“It’s Complicated”: Multi-valence and the Modern Film Classroom

By Andrew Howe.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

There are several different pedagogical frames through which an educator can employ film in the college classroom. One of these frames is a dichotomy that involves the relative complexity of the textual engagement with various social issues. Some situations benefit from an uncluttered, streamlined narrative, where social problems are easily identifiable and possible to discuss in isolation. The majority of films and film clips used to illustrate race, for instance, break down US race relations to a uniquely black-white valence. In this approach, the hope is that, through the process of metonymy, certain aspects of ensuing discussions and projects of analyses will allow for connections to be made to valences that exist outside of the narrative in question (for instance, examining the complexities of black-white, inter-racial marriage through an analysis of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” will make a student more conversant when a future narrative presents an Asian-Chicano coupling). The other approach to employing film, however, celebrates the murkiness of social and cultural issues, seeking out narratives that hopelessly entangle issues of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, geography, and other fields. A single line cannot be cleanly excised for an isolated analysis; the whole Gordian knot must be analyzed as a whole, albeit with important parts. It is this second approach that I have consistently utilized in my film courses, as I believe these types of narratives best reflect the complexity of human existence. This paper will delineate a detailed rationale for employing multi-valence in the classroom, and examine clips from the following two films in order to provide illustration: “Lone Star” and “The Manchurian Candidate.”

Keywords: Film, Pedagogy, Society

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp.65-72. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 601.023KB).

Dr. Andrew Howe

Assistant Professor, Department of History, Politics, & Society, La Sierra University, Riverside, California, USA

Andrew Howe is an Assistant Professor at La Sierra University, where he teaches cinema studies, popular culture studies, and twentieth century history in the Department of History, Politics, and Society.

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