Monday, January 9, 2012

Lonely Island in the Classroom

So I showed the video for Lonely Island's song "Threw It On The Ground" in class on Friday.  A friend and colleague suggested the song would be an interesting way to introduce Transcendentalism to teenagers.  Some of the song's more memorable refrains came back to me: "You can't trust the system" & "I'm not a part of this system."  My love for the Transcendentalists is tempered with an awareness that at their worst, they remind me of petulant, pretentious hipsters.  After watching the video I asked my students to get out a piece of paper and make two columns: "label one column 'Stuff I Throw on the Ground' and the second column 'Stuff I Don't Throw.'"  I hoped to get them to think about Thoreau's message to "Simplify, Simplify, Simplify," and didn't want to come across as either preachy or pretentious, so we started with the objects mentioned in the video.

1) The Energy Drink.  I made sure that they understood I was not an energy drink prude: I had tried Red Bull and Full Throttle, and  Monster.  The former two made me feel like a shooting star (and not in a good way), while I've always appreciated the crushed Smarties taste of the lattermost (in small doses).  I related a tale of driving back late from Columbus and picking up a 16oz. Monster.  After choking it down, the oncoming headlights of approaching cars were drawn into startling focus, and I could see my heart beat.  We finally decided that Energy Drinks represent Trends.  Do we need trends?  Most felt they made life more interesting but decided they weren't necessary for survival.  One brave soul may have suggested that trends encourage Groupthink.  Most chose to list Energy Drinks in the Stuff I Throw on the Ground column.  Catchphrase: "Pump that garbage in another man's veins."

2) The Hot Dog.  We decided the hotdog could represent processed foods.  I asked them whether or not it would be possible to live without canned and processed food.  The Rural Kids immediately shook their head yes, and didn't blink when the group suggested getting a few goats, chickens and a rototiller.  The Urban Kids pointed out that people in the city don't have the space for goats and chickens, etc.  Someone pointed out how raising your own food isn't going to simplify your life, just your diet.  We all agreed it's easier to walk into a Circle K and grab a hot dog and a Polar Pop than it is to milk goats. Ultimately it's easy to agree that hot dogs are high in fat and salt and have the preservative sodium nitrate, believed to cause cancer.  Most chose to list Hot Dogs in the Stuff I Throw on the Ground column.  Catchphrase: "You can't buy me hot dog man."

3) The Cell Phone.  It was interesting how attached to their cell phones teenagers proved to be.  All four of my American Literature classes (Juniors between the ages of 16 & 17) decided the cell phone goes in the column Stuff I Don't Throw.  They were not willing to debate much.  Even when I challenged them with living in Thoreau like austerity, they opted to keep the cell phones.  I have a cell phone myself.  It is not a smart phone, and it does not have a keyboard, so maybe I'm not the most apt referee for this conversation, but I have overheard some of my students admit their cell phone bill is over a hundred dollars a month.  Is it wrong that I kind of want to throw it on the ground for them?  Who knows, maybe we'll all have the Internet in our brains sooner than I thought.  Catchphrase: "My dad's not a phone.  Duh!"

4) Birthday Cake.  We decided the birthday cake represents tradition.  When posed with the question "If you were going out to live in the woods for two years two months, would you need to celebrate birthdays?"  garnered a few responses involving Jehovah Witnesses.  As far as tradition in general, it was decided that most traditions are not necessary for survival, but make life bearable.   Most classes elected not to throw birthday cake on the ground.  Catchphrase: "Welcome to the real world, jackass."

5) Hollywood Phonies.  Every class elected to throw Hollywood on the ground.  Some boys wanted to keep Megan Fox, but throw everyone else and then the conversation became centered around whether or not Megan Fox was hot or not.   Uh, duh!  Catchphrase: "Nobody wants your autograph.  Phonies!"

The conversation went from there to some big topics like School, Law, Family, Religion and Tasering  buttholes.  Every class elected not to throw these big ones on the ground, although my 8th period was very, very close to a majority on throwing School on the ground.

We ended the exercise talking about the idea that though the majority vote ended up on the Smartboard, each individual's list was just a little different, and I challenged them to add some more personal items to their own lists.

Verdict: I would use this video again to instigate what became a meaningful conversation about what we cannot live without.  It was topical, not too serious, and fun.