that not having children is abnormal makes it any easier for them.

January 12, 2008

the consequences of room sharing

Living with Roswitha has certain…advantages. One of them is the joy of unashamedly listening to the sort of music that one generally has to pretend to be embarrassed about. I have been introduced, for example, to this:

January 9, 2008

Genre

Hal Duncan links to Gary Gibson’s post on the distinctions between science fiction and fantasy. I think arguments of this kind generally require one to make some pretty sweeping generalisations – Gibson’s argument makes all SF speculative and all fantasy inherently non-speculative, and it’s a distinction I’ve heard made by various other people (including one of my teachers at college) and I really don’t think it’s necessarily true.

Partly because, of course, he’s taking fantasy “in its purest form” (whatever that means) to mean “elves, magic swords, and orcs”. This is useful, really, since any examples of speculative fantasy that are thrown up clearly do not come under his definition of fantasy and therefore do not undermine his argument in any way. (I’m reminded, perhaps unfairly, of science fiction fans’ complaint that the genre is looked down upon to the point that any science fiction that gains favourable critical attention is classified as something other than science fiction. Basically, “All science fiction is crap. This book is good. Therefore it’s not science fiction.” This would be so much easier if I could find the quote! Anyone?) One might as well define “pure” science fiction as being all spaceships and lightsabres.

I find the little hierarchies that come into play here terribly amusing – anti-genre snobs looking snottily down upon science fiction, science fiction readers also looking snottily down upon fantasy (Gibson may claim he’s not doing this, but I honestly can’t read the piece any other way). And I could sit here for hours listing fantasy writers who are brilliant and certainly speculative, but I think at some level there’s a judgement about what sorts of speculation are more valid than others. And in some vague and undefined way it reminds me of discussions I’ve had as a student of the humanities with people who went into science, where they’d be all about Real Things and Big, Important things like the universe, while we were concerning ourselves with comparatively petty matters like politics and, you know, how people actually lived and the like. There’s probably a post there, if I could only collect my thoughts on the issue.

Duncan’s post on categorisation is a really good read, by the way, and I lean towards his views on this.

January 9, 2008

At the risk of (oh noes!) being seen as politically correct…

…I find it terribly annoying that a number of people from on my facebook friends list have added an application called “what mental disorder do you have?”. I know this because every time I open the site I find invitations to add this thing. I have ignored them.

These are mostly people I went to college with (one of them is a teacher, even) who would during class have instances of this sort of thing pointed out in the context of, say, race. Or class, or gender. And they’d gasp and look all horrified at how people could possibly be so insensitive and blinded by their own privelege and so on and so forth.

Morons. One is surrounded by them.

January 1, 2008

How I became a Creature of the Night


It must be about four o’clock, thought Moist. Four o’clock! I hate it when there are two four o’clocks in the same day.*


I’m not sure if it’s just me (and PTerry, apparently), but 4 am has always been a sort of borderline time for me. I suspect my grandfather had something to do with it – when I was young he would wake up at 4 for his morning walk to the temple. And so it had entered my consciousness as a time when people (not myself, of course, but reasonably normal people nonetheless) could wake up. Plus it was close to 5, which wasn’t that unearthly an hour to rise, and 5 was close to 6, which was practically sensible. On the other hand, though, I was surrounded by people who usually slept late. They had been known to finally get to bed at 4, though none of them did it regularly.

As I grew up, I did sometimes go to bed at 4. If I was reading an interesting book, for example, or had been at a party. It was still rare. There was something rather sinful about staying up till 4, for some reason.

But during the exams early in 2007 my lifestyle changed drastically. I would, as a matter of routine, sleep or laze the day away, panic after midnight, and frantically flip through notes till about 3. I would then require something to soothe my brain before sleep was possible.

So I began to watch Postman Pat. On Pogo, dubbed into Hindi, at 3:30 am every weekday. It was, really, the only watchable thing on TV.

Which was all very well. Exams (and Postman Pat dubbed into Hindi) are extenuating circumstances, I suppose. Unfortunately, once they were done with I found it impossible to re-acquire civilized sleeping habits. I became officially nocturnal. Relieved of all responsibility, I entered a life of decadent disregard for my native timezone. I would sleep till noon and read till dawn. At the end of May, Supriya was a horrified observer of my sleeping habits. In November, the PL would shamelessly exploit them by asking me if I’d mind staying up till 5:30 and waking him up so he’d have time to go to the gym. It was a downward spiral. I still cannot break free. I’ve even considered moving to a country in a more conveniently situated timezone. It seemed the only solution. England, now, England would work. 5 ½ hours behind us, yes?

But I am not moving to England just yet. I am, however, moving to Calcutta this saturday afternoon. I suspect I will miss Delhi.

Anyway. A very happy new year to everyone who reads this, though I’m pretty sure the Gregorian calendar is Against Our Culture.

*From my shiny new autographed copy (thanks, Shreyas!) of Terry Pratchett’s Making Money