Entertainment as Literature
Editorial / / February 10, 2017
From the “Odyssey” to senior electives, from Mem to Pop to Noyes, an education in the humanities at Lawrenceville is founded on one central tenet: the critical analysis of language. We are spoiled for the opportunity to analyze words—to explore them, how they are used, and how we respond to them. In III Form English, we spend our study hall periods delving into Fitzgerald’s masterfully constructed sentences, before we come to class and have the opportunity to air out our ideas around the Harkness table and scrutinize the language more closely in essays.
Outside of class, though, we are equally—and voluntarily—inundated by words: in news articles, pop songs, movies, television shows, and all of the content that we scroll through on the Internet every day. And sometimes it feels as though we lack a space to critically analyze the media that we consume every day.
As students at a school founded on erudition, working towards our next steps into academia, it can feel as though great literature is the only valid basis for our most critical and introspective thinking. But what about the articles on the Internet that we voraciously read and make us think hard about our lives, the blockbuster movies with dramatic screenplays, or the pop songs whose lyrics tug at our heartstrings? The elements of analysis that we learn in our English courses—from thematic content to diction to literary devices—are still applicable in these contexts. Wouldn’t it be interesting to explore the intersection of religion and race in America in the lyrics of Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, the way one might with Fences or A Raisin in the Sun in III Form English? Would it not be fascinating to delve into the diction of a Buzzfeed list, considering that the author’s ultimate desire to garner clicks is a form of “unreliable” narration? At Lawrenceville and beyond, we need to take new media, and different forms of media, from comic books to television, more seriously as grounds for academic exploration.
Lawrenceville’s courses, of course, do not suffer from a complete dearth of popular media: The beloved IV Form Essay Writing class stands as an especially strong example in its use of magazine articles and modern personal essays for academic analysis. Many Religion and Philosophy and History courses, as well, use news articles and other forms of media in their syllabi. There are also a handful of senior electives, like Children’s Literature, Screwball Comedies, and even an upcoming elective analyzing video games, that focus on giving unorthodox media critical treatment. These efforts are both academically intriguing and enjoyable to their students, who would benefit from even more opportunities to explore different forms of media in the classroom. The beauty of Lawrenceville’s humanities courses is that they allow for students’ intimate familiarity with the skillful use of language; we could use even more of that in a world in which media increasingly surrounds us.