MADNESS IN THE METHOD, METHOD IN THE MADNESS: PREPARING A VERY LONG TEXT FOR CLASS (YES, HARRY POTTER)

As we all know, the problem of how much reading a student is willing to do for a subject complicates enormously our task. A few weeks ago, one of our Erasmus students abroad explained that a typical Literature course in the university she’s visiting, Edinburgh, might have up to 10 books –basically one per week. Often, she explained, this leads to very superficial analysis with hardly any close reading (that was her experience, I don’t know how common that is).

Last year I did include 10 books in a course, but they were 10 plays, amounting to about 1,100 pages in total. This is more or less the same amount for Victorian Literature, divided into two long novels about 450 pages long and two novellas, 100 pages each. Now, the Edinburgh course runs to about 3,500/4,500 pages, a real mountain for second language students. Hopefully, not mine for the second semester, as in the elective ‘Cultural Studies: The Harry Potter Case’ we’ll be dealing with a text which is 3,500 pages long (the Bloomsbury edition I use).

Popular culture abounds in very long print and filmed series and this is quite an obstacle for an understanding of how it works. Sagas like Rowling’s are hardly ever found in creative literature (think how exceptional Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is) but they’re quite common particularly in SF and fantasy. I wish all my luck to the brave (or foolish!) lecturer who decides to teach Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire –that, I assure you, won’t be me… The problem of how to handle a very long text is also extensive, of course, to TV series, as I know very well having written a book on one of the longest, The X-Files (1993-2001, 200 episodes, 150 hours). Fancy teaching a subject about that… or writing a PhD dissertation about The Simpsons.

I don’t think I’ll ever programme again a course with such a huge amount of reading. I’m making an exception here because students area supposed to have read the text already, and because I’ll teach the saga as a single work and not as a collection of seven novels.

Today, finally, I have finished preparing the basic materials I need to teach Harry Potter. A few things I knew from the start: a) teaching the series novel by novel makes no sense, b) I cannot bring all the books to class nor can students, c) the text must be approached from an issue-based perspective. The first thing I did, then, as I explained here back on 25-V-2013 was to select the main intradiagetic issues, combining them with extradiagetic ones such as the students’ experience as readers (to be dealt with in oral presentations). Next, I chose (as I explained on 29-V-2013) the background reading materials, a quite useful Casebook at an accessible price. What I have done, for I see no other way to do it, is prepare the whole text in advance to simplify my weekly and daily tasks.

Last autumn I read the seven novels again, pencil in hand and with the topics list in view. I marked key passages with the number(s) corresponding to each topic, and have made notes to summarise the plot by chapter. This third reading of the whole saga took me two months between October and November (obviously I mean apart from my working hours). Next, I have reduced the 3,500 pages to a 200 page digest, which includes a chapter-by-chapter summary (mine for the first three books; borrowed from acknowledged sources for the four last, which are much denser) and the selection of quotations I need to use in class, identified by each issue’s number. Not that different from preparing any other book –the difference is that instead of carrying to my classroom seven huge volumes with little papers sticking out all over, I’ll carry just the 200-page booklet. The idea is that before each session I’ll just have to select the quotations I need from this and the Casebook and then prepare an outline. Producing the booklet has taken me five full working days.

Have I typed 200 pages of quotations? No, of course not. I’ll leave it to the readers’ imagination and perspicacity to guess the (mad) method used, which is the only possible one unless you have a teaching assistant or infinite time. It can be done with photocopies but that’s not the method I’ve used. The booklet is for my exclusive personal use.

I hope this helps if you are one of those brave or foolish teachers thinking of enjoying very, very long texts in class with your students. Or a student thinking of writing a dissertation (BA, MA, PhD) about a very long text, whether this is print or filmed (the key for filmed text are, of course, the scripts).

One thing I can say is that no matter how many shortcuts you take, the text has to be read, the passages selected and the notes made. The longer the text, the long the process. What frustrates me is how much I have already forgotten as with such a long, long text details soon evaporate from our limited brains. It took the author 5 years to organise the plot and possibly not even she can has total recall of each detail.

There are days I long for one of those neural implants so common in today’s SF…

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UNDERPAID AND OVERRATED AUTHORS: HIERARCHICAL READING IN THE AGE OF GLOBALIZATION

Two pieces published within days by Alison Flood in the Books section of The Guardian catch my attention. I’m wondering here how they connect –I think they do. The first one announces that “Most writers earn less than £600 a year, survey reveals” (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jan/17/writers-earn-less-than-600-a-year); the second reports that “Writers attack ‘overrated’ Anglo-American literature at Jaipur festival” (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jan/20/writers-attack-overrated-american-literature-jaipur-festival). Not much to connect them at first sight, you might think. They are, though, twin aspects of the same issue: how to make your literary voice heard in a seemingly open but actually hierarchical global market.

The article on the poverty-stricken writers, refers to both “traditionally and self-published” authors: 54% of the former and almost 80% of the latter earn less than $1,000 (£600) a year. I’m confused about how print and online publishing overlap with these categories. The grandly called ‘Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey’, covered 9,000 writers (possibly all in English) –more than 65% calling themselves “aspiring authors”. The survey authors clarify that only the top 2% authors can be safely called professional. These include the tiny, tiny percentage making a fortune based on global sales… and luring all the others. The overnight success of a handful of self-publishing luminaries is also pulling ever more writers into the market. The survey authors believe we should celebrate that today “five to 10 times as many people are paying bills with their craft today as there was just a few years ago.” Taking as a reference the 9,000, today only 180 of them are full-time professionals in comparison to between 36 and 18 a few years ago. Suppose this refers to the UK, with 63 million people, or even only to Ireland, with 6 million. I don’t quite see much to celebrate…

The other article reports Xiaolu Guo’s harsh critique of how English-language “mainstream” spoils reading tastes. Guo is Chinese/British, and “one of Granta’s best of young British novelists.” She dislikes in particular US Literature, which she called “massively overrated” to the face of US top novelist Jonathan Franzen. This was within a session on ‘the global novel’, whatever that might be. Gao complains against the reign of plot-driven narrative, and how this tends to flatten all stories into quite similar novels, leaving no room for lyricism and “all the alternative things.” For Indian/American Jhumpa Lahiri the problem with American Literature is that it lacks the healthy infusion of other literatures through translation. Guo agrees. Franzen shows a polite concern with the “homogenisation of global culture” (meaning US-dominated corporate publishing business).

His other remark links the two articles. Even supposing everything could be translated automatically, no reader would be able to cope with the flood. “In a funny way,” he says “you’d think there’d be greater diversity in what is read, but I worry that the trend in a more global literary marketplace is even more towards a kind of star system and a vast sea of people who can’t find an audience.” We come thus full circle – the tiny group of millionaire writers at the top of the survey are, I’m sure, producers of English-language mainstream novels. Most readers, unable to find what they might enjoy in a sea of 9,000 writers, chose the top 180 or, more likely, the top 18. Possibly not even the top 18 writers, but the top 18 mainstream novels of the season. If they’re American 17 will be American, if they’re European, 8 will be American.

I know the argument is a bit fuzzy but now that the internet has created a truly global foundation for the liberation of Literature from publishing restrictions, we still have to cope with two serious problems: language barriers (which favour English), and the readers’ tendency to choose for safety (which favours the mainstream). The bigger the market, the smaller the chances to become a professional writer… for more than two novels. For readers, the tragedy is that possibly most of the books that we’d love to discover bypass us, either because they’re in a language we cannot access or because we never even learn they exist.

Gao, of course, ironically represents those who cannot understand that the ideal market for literary innovation is a market as tiny as possible for a select group of readers, whether they read poetical literary novels or hard SF. Globalization means they needn’t be in the same place, and might be a relatively much bigger group than if they were in just one nation. But her implicit dream that if you suppressed mainstream US literature, the world would be a wonderful intercultural forum, a truly democratic global world, is simply not realistic. She herself, by the way, writes in English. Her other language is Chinese. Not exactly the best possible position to understand how it feels to be really marginal in our global world.

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MICROPLAGIARISM AND SUBCONSCIOUS PLAGIARISM: THE NEW PLAGUES

Yesterday I spent a complicated morning dealing with students whose papers presented evidence or suspicion of plagiarism. It used to be the case that students plagiarised from solid academic sources in full knowledge of what they did. The explanation that our very surprised students are now offering is that they have no idea how a sentence evidently copied from elsewhere has slipped into their papers without their noticing it. They also complain that it’s unfair for them to fail a subject just because of a few borrowed lines.

Let me explain a few cases.

Students A and B failed the exam but managed to produce an acceptable paper. The problem with their papers is that they seemed clearly full of what I’ll call ‘microplagiarisms’, that is to say, unacknowledged borrowings of just a few words, two or three. How do I know? Because the register that students use is logically quite even and coherent –that is to say, a student does not write a very poor sentence followed by a very good sentence, rollercoaster style, unless the better sentences are not theirs. There’s a natural cohesion in the style we produce, it’s poor, average, good or outstanding according to our linguistic skills; nobody can mix poor and outstanding linguistic performances in the same paragraph without attracting attention to themselves.

In both cases, the average mark meant the student in question did get a pass. Just look at their reactions: student A didn’t even bother to answer my email message accusing him/her of plagiarising. Student B answered at once and came to my office to offer an explanation: s/he had not really revised for the exam but had made an effort with the paper. Now, if the effort includes searching Google for more advanced vocabulary, this is fine as long as the advance vocabulary is common usage –and not someone else’s original invention. That would be (micro)plagiarism.

Students C and D had copied between one and three lines of texts we could easily identify: Wikipedia, even the handbook. The lines copied were not very important for their paper, in that they just contributed general background information and not argumentation. We reminded them that the Department’s policy is very serious about plagiarism, and that no matter how small the plagiarism this results automatically in a 0 for the exercise, if not for the whole subject (in the fourth year). Were they aware of this? Yes, they said. Unfortunately, they added no apology and even insisted that it was just a matter of a few lines. This is like telling the police that you have just killed someone a little. Either you have or you haven’t (and, no, I’m not saying that plagiarising is as serious as killing).

Curiously enough, student C claimed s/he could not recall having inserted the copied line on purpose in the paper –this is something I’ve heard too often: students make notes without keeping references as to where they borrow material from and then, they claim, are confused about what is theirs and what is someone else’s. If this is the case, I’m mystified, for I cannot explain how someone can identify as theirs borrowed text. I’m also worried because a basic point in academic methodology is that one must keep track always of all the text copied from other sources.

Case three: student E. S/he was so worried that s/he would never pass the subject that s/he asked other persons (unidentified, possibly an English language teacher) to correct the paper. This is wrong to begin with, as we need to assess your individual performance. If the review results in minor corrections of typos and very basic mistakes, it may be acceptable, with many, many doubts. However, when the review results in a rewriting so through that the student’s style appears to be completely different from that of the exam written in the classroom, we have a serious problem. Passing as your own production something which someone else has substantially modified is, well, cheating.

Several German ministers have lost their positions because it was proven that they had plagiarised their MA and PhD dissertations. The Germans take this so seriously because they correctly understand plagiarism as a blatant form of dishonesty. Here, in true Spanish fashion, we downplay it as a minor the fault. The students who told me that it was very unfair for them to fail a whole subject just because of a few copied lines should understand that the point is not how many lines are copied, but the intention to deceive.

The words ‘I’m very sorry, I’ve made a mistake, it won’t happen again’ are almost a joke now in Spain in view of King Juan Carlos’ hollow apology but they do sound much better than ‘I’m not aware that there’s plagiarised text in my paper’ or ‘But it’s just one line’, or ‘The language may not be mine, but the ideas are.’

Students: just consider how much trouble a pair of quotation marks and a reference can save you.

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SALARIES ONCE MORE: THE ACUP REPORT

I have already written several entries about the matter of salaries. This one is prompted by a news item published in many media on 13th January regarding a seminar and a report by the ACUP (Associació Catalana d’Universitats Públiques). Their web (www.acup.cat) has detailed information about the seminar, including an interesting document which compares university teachers’ salaries in a few countries of the world (http://www.acup.cat/sites/default/files/ivanpacheco.pdf).

Since this excludes Spain, however, I’m not very sure where the newspapers got the figures they relay. What I heard on TV is that full professors and tenured lecturers (like me) are not doing that badly in comparison to their European colleagues –but that, most importantly, more than 50% of the current teaching staff hold temporary jobs paid between 300 and 1,200 a month (these are post-docs with a research fellowship).

I borrow from El Periódico figures I don’t quite understand, as they refer to the Catalan systems (based on contracts) and not the Spanish civil service. A full professor makes, according to this, 6.559 euros a month (before taxes), a teacher with a permanent contract, or ‘agregat’, makes 4.615 euros a month, and a teacher with a four-year contract or ‘lector’ 3.350 euros. That was back in 2008, when salaries were frozen and without considering the taxes, which in my own case amount to 32% (last time I checked, plus discounts from Generalitat). 4.615, which is more than I make, minus 30%, equals 3.325 euros. This puzzles me, as I have never earned that much money and I’ve been tenured for 11 years (with all possible complements, etc.). Anyway, the whole point is that while in the upper range, Catalan salaries are similar to those in Europe in the mid range they’re not capable of attracting foreign talent, which the Generalitat is very fond of.

Let me talk about the low-range salaries. Again. The third time around, I think.

Students have no idea that more than 50% of the staff teaching them are associates. An associate is supposed to be a professional who devotes a few teaching hours to the university, which is why s/he draws a very modest salary as it is supposed to complement his/her main salary. I think we have two that correspond exactly to that profile.

Things get very complicated, however, when these associates happen to be ambitious about their research –which, anyway, an associate is not expected to carry out at all. Or, if you want to put it the other way round, the university uses shamelessly the figure of the associate to obtain cheap teaching and cheap research from individuals willing to risk it all for their ‘careers,’ in inverted commas because no matter how real these careers are for the people involved, they do not exist for the university. (I am not giving ‘university’ a nationality because a friend just told me of a very similar situation in Britain).

Legally, universities cannot have so many associates. The section I belong to in my Department (Literature and Culture) has currently 11 teachers: 1 full professor, 4 tenured lecturers, 6 associates. The last one to be hired is replacing at 700 euros a month a retired full professor who made (my guess), 4500 net euros a month. I have already explained here that this associate teaches as many hours as the professor used to teach (and that being part time, associates cannot help with admin tasks, a rule we’re about to break). As you can see, the balance is tipped the wrong way already, with a 5/6 ratio, which should ideally be 8/3. All full time, for the only real Literature associate should be a writer teaching creative writing.

The most sinister part of all this is how the system abuses the good will of the grossly underpaid associates. When a university hires you, as I remember very well, you feel flattered: oh, my, I must be good!! This apparent flattery leads, however, to no moral compromise: associates can be dismissed at will and are not offered any tenure tracks. If they stay on, the system implies, this is their free choice. They are, as Dickens would put it, people of ‘great expectations’ entangled in cases as hopeless as those of the Chancery Court in Bleak House. I understand their determination to carry on, because I shared it myself (though with a full time contract) but, surely, there must be a limit and a time to say ‘enough is enough.’

So: how can we, privileged seniors, help?

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HOW MARKING EXAMS FEELS AND WHAT THEY SEEM TO INDICATE: THE DIVIDED CLASSROOM

I have mentioned exams now and then here but have not really got around writing specifically about them. After marking a batch of 63 during two very intense working days (that’s 126 short essays on Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) this seems a good moment to consider them.

Once my niece, then aged 6, visited me at my university. She sat down on my office chair and I took the students’ habitual place to role play with her: ‘Professor,’ I told her ‘I’m here to review my exam.’ And she, absolutely deadpan in her role as college teacher, asked me ‘What’s an exam?’ Oh, my! Waves of nostalgia flooded me for that childhood time when I didn’t know what an exam was, either as student or teacher.

Since then I’ve taken many exams in my life (the most gruelling one for tenure) and have forced many students to take them. I have also learned in the meantime that exams were first introduced by the Chinese for the selection of their civil servants, hence my (avowedly xenophobic) impression that they constitute a form of Chinese torture. Both for students and teachers.

As you may guess, I don’t particularly like exams. I feel even embarrassed to look at my students when I see them, as I did a few days ago, struggling for two hours to answer my questions in acute psychological discomfort. I am not convinced that exams relate to real life, which is, I know, quite obstinate of me, as I’m one of those civil servants for whom the Chinese invented them.

So: why torture my students as I was tortured myself? Is it payback, the usual cruelty of the finally empowered against the disempowered? Well, no, since I have to mark the exams myself… Actually, I’m sorry to say, the main reason to maintain exams is that the classroom still provides a more controlled environment as regards plagiarism –although smartphones are fast putting an end even to that. There’s also a generalised impression that people under pressure show their true colours, though it might well be that the only thing they prove is their capacity to withstand pressure.

All teachers hate marking exams, what with their messy handwritten presentation, often impossible to decipher, and the trite repetition of half-digested ideas (mostly our own). Sorry but this is how it is. I’ve tried all the possible strategies: rigorous alphabetical order and random order, 8-hour marathons and splitting marking along several days in equal batches, marking whole questions for all exams and marking complete individual exams, combining marking with other little tasks (which might even include housework). No matter –it still hurts. I mean literally. What gives me the headaches are those sentences impossible to straighten out, particularly the ones carrying some meaning which the student has not managed to express well (or at all). Every teacher knows that exam language is contagious and you should never write academic work as you mark.

As usual, the most recent batch has only confirmed my impression of students based on how they do in class: participation, yes, but even their body language. I know that in other countries they mark exams anonymously precisely to free marking from prejudices originating in class interaction. I’m not sure about that. I’m open to surprises and would be very happy to see that I’m wrong about a particular student and that s/he is much more interested that his/her body language suggests in class. This seldom happens and most of the time these surprises involve students who are shy but, as I can see, paying attention (sitting up, listening, making notes). So, in a way, exams simply confirm what is easy to guess in class as regards students’ interests and abilities. They are the proof that validates our teacher’s intution, no more.

Perhaps what has surprised me most this time is a peculiar symmetry: out of 63 students, 17 (26.9%) have scored more than 8 points, 19 less than 5 (30%). 27 (42.8%), of course, have marks between 5 and 8. I’m not sure what the almost exact equivalence between the number of outstanding and underperforming students means but it must mean something. As usual, I find myself perplexed that the same teaching on my side results in wildly different responses and I wonder what classes would be like with only the top or the bottom 30%. I’m sure that both must be frustrated: the top students because they could perform at a much higher level in a more advanced class, the bottom students because they find themselves at the end of the tether because of our demands.

The theory indicates that when you mix students with different capacities the top ones force the less capable ones to do better. My impression is that this is not true: the exams indicate an increasing polarization and a diminishing middle-ground, now below 50%. Food for thought.

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PAYING TO QUOTE: OH, NO….

An ex-student who’s now a good friend and a brilliant scholar tells me that he’s about to publish a volume based on his PhD dissertation. So far, so good. What truly scares the bejeesus out of my scholarly self is what he explains next.

It seems that his publishing house (a mid-range academic one) warned him that he needed to clear all copyright permissions with the literary authors he quoted. Yes, you heard well. He did so and found that most of the authors to whom he had devoted his dissertation granted immediate permission to reproduce their words in the book. One at least, however, forwarded my friend a message from his publishers demanding a fee of 70 pounds (plus VAT) for a three-year licence –if I remember this correctly this was for just three quotations. If the fee was not paid in full, the publishers threatened, then the quotations from their author’s texts should be blocked out in black in my friend’s book.

In a way this does not come as a surprise. Literary authors (or their agents and publishers) are finally beginning to realise that someone is making money out of studying their work. Surely, not we, academics, since I’m sure that only the likes of Harold Bloom must get royalties off their books (and possibly only for the edition of his famous Casebooks). I mean the academic publishing houses. The idea is quite simple to understand: if I write a brilliant novel and you write a brilliant dissertation about it, this is fine as long as you’re not commercializing your research. When you publish a book, however, you and your publisher stand to gain something and, so, I also want my slice of the cake. Yes, it’s called copyright.

If you do research on authors still living after 1943 you face, like my friend and myself, a very serious problem for, if authors wise up and we have to start coughing up money we don’t have, research on contemporary culture may simply grind to a halt. If even academic authors start asking for licences to quote from their works (why pay, say, Martin Amis and not Terry Eagleton?) then we’re done for. This is not only truly regrettable but a serious danger for the authors themselves who might think they don’t need us, academics, anyway, without realising that we’re their publishers for posterity.

So far we operate under a blanket unwritten licence which supposes that a) we quote within reasonable limits, b) we respect copyright, c) we don’t benefit (much) from our scholarly work. The problem is that this is a very tricky, ambiguous situation. I did write some time ago about author China Mieville’s proposal that the state should pay a salary to writers (of merit), a proposal that was howled down by British authors themselves as smacking of ugly Communism. Yet, we do use public money to pay Literature teachers on the grounds that we offer a public service. If you look at things from Mieville’s point of view, we are indeed sponging on the poor authors. It’s a scary thought, particularly as it has many unforeseen implications. If, say, a teach a seminar on, for example, Sarah Waters and I’m paid, is she entitled to part of my money? Or am I, on the contrary, a fabulously cheap way for her work to be publicised? (Authors: remember that each time we teach a book we sell many copies and you do get a share).

The key factor here, going back to my friend’s book, is the middleman –the publishing house. We already have the tools to circulate research for free by using websites, university repositories and research portals like Academia.edu or Research Gate. However, the accreditation and assessment systems in many nations –and our own various fetishisms– insist that the only serious publication is via the academic publishing houses and journals. I’m fully aware that, logically, the best of these guarantee a high standard of quality that self-publication cannot guarantee right now. Yet, the way things are going it’s already quite clear that, as it is happening in many other areas of knowledge, the era of publishing at cost zero in English Studies is coming to an end. Not only the authors but also academic publications (from journals to monographs) will soon require payment, and without a powerful university backing you, my friend, this money will have to come out of your pocket.

How this will further the gap between rich and poor academics is easy to foresee. How to resist this trend seems hardly in our hands right now. Unless… (here insert your own solution).

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THE SWEDISH FILM RATING AGAINST SEXISM (AND DISNEY’S FROZEN)

Time does fly… I first read about the new Swedish film rating system against sexism back in November, made a note to discuss it here but then other topics caught my attention. I don’t understand Swedish and I’ll have to rely, therefore, on English-language media for an explanation of how the rating system works. Have a look at, for instance, Charlotte Higgins’ “No sexism please, we’re Swedish – films classified by representation of women” published at The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/06/sexism-swedish-cinemas-films-women). Basically, the idea is that films get an A-rating if they pass the Bechdel test, which I described two posts ago when discussing Pacific Rim: an acceptably pro-feminist movie should: 1) have at least two women in it, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides a man. As Higgins’ panoramic article proves, the test is too crude, too blunt, and so is the rating –a more nuanced system is needed or, rather, a massive upheaval of the male-dominated media industry all over the world.

Higgins mentions in passing a piece of Swedish legislation on gender equality in the film industry. A note in English on the website of the Swedish Film Institute (http://www.sfi.se/en-GB/Statistics/Gender-equality/) informs that “The current National Film Agreement for 2013-2015 contains an equality directive which states that ‘the funding shall be divided equally between women and men’ in the key positions of director, screenwriter and producer in those projects which receive funding from the Swedish Film Institute.” The statistics they offer are not, however, that encouraging. For the period 2000-2005, of all the feature-length films released in Sweden, only 17% had been directed by women; for 2006-2012, this was up to 18% but for 2012 alone the figure was just 7% (for women screenwriters, the corresponding figures are 25%, 28% and 19%). According to CIMA (Asociación de Mujeres Cineastas y de Medios Audiovisuales), the percentage of women directors in Spain is also 7% (just 10% membership of the Director’s Guild of America, remember, corresponds to women).

Turn now for Frozen, the new Disney movie. Frozen, a free adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” has been both defended and attacked on feminist grounds (Jennifer Lee, the screenwriter, maintains she has penned a feminist story). This controversy shows that not even we, feminists, agree on what films may offer positive role models for young girls in the 21st century. I guess Frozen has been awarded an A rating by the Swedes as the movie is about two young women who have much to discuss which does not concern men and, so, passes the Bechdel test. My own personal position is that although Frozen encourages women to revise the notion of ‘true love’ beyond the usual heterosexual couple, to encompass love among women (sisters in this case), the message is still couched in the horrid idiolect of Disney’s princess cult. I saw the film with my two little nieces and, frankly, I didn’t see them look at each other lovingly when the film finished –I saw them mesmerised as usual by the stupid glamorisation of a pathetic fairy-tale lifestyle.

I totally disagree that princesses can be empowering figures and prefer as an alternative spunky Vanellope von Schweetz. When she wins the race at the end of Disney’s own Wreck-it Ralph (2012) and finds herself hailed ‘Princess’ by her Sugar Rush subjects, she quickly sheds off her pink garb plus tiara and declares: “I’m thinking more along the lines of constitutional democracy. President Vanellope Von Schweetz! Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?” Of course it does. Women are much needed to radically change the face of politics, for our own empowerment and to challenge patriarchal power, including that wielded by women (Christine Lagarde runs the IFM, Angela Merkel the EU). As the Swedes assess the benefits of their new rating system, do consider who you want you daughter to grow up into. (I wonder what the current European royal princesses tell their daughters about their Disney’s counterparts!!).

A last word: the Swedish rating system condemns wholesale all films that focus only on men. I do not agree that a film is sexist because it has no women in it –actually, the sexist films are usually those with just one woman in them. Paradoxically, films which deal exclusively with women are called ‘feminist’ whether they are so or not, whereas those with only men are beginning to be called ‘sexist.’ I agree that there is an acute imbalance in the representation of men and women on the screen but I don’t want men to be forced to give up their own stories for the sake of a censoring feminism. I do want them, though, to make room for women in the media industry until we are 50%, for we are 50% (or slightly more) of the human species.

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