Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Cool Fail

When I was a young'un, we used to watch Schoolhouse Rock cartoons that taught some mini-lesson about government (the Preamble) or English grammar (Conjunction Junction) and so on.  They were the occasional interstitial material between Bugs and Road Runner episodes...and I remember waiting and hoping for them to come on.  They are so memorable, in fact, that if you ask almost anybody, they'll hum the tune from their favorite SR installment.  Even young'uns today. Somehow (YouTube, etc.), kids 40 years later know these ditties, and--maybe--a bit of the lessons they taught.  (My colleague uses the Preamble song to help his students memorize the Preamble.)

So today when we watched CNN Student News and they "rapped it up" with a bad--musically speaking--rapped summary of the content, I found that I wanted to turn it off, not listen again.  And I realized how silly it is that adults try to appropriate some sort of supposedly cool cultural form by which to smuggle some informational material into the minds of youngsters.  

That seems a dead end, to me.  If rap (or any other cultural product enjoyed by youngsters) is badly contorted to another end--especially one seen as less "cool"--it will fall flat, because it will fall much flatter than anything "organically" of the genre.

Schoolhouse Rock, by contrast, carved out its own niche, with a cultural product that wasn't derivative of an already existing form that kids connected to and thought desirable/cool already.   I liked both Led Zeppelin and Schoolhouse Rock.  But I would have hated a lesson on conjunctions set to a bad ripoff of Led Zeppelin.  It would have seemed "fake."

Schoolhouse Rock created its own kind of dorky cool, which works much more memorably and enduringly than bad cultural appropriation.  20 minutes later, I can't even remember anything about the schoolhouse rap.

Update--March 2
It's Dr. Seuss Read Across America Day today.  For a similar reason as described above--though from a different angle--I don't like this day, either.  We're trying to encourage youngsters upward in their reading, and I wonder if this encourages downward instead.  I loved Dr. Seuss when my own children were 5.  But I don't want to go to a college graduation and hear a young adult admonishing his/her class mates with Oh, the places you'll go.  

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