Gloriously awful student ideas

SEK and his class are brainstorming ideas for their end-of-quarter rhetoric-in-practice project.

SEK: Given the fact that we studied Fellowship of the Ring and Game of Thrones, I could easily see something like the “Sean Bean Death Reel” being a viable final project.

STUDENT #1: What if we made a perfect copy of the One Ring out of metal?

SEK: Nope. You can’t turn in anything you bought from Skymall.

STUDENT #2: Can we do Reverse Game of Thrones?

SEK: A Throne of Games?

STUDENT #2: Like we get a regular guy to play Tyrion and hire little people to play everybody el—

SEK: No! No reversing Game of Thrones! That’s unacceptable on so many levels I don’t even know where to begin.

83 comments on this post.
  1. Murc:

    … why would this be unacceptable?

    Patrick Stewart once starred in Reverse Othello. How is this different?

  2. delurking:

    I’ma call the Reverse Othello unacceptable, too.

    Though I am sure Stewart was brilliant in it.

    I speak as someone who once had a student write a Reverse Holocaust short story — where it was the Jews taking over Europe and sending all the Christians to death camps.

  3. rea:

    Yeah, and somebody once did a production of Madame Butterfly that ended with Pinkerton nuking Nagasaki, but that didn’t mean it was a good idea.

  4. mark f:

    (Trying to work up a joke involving Pam Grier, Eartha Kitt and the Stewart Extras episode.)

  5. joe from Lowell:

    I once came up with the idea of a reverse Sound of Music.

    It’s the story of how a scheming nun, seeking release from an oppressive existence, ruins a man’s life, robbing him of his chance to recapture his honor and marry a rich, beautiful heiress. She bring chaos to his home, endangers his children while planting perverse ideas in their heads, and ultimate makes him an exile from his beloved homeland.

  6. SEK:

    We try to discourage our students from mocking people just because they’re different. Even if there’d been some larger justification, it’d still be highly problematic, inasmuch as it strongly suggests that “bigger is better.” (Which is doubly egregious given the novel and show’s rejection of that logic.)

  7. SEK:

    That’s a Martin Amis, Time’s Arrow style reversal, which as far as gimmick books go, actually wasn’t all that bad.*

    *Note: I read it as an undergrad, though, so I reserve the right to retract that statement if I’m misremembering.

  8. Murc:

    I’m going to be charitable and assume your student was simply ignorant of the historical context, which in some ways is a victory.

    And apparently the Reverse Othello was well-regarded for the attempt it was making. Avery Brooks, who is not precisely what you’d call without opinion on matters of race, has said he regretted he couldn’t play Iago in it due to the DS9 shooting schedule taking up all of his time.

  9. mark f:

    My worst idea was for an assignment to translate a piece of literature to a children’s book. I was a shirker in high school but I absolutely needed to turn it in to graduate. But that didn’t stop me from procrastinating, do I wound up needing something both brief and that I already read.

    I chose Night.

  10. joe from Lowell:

    The climax of the plot occurs when Rolf tries to talk some sense into them, and the nun brains him with a shovel.

    She’s not about to let some young idealist steal her meal ticket.

  11. Murc:

    … you know, I honestly didn’t consider that. Given how awesome Tyrion is in general, making the one big person Tyrion and surrounding him with these scheming, completely shitty douchebags as little people… yeah, okay. That’s a bad idea.

  12. Some Guy:

    I’d rule it unacceptable on grounds that it’s lazy.
    Reverse Othello is lazy, too.
    You’re not changing any of the aspects of the story to view it in a new light; you’re just re-arraigning some adjectives.

  13. Some Guy:

    Ballsy. I’ll submit:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Red_Badge_of_Courage
    with
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Story_about_Ping

    LA-LA-LA-LAI!

  14. herr doktor bimler:

    Obviously you should be using Delphi protocol for your brainstorming.

  15. herr doktor bimler:

    as far as gimmick books go, actually wasn’t all that bad

    A gimmick should be original, though.

  16. ChristianPinko:

    You just don’t have the spine to follow in the footsteps of The Terror of Tiny Town.

  17. herr doktor bimler:

    It was good enough for Werner Herzog, after all.

  18. Ken:

    Usually, but I’m going to give Peter Watt’s The Things a pass.

  19. Ian:

    I’ma call the Reverse Othello unacceptable, too.

    What about parallel Othello? I seem to recall a film from a few years back that had a British Othello operating in period Hong Kong. He was considered powerful but treated as an outsider and a barbarian due to his race. That works for me.

  20. Ken:

    Who was it who joked, when the Battleship movie came, out, “What’s next? Tobe Hooper’s Candyland?”

  21. Genjirama:

    I guess you’re not a fan of the Mabou Mines production of Ibsen’s Dollhouse, either?

  22. Peter Hovde:

    See also South Park, “Red Man’s Greed.”

  23. herr doktor bimler:

    I give you the Ayn Rand version of The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse.

  24. Steven desJardins:

    Avery Brooks did play Othello several years later at the same theater.

    I thought the race-reversed Othello was a good gimmick, if only because it gave a lot of very talented black actors the chance to shine in major Shakespearian roles. Patrick Stewart was a fine Othello, but the rest of the cast was equally good, and the production had the single finest set I’ve seen in twenty years of attending Shakespeare.

  25. daveNYC:

    If the books had more focus on a preference for physical force and a distaste for scheming, then the big for small swap could be a thing.

    But they don’t so it doesn’t.

  26. Anonymous:

    a lifetime to learn, a minute to master?

  27. Njorl:

    I had an exam question on Othello that asked us to give it the treatment that Dickens gave Romeo and Juliet in Nicholas Nickleby. We had to describe how we would turn it into a comedy.

    If you made a good faith effort to do so, the best you could do was a C. If you did it but said it was a bad idea, you could get a B (like I did). The only way to get an A was to refuse to try, and explain why it was in such bad taste.

  28. herr doktor bimler:

    Now I’ll have to re-read ‘Grendel’.

  29. Njorl:

    Was it still a musical? I can hear the shovel bonging out in a low “C” as she begins “Doe, a deer”

    Now I’m envisioning her chasing the Countess through the mansion with an ax singing “My Favorite Things”

    When the dog bites (chop), when the bee stings (smash),
    when I’m feeling sad,
    I simply remember my favorite things (bloodspray),
    and then I don’t feel so bad.

  30. sharculese:

    In theory, reverse castings are an interesting idea. The problem is that in most scripts that would make them possible, the delineation between the two groups is so stark that the only lesson you can draw is ‘it would be different if this situation was opposite.’ Reverse Othello is sort of the worst offender in that regard.

  31. joejoejoe:

    I’d like to see Old Men For No Country, where the GOP struggles to comprehend that life is not a 50/50 proposition when your supporters make up 40% of the country.

  32. sharculese:

    Not having touched ASoI&F since I was 15, I can see in my mind how this could plausibly be an interesting portrayal. But given the humiliation actors who are little people are regularly subjected to, I can understand erring on the side of Fuck No.

  33. sharculese:

    I’m sure that was amazing.

    I was sort of ambivalent about Avery Brooks until the first mirror universe episode, but watching him slink around devouring scenery, my first thought was ‘I bet this dude does amazing Shakespeare.’

  34. Nathan Williams:

    I got to see that production. It was, and he was, awesome. Which wasn’t a surprise, but was still great.

  35. xaaronx:

    Maybe more information on the class or exam would change my mind, but that sounds like a pretty terrible exam/grading criteria.

  36. SEK:

    I’m going to be charitable and assume your student was simply ignorant of the historical context, which in some ways is a victory.

    I don’t emphasize it enough, but as I mentioned in this post, I do think that a lot of my kids’ cluelessness is predicated on the fact that they’ve grown up in a better world than the one I had to suffer through. And no, I’m not jealous … not much, anyway.

  37. SEK:

    That’s the best damn reversal imaginable. (slow clap)

  38. Manta:

    Aren’t “reversed Game of thrones” and “reverse Othello” the ideas behind much of E.R. Burrough’s opus, and for that matter many adventure novels?

    The hero from a background we can identify with in the middle of “different” people?

    What I mean is that the student’s idea is not unacceptable, but trite.

  39. Manta:

    Musical: the King and I.

  40. ajay:

    Something I’ve wondered occasionally: we like our heroes to be underdogs, because then it’s all the sweeter when they win.
    Sometimes they’re just outnumbered: Bond on his own against the hordes of henchmen. Sometimes they’re physically smaller – Tyrion, or David against Goliath – or even injured or crippled. Sometimes they’re otherwise hampered: the villain’s very rich, or very powerful, or has a superweapon or something.
    Could you have a story in which the hero’s handicap, if you want to put it that way, was that he just wasn’t very competent?

  41. McAllen:

    Erm, isn’t the idea that a white/big person is someone we can identify with while a black/little person is “different” pretty much the textbook case of unacceptable, or am I misunderstanding you?

  42. ajay:

    Well, someone with whom we would instinctively identify, then.
    Though I don’t think the audience is meant to identify with Othello, particularly. There’s too much dramatic irony around his misjudgement of Desdemona re: the handkerchief.

  43. Jameson Quinn:

    Awesome.

  44. Tonto The Indian:

    Ummmm….

  45. Jameson Quinn:

    Leave it to Jeeves?

  46. ajay:

    OK, but without it becoming a comedy?

  47. ajay:

    I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here by saying that most of Shakespeare’s audience were white.

  48. rea:

    Wedll, then, Lord of the Rings–the hobbits are not all that competent at fighting due to their lack of size and lack of experience.

  49. prufrock:

    Wasn’t that the premise of the entire Pink Panther series?

  50. Njorl:

    Get Smart

  51. Dave S.:

    Too late, I’ve seen everything.

  52. mark f:

    Yeah, unless this was curveball in an Ethics class or something I really don’t see it making sense.

  53. Tiny Hermaphrodite, Esq.:

    A question I don’t expect an answer, given the need to preserve pseudonymity. but how many years would that be?

  54. mark f:

    Harrumph.

  55. mark f:

    Seconded.

  56. rm:

    Yes, he is a very . . . theatrical actor. It made for some odd moments on DS9, but I suspect he was cast because he could live up to the Shatner legacy. All starship captains should play at Ham Factor 9.

  57. Halloween Jack:

    Yeah. “Far Beyond the Stars” was one of the most amazing Trek episodes ever, but it also contributed to this.

  58. Halloween Jack:

    “How do you solve a problem like Maria?”, the abbess wondered aloud, as she glanced significantly at the kitchen knives.

  59. Halloween Jack:

    I had a creative writing assignment in college to rewrite Poe’s “Annabel Lee”, and turned it into the story of a couple of high school kids who get herpes. It started out, “It was one or two Van Halen concerts ago/In this hick-town by the sea…”

  60. John Protevi:

    The boy lead in Kick-Ass

  61. mark f:

    MacGruber

  62. Murc:

    if only because it gave a lot of very talented black actors the chance to shine in major Shakespearian roles.

    This.

    Being a black Shakespearian actor can be kind of tough, because there are a lot of roles you don’t look quite right for (and yes, that does matter) but there’s one enormous role, very famous, that everyone will just EXPECT you to be able to whip out.

  63. Keaaukane:

    I saw a black actor be Coriolanus at Ashland OR fine Shakespeare festival. I think a good actor can sell his version of the play, regardless of skin color.

    On an unrelated note, does Orson Well’s black face Othello count as a “reverse”?

  64. rea:

    Yes, but I’m not sure Shakespeare’s audiance had the same set of racial baggage we do, as indeed the notion of a black Venetian general shows.

  65. sharculese:

    11. I feel like I can say that without compromising pseudonymity.

  66. njorl:

    It was just a generic “Shakespeare” class. At the time, I thought the guy was a jerk. In retrospect, I don’t care at all about the grades I received but do appreciate the insights. We had a much more mundane assignment, for “As You Like It”, which I aced, but I can’t remember a damn thing about that play.

    Grades can get in the way of an education.

  67. Manta:

    Any Bildungsroman: e.g., Huckleberry Finn.

  68. joe from Lowell:

    Open with with spare, industrial music:

    “The hills are dead of the music of sound…”

  69. Mo:

    Actually, the Avery Brooks Othello was several years earlier. What was truly amazing about that production, however, what that Andre Braugher played Iago. The director said that he never understood why Othello trusted Iago so deeply and quickly. The reason he came up with was that Iago was also black. But Iago had been the token black military leader and now this black superstar comes along… Thus the deadly revenge out of spite. And Desdemona was an Amazonian blonde with waist length hair, definately not the shy maiden she’s often depicted as. They also color-balanced the military. The combat troops were mostly black, with the officer corps getting whiter as the ranks got higher.

    I think reverse Othello worked because the Shakespeare Theater is in Washington, has a long history of cross-racial casting, as well as seeing the plays through a heavily political lens (seeing as it is DC and all). Giving large numbers of black actors the opportunity to do Shakespeare with a great British actor at a prestige theater was just a bonus.

  70. rea:

    “So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye”

  71. Mo:

    The Reverse Othello came about because Patrick Stewart wanted to play Othello, but didn’t want to do it blackface. He went to the Shakespeare Theater in DC with the suggestion. He clearly thought about how to do it right by chosing a smaller resident company in a majority black city which is known for cross-racial casting and political interpretations of the plays, rather than doing it as a stunt in London’s West End or on Broadway.

  72. rm:

    Most private-detective mysteries, especially in noir.

  73. cpinva:

    ok, what’s with the “You’re posting too fast, slow down!” error message?

  74. Full of Woe:

    I wanted to brain Rolf with a shovel in the original, so I prefer to think Anti-Maria (Airam?) is just fulfilling my wish.

  75. joe from Lowell:

    “To you”

    Thwack!

    “And you”

    Aaarrrrggghhhh!

    “And you and you and you-oo.”

  76. Tiny Hermaphrodite, Esq.:

    Thanks.

  77. SEK:

    What was truly amazing about that production, however, what that Andre Braugher played Iago.

    Jesus Christ, even though I don’t believe in you, please give me a time machine for Christmas.

  78. Bill Murray:

    the submit comment button had a fast double hit

  79. Steven desJardins:

    Patrick Stewart played Othello at the Shakespeare Theater in 1997. Avery Brooks played Othello there in 2005, with Patrick Page as Iago. Google informs me that he also played Othello in Washington DC at the Folger Library in 1990, with Andre Braugher as Iago; I wasn’t living in DC then, and didn’t see that production.

  80. Rhino:

    Considering Israeli actions concerning the Palestinians, your students work sounds almost prophetic.

  81. Mo:

    Very inside baseball here, but the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington (run by Amherst College) has a theater where they have long had performances. In the late 80s, Michael Kahn became the director, eventually setting up a resident theater company called the Shakespeare Theater at The Folger Library. It became enormously popular and eventually outgrew the small theater at the Library. This was the period where the Brooks/Braugher Othello was performed (side note: Kelly McGillis was to have played Desdemona, she was a member of the resident theater that year, and was in a magnificent Twelfth Night – the actor they got to play her twin brother really did look just like her, but she got pregnant).

    I wan’t living in DC then but some bad blood, etc. and the Shakespeare Theater moved to a new custom made theater, which was a building where fancy condos were built with a fully modern theater inside. The whole creative team remained intact and they consider themselves a company that moved from one theater to another.
    Brooks and Braugher in Othello

  82. Steven desJardins:

    Ah, I’d heard that they used to be in the Folger, but I’d forgotten, and, in any case, thought it was further in the past. I first saw a show at the Shakespeare Theater in 1994, and I didn’t realize they’d moved into the Lansburgh theater only a couple of years earlier.

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