Posts Tagged ‘Sentimental Journeys’

  • 2004-05 Winner: “Mother Teresa and Media Mayhem” by Chris Klontz

    Date: 2005.09.15 | Category: Selected Essays | Response: 0

    “Mother Teresa and Media Mayhem” by Chris Klontz PDF

    The media and society tend to distort and oversimplify accounts of events and peoples lives to make them appeal to audiences.  Joan Didion’s essay “Sentimental Journeys,” analyzes how “sentimental narratives” have “personalized and ultimately obscured” (260) the actual problems that are at the root of society’s dilemmas. According to Didion, sentimental narratives are the distorted, erroneous, biased accounts of events that serve to oversimplify the problems at hand in order (whether it be consciously or unconsciously) to avoid the complexities of the actual case and to disguise the objectionable reality.  In “Handicapped by History,” James Loewen presents a similar idea regarding how heroification distorts the real lives of our idolized role models and makes them into “pious, perfect, creatures without conflicts, pain, credibility, or human interest” (463) so “we cannot think straight about them” (464). Sentimentalization and heroification both involve a fabrication of the facts, causing us to lose sight of the real issues we should be recognizing.  One person that the media has extensively confused is the Yugoslavian born nun, Agnes Goxha Bojaxhiu, more commonly known as Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa and, by association, her organization have been heroified and sentimentalized as “saintly.” This image and publicity, which renders them largely immune to criticism has very real consequences in terms of donations but is problematic because it draws so much attention away from the honorable (and perhaps more effective) work of other mission organizations, limiting the available services to the poor, especially in Calcutta.

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  • 2004-05 Winner: “The Capitalization of Intelligence: How Spellbound Transforms Education into a Commodity Through Metaphor” by Scott Hanes

    Date: 2005.09.15 | Category: Selected Essays | Response: 0

    “The Capitalization of Intelligence” by Scott Hanes PDF

    A documentary such as Spellbound, chronicling “the story of eight American children” (Spellbound) who competed in the 1999 Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, can initially seem trifling to most viewers.   The subject material is, on the surface, so far removed from everyday experiences that they cannot be understood.  As a result, the film is required to recast the National Spelling Bee and its participants in more accessible and familiar roles.   Spellbound accomplishes this task by employing a metonymy between the National Spelling Bee and education in general, which in turn constitutes a significant component of the American Dream; through this connection path the back of the box is able to explain that “within the roller coaster ride of the National Spelling Bee can be found the heart of America” (Spellbound).   The film substantiates this assertion through its appeals to various aspects of the American Dream; in particular, it keys in on the highly focused competition and unflagging work ethic that define the spellers’ experiences of the National Spelling Bee. These aspects serve to give meaning to the film, but they also obscure the capitalistic leanings of the American Dream and the National Spelling Bee.  Nonetheless, they are prevalent in the film; by the standards of the spelling bee, intelligence can be construed as a commodity, not only because it can be quantified by the breadth of one’s vocabulary but also because this vocabulary is more easily obtained as one invests more resources into expanding that vocabulary.  Through the National Spelling Bee, Spellbound depoliticizes the educational process by strategically emphasizing the values of hard work and healthy competition, such that it overshadows any socioeconomic factors that might influence a child’s education.

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  • 2003-04 Winner: “Sacrifice, Patriotism, and Pat Tillman” by Ben Greené

    Date: 2004.07.08 | Category: Selected Essays | Response: 0

    “Sacrifice, Patriotism, and Pat Tillman” by Ben Greené PDF

    In the media, stories are often carefully selected, romanticized and expanded to express larger principles.  Such stories may sell more papers, but they also shape beliefs by engaging emotions, suppressing reason and ignoring divergent information.  In Sentimental Journeys, Joan Didion introduces the concept of a sentimental narrative through the lens of the popularized 1989 rape and murder case of the New York ‘Jogger.’ The essay discusses the effects of the contrived story on individuals and society, namely, perpetuating class disparities and compromising the effectiveness of the justice system.  One particularly sentimental account in the media today, emerging from the current effort to ‘fight’ terrorism, describes the death of professional football player, Pat Tillman, in Afghanistan on 22 April 2004 at the age of 27.   The story idealizes Tillman’s choice to join the armed forces as the ultimate sacrifice and deems him a hero for his courage and unquestioning patriotism.  The rhetoric is highly sentimental in its talk of sacrifice, courage and heroism. Furthermore, the language has been adopted by public figures who knew or have sympathy for Tillman, offering the media further material with which to idealize the account.  Tillman’s early death is sad; but, the idealization of his story marginalizes other noteworthy but peaceful efforts to decrease acts of aggression by operating under the assumption that engaging in armed warfare is the most noble and practical approach to fighting terrorism – engendering the idea that one should join the armed forces and fight like the demonstrated hero, Pat Tillman.

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