Thursday, 5 July 2012

Is Disney the new Ovid? Anne Rooney

I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be here. I thought I was, but I didn't have wifi earlier when I should have posted, and then when I looked Elen had posted a competition. So I have skulked around until really late and I can sneak out and post when no one is looking - just in case I am *not* supposed to be here.

I have no wifi because I'm teaching a summer school at Pembroke College (Cambridge) and my access hasn't been set up yet. The summer school is for 3rd year undergraduates from (mostly) American universities and the course I'm teaching is creative writing. The students are here for the equivalent of a whole Cambridge term and this is the first week, so they are still awestruck at the buildings and the fact that they get one-to-one supervision. And I'm awestruck because they refer to me as a professor. In this country/university, professors are the highest echelon of university teacher, and there is generally only a few in each faculty, so I will never actually be a professor.

The first exercise I set them involved finding a well-known story. 'Think of a story everyone knows,' I said. 'Like a Greek myth, or a fairy story, or a Bible story'. (They are Americans, remember - I wouldn't suggest a Bible story if they were British as they probably wouldn't know any.) One girl stared forlornly at me. She is from China. 'Do you know any fairy stories?' I asked. 'Do you know the three billy goats gruff? Beauty and the beast?' We were getting nowhere. 'Cinderella?'
'Ah, Disney!' she beamed.
Yes, she knew the plot of every Disney movie.

I had to add Disney to the list of allowable stories because Disney 'culture' is truly international. She was not the only one who didn't know any traditional European tales, including Greek myths. There was a student from El Salvador who also opted for Disney.

Is it good or bad? I can't grumble that a Chinese student doesn't know all my traditional tales. After all, I don't know many Chinese traditional tales. I found it rather disappointing that Disney was the only shared ground, the only global repository of narratives we could plunder. But maybe it's more interesting that there even is a store of tales that people from virtually anywhere in the world know. I'm not sure. It's obviously bad if it replaces local culture, but if it's in addition to it, as it is for these students? What do you think?


Ms. Yingling said...

Sad but true. If it makes you feel any better at all, I read D'Aulaire's Greek Myths to my children from the time they were born, then moved on to Aesop and as many classics as I could. But then, I was a Latin teacher.

catdownunder said...

It does not surprise me at all. It is school mid year break here so I asked a couple of children what they thought. They know Disney versions of things like Winnie the Pooh but they do not know any indigenous folk tales.

Susan Price said...

But maybe those children will take away the Disney version and rework it - and then we're back to folklore.

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