Before English 212W with Marc Bousquet, I had never taken a college-level English class. When I signed up for it, I expected to read novels like I had in high school, dissecting their language and analyzing their use of parallelism and imagery. Much to my surprise, English 212 was completely different. Instead of simply examining the language of melodramatic novels, we studied the power of melodramatic language. After an exploration of melodrama as a form of rhetoric, we created a website that utilized melodrama to promote a cause we felt passionate about and were willing to do research on.
The class began with a series of readings and movies that we watched and blogged about. Beginning with a melodramatic examination of Harry Potter and The Communist Manifesto, our professor Marc began to introduce the class to melodrama as a genre, that featured a victim leader and used over-exaggerated emotion to appeal to the audience’s sense of pathos. We also look at melodrama as a reaction to modernity, such as the industrial revolution, rural depopulation, and challenges to capitalism. After watching Birth of a Nation, we began to use different Internet resources to display our reactions to our readings. Using Storify, we related different shots to our readings about melodrama, and did a practice literature review of a topic of our choice and its relation to melodrama. Our final, bigger project describing melodrama involved a Prezi of melodrama in media, as described by Linda Williams and Elizabeth Anker. At this stage, our professor asked us to pick a topic for our website.
Throughout the first half of the course, our professor asked us to begin thinking about issues that are important to us and that we would be willing to spend the rest of the semester on. While I contemplated other topics, such as Christianity and ISIS, alcohol and the drinking age, in the end I settled on university speech codes. As a political science major, I was interested in the collision of universities run by state governments who must abide by the Constitution and seek to protect their students from discrimination, and the First Amendment rights of these students. As a conservative, I was interested in using melodramatic rhetoric to promote free speech on campuses, and an expansion of the one-sided dialogue propagated on many liberal campuses. As an Emory student, I hoped to shed some light on free speech on campus and students opinions on it.
The best part of the learning experience for me was creating a survey about student speech, propagating it on Facebook, and analyzing the results. Although my survey is far from a complete portrayal of the opinions of the Emory student body on speech codes, it is interesting to me that so many young people today support restrictions on offensive demeaning speech. While college students used to be known as radical thinkers, willing to go against the norm, these students believe it is the university’s obligation to curb speech they don’t agree with. The demographic breakdown of the survey also served to reinforce my conception of the underlying and seemingly unbridgeable differences between the liberal and conservative conceptions of freedom.
Overall, my English 212W class taught me the importance of contributing to knowledge and creating my own ideas, rather than merely regurgitating those of the authors on the syllabus. It also taught me how to recognize melodramatic rhetoric and utilize it for my own good. Despite many literary interpretations of melodrama as useless pandering to the emotionality of the audience, English 212 taught me that melodrama is a powerful tool I can use throughout my life on and offline to promote causes I believe in.
In the end, I had created a 25 page website, which included a literature review, an annotated bibliography, and a printable version. I hope to share it in the future in order to convince my fellow students about the importance of free speech and dissent.