Archive for the ‘Kathy B.’ Category

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Feigning Fairytales

December 3, 2009

“I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say hello, goodbye, I’m late I’m late I’m late!” -the White Rabbit, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

“Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down!”

Little Red Riding Hood

What do these all have in common? They are all seemingly innocent means of entertainment for young children, be it a chant, song, book, nursery rhyme, or anything else for that matter, that have extremely dark connotations. I remember as a little girl, I would always use the Rabbit’s “I’m late!” phrase whenever I was running late or in a hurry. It’s very catchy, no? I thought I was just being cute saying something a cute little rabbit said on TV. Little did I know, however, that the Rabbit was only obsessively repeating the phrase because he was late for a truly important date, for which he may be executed. (and, of course, there’s the pun that if he is late he will literally be the late, as in dead, rabbit. Get it?) I wonder, if young kids knew the darker side of their favorite catchphrases or songs, would they continue to gleefully sing them?

Take “Ring Around the Rosie” as another example. Children love to dance around in merry circles singing this little nursery rhyme, and playfully fall down at the end. Even many adults chant the song without taking a minute to consider the lyrics. What they’re missing is the dark, terrible history of it.

In 1961, James Leasor made the connection between the lyrics of the rhyme and a disease that terrorized the world 700 years ago.

Children in the Middle Ages were, supposedly, taught the nursery rhyme during the epidemic of the Black Death. The bubonic plague spread all over Europe and eventually all over the world, killing a majority of populations in the process. Now, the words to the rhyme as we know them are different than the original English version. That version, the true version that best represents the Black Death, goes as follows, “Ring-a-ring o’Rosies, a Pocket full of Posies, A-tishoo! A-tishoo! We all fall down!” The “ring-a-ring o’rosies” part of the nursery rhyme refers to the rosy-colored rashes in the shape of rings that would appear on the skin of victims of the bubonic plague. The next part, the “pocket full of posies,” refers to the uninfected people who would quite literally walk around with flowers, like posies, in their pockets in order to avoid the stench of the multitude of dead bodies of people who had succumbed to the frightening disease that were laying before them. “A-tishoo! A-tishoo” is supposed to represent the sound of a violent sneeze. Due to the fact that intense sneezing was one of the symptoms of the bubonic plague, this is also another legitimate connection between the seemingly joyous rhyme and the anything-but-joyful disease. Finally, “we all fall down” has been interpreted to refer to the majority of people literally falling in death from the disease. (http://www.rhymes.org.uk/ring_around_the_rosy.htm) Now, after all of that, who wants to gather round in a circle and sing?

Lastly, let’s look at the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Do you think someone just decided to make up a story about a young girl who goes into the woods and encounters a wolf that plans to eat her and her grandmother? I doubt it. As all fairytales, this story has probably been told for centuries, in various different ways. If it was based on folklore centuries ago, then it may be interpreted as more of a warning to young girls than a fairytale. The main point? Don’t go into the woods! Don’t talk to strangers! Beware of what is lurking behind you! People are not always what they seem! These messages are practically being screamed at the children listening to the story. Do this and die, that’s the point that’s trying to be made.

So, why does it seem as if children’s stories are some of the darkest and scariest around? Basically, children need to be warned, and the best way to get them to listen and pay attention is hide a serious message in a fun, playful story, so that they may just learn from the mistakes of their favorite characters. Maybe all of the dark aspects of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that we have been discussing over the past 6 weeks are an attempt by Carroll to get a message across to Alice Liddell. Watch where you’re going, don’t go into strange places that you’re unfamiliar with, don’t drink/eat something unless you know what it is, be respectful towards authority, etc.

What is your opinion? Was he trying to get a message across to Alice Liddell, or children in general, or was he just telling a story?

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Normality is a State of Mind

December 3, 2009

“You see a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.” -The Cheshire Cat

In this quote, the Cheshire Cat is telling Alice that it is crazy because it is unlike dogs. This, in a way, reminds me of certain issues in our own society, such as peer pressure, stereotyping, and conformity. Many people truly do believe that if they are different than people around them, then something is wrong with them, and they must change. Most people within the groups of “normal” people agree with these outsiders, and brush them off as weirdos or outcasts unless they conform to be just like everyone else. How can a society function if people are too afraid of being cast off as crazy to dare to be different? How will advancements come to pass if nobody is willing to think in new ways? Of course, society is advancing, and there are individualists in the world working on new ideas, but if more people were willing to take a risk and be different, would advancement be faster? Better? No different?

This reminds me of one of the Duchess’ morals, “Birds of a feather flock together”. It is true; people with similar interests and personalities do seem to stick together and follow one another. High school is generically all about the cliques-there are the preps, jocks, nerds, emo kids, music kids, etc. Granted, not every school will have the exact same set of cliques, but cliques are always there. Now, what would happen if all of these groups intermingled with each other? Would it be absolute chaos, or would it be beneficial and rewarding for everyone to befriend people with different perspectives and different attributes than they themselves have? My personal opinion is that it would be the latter, but it seems as if most people are too afraid of being judged or mocked to try to meet new people and try new things.

Even in Wonderland, similar characters group together. The two “maddest” characters of them all, the March Hare and the Mad Hatter, have a never-ending tea party together at the Hare’s home. As for the cards, all of the clubs were soldiers, the diamonds were the courtiers, the spades were the gardeners, and the hearts were the royal family. So, not only do all of the cards “flock together” at the Queen’s castle, but cards of each specific suit divide up as well. Not to mention the fact that, as per the Cheshire Cat, the maddest of the mad live in Wonderland, so all of the characters of Wonderland are a cohesive group of madmen. What if someone normal came into Wonderland? Would they be considered mad due to the fact that they are so different from the madness that is the norm in Wonderland? Does Alice fall into this category?

The point is, the rule is that similar people become friends and group up, while those who are willing to be in a group of people much different then themselves are the exceptions. Members of most groups are less welcoming to people who don’t share the same qualities that the rest of the group members share. Individuals stuck in a world of people who are different than they are are deemed mad, and they eventually can come to believe that themselves under enough pressure. Why? What defines madness? Craziness or insanity? Who are we to deem someone insane? For all we know, they could be thinking quite clearly, and it is we who are thinking senselessly. So, is insanity subjective, meaning in different societies the word has different implications and different definitions? If so, then a mad American could go to Asia, for example, and be welcomed and considered perfectly normal, relative to the majority of their population. The entire globe is divided into groups, sects, and regions all based on different beliefs, appearances, occupations, ethnicities, religions, etc. So, which of them are mad? My opinion is either everybody or nobody. That proves the Cheshire Cat’s assertion that everyone in Wonderland is mad; everyone in the entire world is mad according to someone. Or, theoretically, the madness of everyone could cancel out, and therefore nobody is mad. Either way you approach it, nobody is more mad than anybody else. So the point is, why can’t we all just get along?

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Analyzing the “Alice Project”

December 3, 2009

After six weeks of reading and analyzing (or analyzing why we shouldn’t analyze) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the “Alice Project” is finally coming to a close. In approximately 15 hours, we will leave Alice to cope with her dream for herself, without the aid of our blogs. So, I’d like to take some time to reflect on the entirety of the project we have devoted ourselves to for the past six weeks.

I came into this project without any knowledge of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I’ve never seen the Disney movie in its entirety, and the parts that I have seen I remember only vaguely, and so I really did not have much of a clue what to expect when reading the book. Even before we began the project, Mr. Long would make some references to Alice, most often about the Cheshire Cat or the White Rabbit, but I always felt somewhat out of the loop. I actually looked forward to the project if only so that I would be able to understand the various references to the story that are now ever so apparent all over the place!

At the beginning of the story, I remember wondering what the “porpoise” of the countless annotations in the margins of our annotated version of the story was. I kept wondering:

  • Why is all of this background information on the author necessary?
  • Why do I need to know of all of these other analyses and references to the story?
  • Who cares about a dodo?

However, as the project progressed and we delved deeper and deeper into the quirks of Wonderland, I started realizing that that information could actually be very beneficial when writing blogs. Whether it served as an inspiration for a blog, or merely helped support a point I was trying to make, some of the annotations were actually very useful (although I will admit that I still fail to see the purpose of some of them).

One thing I liked about the story was that it was possible to make something out of just about anything, but it was also possible to dispute the actual, if any, meaning of pretty much everything. It was interesting searching the story for possible symbolism or deep meanings, while having the power to argue that there is none should I come up empty-handed. That helped not only with blogging, but with comments as well.

I enjoyed commenting on my classmates’ blogs. Everyone created very high quality material, and it was cool to be able to see the story from everyone else’s perspective. I found great inspiration for blogs of my own in the ideas of those of my peers. I also enjoyed receiving comments, because it is always rewarding to get feedback on my writing and see new perspectives on the rabbits I chased and ideas I touched upon.

As for coming up with ideas for my own blogs, it was probably as painless as it could have possibly been. If I absolutely could not come up with anything to write, I always had the option of reading my classmates’ blogs and trying to find inspiration there. If that didn’t work, there was the option of searching the internet for interesting images, videos, or anything else Alice related that I could respond to.

All in all, I think the “Alice Project” was an imaginative project that challenged everyone in some way and forced us all to be team players. The most challenging aspect of the project was most likely different for everyone, but for me it was probably the extensive amount of time it demanded. We have never done anything like this, so getting accustomed to it took about as much time as actually working on it in the beginning. I was also worried that the project would interfere with my other project or other classes, which it may have to some extent.

That said, I thought the project was a very cool idea with very large possibilities, and I look forward to seeing how far it goes in the future.

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Law and Disorder

December 1, 2009

The chapter of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that I find most intriguing is Chapter 11, in which the trial is held. I recently attended a forum in our nation’s capital in which I learned much about the legal system. Surprisingly, while there are some inevitable quirks of a Wonderland trial, it is actually quite similar to our own system in many ways. There is a judge, 12 jurors, witnesses, a defendant, etc. One odd thing, however, is the fact that there are no lawyers! Perhaps that is so because the Queen does not want any chance of her victims being cleared.

More interesting, however, is the fact that the judge (the King) screams at the witness, the Mad Hatter, and threatens execution if he does not present his evidence promptly. Also, he threatens execution if the Mad Hatter does not remember every detail of every question, no matter how tangential or completely unrelated to the case. In my opinion, this is true (albeit to a much lesser degree) in courts of law in the United States today, and is one of the most worrisome problems of our legal system. Witnesses truly are sometimes interrogated as if they were criminals. How is that just? A witness is someone who is willing to go to the measures to ensure that justice is served, be it in favor of the prosecution or defense, and should therefore be treated respectfully. All too often, however, that is the farthest thing from what happens.

In a mock trial that I participated in, I was a member of the jury. One of the things we were required to be very familiar with and take into consideration when deliberating on the trial was memory. Memory is a very subjective thing; oftentimes we remember what we wish to remember, in the manner we wish to remember it. If something seemingly inconsequential to us occurs, we are unlikely to pay it much attention, and therefore are unlikely to have an accurate memory of it come the trial. How, then, is it possible for witnesses to be expected to remember every single detail of what happened? I take the King’s threat to behead the Hatter if he does not remember as a representation of what happens in actual court. There are multiple things that could happen-1) the witness could be badgered to remember something to the point that they break down, in which case they become an unreliable witness, 2) the witness could make something up, which could affect the outcome of the trial, or 3) a lawyer could manipulate the jury into believing the idea that if the witness doesn’t remember something, they are obviously unreliable and corrupt. So, if badgering witnesses does nothing other than cause confusion and misinformation, then why does it happen? Is the point of the law not to serve justice?

In the case in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, such corruption is understandable if not expected, for it is a trial held by none other than the corrupt Queen of Hearts herself, in a land in which everything but the ordinary occurs. However, if nothing is normal in Wonderland, why does the trial resemble actual proceedings so closely? Since we have concluded that Carroll hid many digs at society and politics in the story, could this be a dig at the corruption of the legal system? Not to mention the fact that of all the characters of Wonderland to be tried it is the Knave, instead of any of the truly guilty creatures. So, what do you think, is Carroll crafting one of the first lawyer jokes, embedded within a story originally written for a 10-year-old girl?

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Clamoring for Chaos

November 30, 2009

This entry was originally inspired by the following entry from Lewis Carroll’s diary:

“Query: when we are dreaming and, as often happens, have a dim consciousness of the fact and try to wake, do we not say and do things which in waking life would be insane? May we not then sometimes define insanity as an inability to distinguish which is the waking and which the sleeping life? We often dream without the least suspicion of unreality: ‘Sleep hath its own world,’ and it is often as lifelike as the other.”

So, this causes one to ponder some obvious questions: how do we know we’re awake, as opposed to dreaming? What happens when we dream? Which is reality, the world we live in when we are awake or that when we are asleep? Where do dreams come from? Are they filled with random objects, people, and ideas, are they filled with symbols of our greatest subconscious desires, or are they something else entirely? And, perhaps most importantly, why, and how can we possibly know?

I do not know the answers to all of the above questions, however, let’s assume for the time being that dreams are a result of one’s innermost feelings, desires, and thoughts. If Alice was truly dreaming, then does that mean that being in a world with no parents, no rules, and no limitations is what she longs for most? I wonder, is it the character Alice desiring such freedom, or could Carroll be acknowledging the fact that Alice Liddell most likely does as well? Possibly, he knew that young Alice Liddell longed to grow up, move out of the house, and live life on her own, and wrote the story for her around those desires in order to make Alice truly love and relate to it.

In Alex D.’s post, “Growing Pains,” he proposes the idea that maybe the part of the story in which Alice grows to a point that she is stuck inside a house and cannot get out (complete with an illustration that depicts her with an expression of great frustration and discomfort) is Carroll’s representation of the reality of Alice Liddell growing up to the point where she wants and needs to be set free and let out of her home to explore the world on her own. Alex toyed with the idea that maybe Carroll stuck his character of Alice inside the house because in reality he dreads the day when the real Alice will leave him and go off on her own, but inside he does know that this is what she truly wants.

I find that theory very interesting, and it ties into the idea that dreams show one’s true desires. Maybe that is why Carroll set the story up to be a dream, because he knew Alice longed for these things, and that nothing, no matter how hard he tried, would keep her from them. What better way to show her that than to have his character dream of it? If that is the case, then Wonderland, all of its quirks, and all of the things Alice did and people she met probably represented something. However, yet again, if this idea is anything close to what Carroll was actually striving for, then it is doubtful that Wonderland is nearly as dark as it is sometimes interpreted to be. Maybe it truly is as innocent as it seems at first glance. Then again, maybe Alice Liddell was a disturbed little girl (I, personally, would be if I had older men creeping on me), or, maybe Carroll put a part of his own dark side into the story. Or, maybe Carroll simply made the adventure a dream because dreams, as he said in the quote above, give reason to insanity. Maybe he just needed a way to bring her back to reality, either for the story’s sake or because he really wanted to bring Alice Liddell back down to reality and reason. There are endless possibilities.

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A Push for Animal Rights?

November 26, 2009

This blog post was influenced by Hersh T’s post, “Who Are We?”.

It is common knowledge that as humans, we see ourselves above animals. We give ourselves the right to own animals as pets and domesticate them. We give ourselves the right to use our technology to kill animals for sport or fashion. We give ourselves the right to take animals out of their habitat and put them in cages on display for other humans to stare at. We even give ourselves the right to destroy animals’ homes, even while they are still in them. Why? Because we can. Because we’re smart. Because we’re human. We may not be the strongest, and we may not even be the smartest, but we’re smart enough to be able to create civilization and society. We collaborate with one another to build the tools and technology necessary to make ourselves the most powerful beings in the world. The blue whale may be the largest animal on Earth, but with our technology we can take it out. We not only can, but we do, and thus blue whales, along with many other species, are now endangered.

My question is, what gives us the right? We’ve created a society based on morality and ethics, but apparently that only applies to our own kind, or, to an extent, animals domesticated to be the “property” of our own kind. One cannot kill a person by law, one cannot kill a person’s pet by law unless attacked by the pet, but one can pretty much kill a wild animal with no consequences? How is that moral? How is that ethical?

Most dogs that are house-pets live in cages when their “owners” are gone. They’ve done nothing wrong, but they are still locked up in a cage without a second thought. A person will only be locked up in a cage if they commit a crime. If a person abuses another person, that person will go to jail. However, if a dog bites a person, they face the death penalty and are killed. Yet again, where are the morals and ethics in this?

Our society is flawed. The fact that a little girl could be allowed to dream of a Queen that orders executions left and right proves that. We’ve had dictators, wars, terrorists, serial killers, government conspiracies, etc. Whether people want to admit it or not, humans are not perfect. So, why do we expect animals to be? Animals don’t have a concept of society as we do. They don’t have laws. And yet we treat them and punish them as we would the worst kind of criminal-brutally, carelessly, and harshly.

I find what Hersh said in his aforementioned blog very interesting. He proposed the idea that maybe Lewis Carroll used the intelligence and power that he gave the animals of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a way to sort of present animals as our equals. He gave them their own society in Wonderland, a society in which animals, humans, and objects coexist in equality (granted, in this society there are separate classes as in ours, but it is irrelevant whether one is a person, animal, card, etc.) Animal rights activists don’t always get taken seriously when they speak out, but what better way to get people to pay attention than to put a hidden message in a young children’s story that will be read by children and their parents (and, eventually, scholars)?

In Lewis Carroll: Interviews and Recollections, a biography of Carroll written by Morton N. Cohen, it is mentioned that Carroll was, in fact, an antivivisectionist animal rights activist, meaning he publicly opposed animal abuse, especially living animals being cut into for any human purposes (Publishers Weekly editorial review http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Lewis-Carroll/Morton-N-Cohen/e/9780877452317; also, http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/carroll/politics1.html).

Granted, it is doubtful that Carroll knew the story would be as big as it has become, but who knows? Maybe he published it with the intent of getting these hidden messages across. Maybe there are no hidden messages at all, and he just put the smart, talking animals in the story to please young Alice Liddell. We may never know, but the speculation is always very intriguing.

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Risky Business

November 17, 2009

“I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit hole–and yet–and yet–it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life!”

Isn’t it funny how true this remark is of human beings? It seems as if every time we try something new or take a risk, when asked the question, “Was it worth it?” we can never come to a conclusive answer. There is always an “and yet…” Nothing comes without its faults, it just depends on whether or not the good outweighs the bad.

For instance, take fame.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to be loved by an entire nation, to make millions upon millions of dollars every time you complete a project (i. e. movie, record, season of television, game, etc.), and lead the ultimate life of glamor? It sounds so incredible that some people may just jump into that alternate-reality version of life before considering the opposite side of the spectrum. Is all of that worth never seeing your family, not having any sort of personal or private life, being hated by some although loved by others, and the bearing the burden of needing to constantly think of every way your actions may be perceived before you do anything? Is it worth the inevitable rumors?

Similarly, when Alice plunged down the rabbit hole, she did not consider the consequences of her actions. Anything could have been at the bottom of that hole, but her only focus was to follow the curious rabbit. Then, when things started to go haywire, she says that she almost wishes that she didn’t go down the hole, but, at the same time, she is glad she did. Why is this? Why do people always regret something, but never enough to push that metaphorical reset button?

In my opinion, it is due to the fact that, whether we admit it or not, we as humans love that sense of adventure and suspense; we live for it. Whether it ends up being worthwhile in the end or not, we are always secretly glad we did it, whatever it may be. The truth is, people usually only embark on these wild adventures when they are bored with their mundane life, or seeking a distraction from something else. What would’ve happened to Alice had she not jumped down the hole? Would she have continued her futile attempt to read her boring book, or was something lurking around the corner for her? She never would have had the incredible experience of Wonderland, and, if she knew what she was missing out on, I believe she would regret that.

The question of “What could have happened had I just taken a risk and done this?” is, in my opinion, one of the most maddening internal questions one can ask oneself. Be it about love, studies, careers, moving, or giving into that innate curiosity, taking a risk is, although challenging, often proven worthwhile in the end, or at least leads to an exciting life full of adventure and wonder.

What do you think? Why does it seem to be a part of human nature to find it difficult to ever be truly happy or fully satisfied? Why do we torture ourselves with what if’s? Do you think, in general, it is more valuable to be a bold risk-taker or a cautious rule-follower?