Friday, October 28, 2011

Our Position on "Anonymous"

A month ago I asked, How should we deal with Anonymous?  In general, other than some assorted Twitter chats, I've not said much.

But today it opens, and it's come to my attention that people (students in particular) may show up here looking for a counter argument.  So I wanted to use this space not necessarily just to present my own position, but to give you readers the opportunity to offer yours as well.

This is a movie, made for entertainment value, made not by academics for the purpose of proving an academic theory, but my moviemakers for the purposes of entertaining you enough to make money.  In this sense it is exactly the same as Shakespeare in Love.

The primary difference is that one movie was made by people who know, love and respect Shakespeare and his works, and were completely open with the fact that their movie was pure fiction. Anonymous wants you to believe that some of it is real.

Personally I don't think that anybody involved with the actual making of the movie cares one way or the other about Oxfordian theory.  I think that any statements Roland Emmerich (the director) or others make to the press are just glorified trolls, drumming up interest in their project.  I think that the minute the movie is out of the theatres, no one will ever speak of it again.

What troubles me is the idea that there are classrooms where teachers are presenting this movie to their students as if it has any academic merit at all.  If you are a student and your teacher wants you to see this movie, you are almost certainly in one of the following situations, so act accordingly:

* Your teacher actually believes this theory and is trying to convert you.  This is a very dangerous place for a teacher, and is the exact same kind of thinking that would have you learning that we didn't land on the moon, or that cavemen rode dinosaurs. The freedom to question things does not in any way legitimize the alternate theory you may come up with.

* Your teacher is working off of free educational materials that were distributed along with the movie.  Think about that.  The company that made the movie sent out "educational" materials hyping their movie. Because that couldn't possibly be a biased source.  So head home and tell your parents *that*.  "My teacher is telling us exactly what the movie company told her to say! Next month we're learning about the historical accuracy of Shrek's friends the talking donkey and the sword-fighting kitty."

* Your teacher wants to teach you the value of questioning "established" fact, and make up your own mind.  I can live with this, this is a good thing to teach.  This is not a good WAY TO TEACH IT, since it's been made pretty obvious that the motivation here is to make an entertaining movie and not to tell an accurate story.  If you want to teach about the existence of the authorship question, there are many other documentary films to use.

For the record, I don't think that Shakespeare was a god among men who wrote perfect plays every time he picked up a pen. I'm quite happy with the theory of collaboration, and have no problem with the idea that there's plenty of Fletcher and Middleton and others mixed in with his work.  That's not what the authorship question is about.  The authorship question starts with the idea that Shakespeare could *not* have written the works, because of who he was. And then goes about trying to find candidates to fit who they feel earned the right to be considered for authorship.

In conclusion?  If your teacher is trying to teach you to question authority and to consider alternate theories, I can't argue against that. It's a good thing.  If your teacher is trying to argue that this particular theory *is* true, because of what this movie says? Then you are being taught poorly, and your teacher is precisely the authority that you should question. Make up your own mind, but be sure that you've got good sources for your information first.

For more information from people who *do* have the academic cred to speak intelligently on the topic, I'll point you to Blogging Shakespeare, the site run by the Stratford Birthplace Trust.  They've put out a free e-book on the subject. Look around the site while you're there, you'll also find the 60 interviews that they did with experts in the field.

Ok, I'll let someone else talk.  This is not the post for debating my position - if you have a different one, post it.  I'd like anyone who comes here to read a variety of opinions.  I'll disclaim right up front saying that I WILL REMOVE ANYTHING WITH PERSONAL ATTACKS OR OTHER FLAME-WAR GENERATING COMMENTS.  Post your opinion and let it stand for itself. Links allowed.



6 comments:

Tonya J said...

Duane, I thought you might enjoy the A.O. Scott's review of the film. It is glorious:

http://movies.nytimes.com/2011/10/28/movies/anonymous-by-roland-emmerich-review.html

Personally, I am just grateful the plays exist, for the gift of his beautiful language. Anonymous sounds like a melodrama with nice costumes. That's it.

psi said...

"In conclusion? If your teacher is trying to teach you to question authority and to consider alternate theories, I can't argue against that. It's a good thing. If your teacher is trying to argue that this particular theory *is* true, because of what this movie says?"

There's no reason anyone who bothered to investigate the basis for the movie's premises would need to that, and if anyone were to promote the Oxfordian position based solely on the film, I'd agree with you that his or her approach required some independent validation. The film's historical basis has been very well established by much independent scholarship, including Mark Anderson's *Shakespeare By Another Name.*

GirlwithaLessonPlan said...

I intend to use it in my classroom as an example of how the playhouses worked, social structure, etc. Visually (sets, costumes) it looks accurate. I currently use Shakespeare in Love for that, and I welcome having a PG 13 movie that doesn't involve nudity to do it.

Also, this is about as historically reliable in content as SiL is. So....there.

JM said...

Overall Duane I think yours is a great analysis and summation on the issue. I would disagree with only one of your points:

"This is a movie, made for entertainment value, made not by academics for the purpose of proving an academic theory, but my moviemakers for the purposes of entertaining you enough to make money. In this sense it is exactly the same as Shakespeare in Love."

Although I haven't yet seen the film, I've read a lot on it and listened to quite a few discussions about it involving scholars and well-known reviewers who have seen it. It seems that unlike Shakespeare in Love, this film takes itself very seriously, is didactic in its tenor, and is indeed attempting to promote the theory as somehow factual. As a consequence of that, and the fact that they're mounting an "educational" campaign (as you noted), this film could have a much longer half-life than its actual merits as an 'entertainment' vehicle might warrant.

Graham Miller said...

I was surprised how much I actually liked the film. The story was a bit off at times, but the film itself was very entertaining, which is what films are for, right? I wish it was still playing in the UK, but I heard it was doing well in the states.

orwhatyouwill said...

I found the film great fun and it does not seem at all to me to take itself too seriously. It's quite over the top and I loved it... and I am no Oxfordian. I blogged about it: http://orwhatyouwill.wordpress.com/