Topics: Samantha Leersen


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Literature as an 'empathy machine'?

The phrase ’empathy machine’ was first used to describe the way that watching films can give the viewer an understanding of what it is like to be someone different (different age, gender, nationality, etc.). More recently, it has been used in reference to virtual reality technologies and their ability to allow users to ’embody’ someone else. The claims of both of these mediums as empathy machines rests upon their alleged ability to allow the viewer/player to understand and feel what others feel. This empathy is, of course, something they cannot get from their own life as they do not have the same shared experiences that the machine is allowing them to have. Thus, these tools as empathy machines are profound.

But, to what extent can literature be seen as a so-called empathy machine? Using a selection of texts, discuss how they can provide the reader with the knowledge necessary to empathise with those depicted in the texts. This could include fiction, where the reader is learning about the life of someone unreal. Or, it could be non-fiction, where the reader is learning of the life of a real person. Ensure that the specific empathetic qualities of literature are discussed. This might include literature’s reliance on imagination, or the way that written texts allow for lengthy and in-depth first-hand accounts.

The potential writer of this topic could provide an overall assessment; is literature more or less effective than film or V.R. in creating empathy? Why/why not?

  • Excellent topic. The writer may also may want to look into the potentialities of visual novels in creating this form of empathy. – Sathyajith Shaji Manthanth 2 years ago
  • Very interesting, indeed. Gary Saul Morson has written a lot about this topic, insofar as he centers empathetic engagement as the core of his pedagogy (see especially: ). If we want to dig a little deeper, something that I'm curious about is necessity to frame it as a "machine," per se. This is understandable in the realms of film and VR, which undeniably have a "mechanical" component to their narrative transmission, but literature is significantly more analog -- especially if we're thinking of it in terms of the "text" itself, as opposed to the materiality of print media. Though I suppose a case can certainly be made that literature is a "technology" (if we trace the etymology back the the original Greek "teche"; Foucault's "Technologies of the Self" come to mind, if a reference point for more abstract uses of such terms is needed). I dunno, perhaps I'm being too literal, and should probably be ignored. – ProtoCanon 2 years ago
  • Excellent topic. Within it, the author might also consider the different types of empathy. That is, there's a type of empathy that sounds like, "I have not been through this, but I can relate to something you are feeling." There's also a type that sounds like, "I have been through exactly this or something very similar, so I am relating strongly to your emotions and experiences, and may talk about them in relation to what we are both feeling." However, a lot of people only think of empathy as one kind or the other, so they either accuse others of having no empathy, or assume that empathy can't be found unless you have related personally to a given experience. – Stephanie M. 2 years ago
  • Different types of art, believe it literature, cinema, etc., are endowed with a defamiliarizing potentiality, meaning, they can help the viewers observe the world and the issues at hand through a different perspective. I believe that this research can be used to analyze the recent films that portray a certain group of people as the social others. Simply put, how films help us observe the world through the eyes of the marginalized and "othered". – mahdisafari76 1 year ago
  • If someone tackles this topic, you have to look at Mattie Brice's piece, empathy machine: – ProfRichards 1 year ago
  • Literature is definitely more effective in creating empathy than other mediums. While we do get certain perspectives through movie characters, we don't get the full in-depth take on their thoughts and actions. For example, someone who only watched the Harry Potter movies probably think that Harry is a brat who never listens and is always angry for no reason. But after reading the books, we see what he's thinking, why he reacts to certain situations the way he does, and what his perspective is during all the conflicts he endures. The "omniscient" aspect in literature is what really lets readers step into the characters' role, something we don't get in film or VR. The book that immediately came into mind while thinking through the lense of empathy is "All The Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr. We get the perspective of a young French girl during the German seize of France, a young German boy who joins Hitler's army, a Nazi party official, a veteran with PTSD from the first world war, a French locksmith who gets sent to a "work camp", and many many more. We see the innermost thoughts of these vastly different characters which makes readers feel for everyone involved-- even those we thought were inherently evil have some good in them. The ability to see why these characters stand for what they stand for, what they're thinking through all these events, and how they respond/react humanizes even the most hard-core officer. Readers don't just get scenes with these characters interacting while the plot unfolds, they get the perspective of each character in each individual chapter. As a result, we can empathize with everyone whether we want to or not. Now, I have not seen the movie adaptation of this book, but I can almost guarantee we don't get insight into the fear Wearner feels when he's around German officers, even though he's "one of them." We don't get to see how angry Marie-Laure is all through out the book, because we don't get her *thoughts*. That's what is so important for empathy in literature-- without getting in the characters' head and seeing their thoughts, we only get half the story like in movies/shows. – allysonkadas 11 months ago
  • I would argue that empathy has some limitations especially between human and non-humans. Stories about non-humans are created by humans. Can we empathize with a plant or beetle the same way we do with mammals? I highly recommend reading 'Animal Writing: Storytelling, Selfhood and the Limits of Empathy' by Danielle Sands. – shaymichel20 5 months ago

The Portrayal of Catfishing Within Popular Media

The act of catfishing — pretending to be someone else online to lure someone into a false relationship — has become a somewhat common occurrence. This also means that this behaviour has started appearing in more entertainment media. This, then, begs the question. How is the act of catfishing portrayed in media?

An analysis of this topic could start with the TV show Catfish, which depicts the act as cruel whilst simultaneously often showing sympathy to those who participate in catfishing depending upon their individual circumstances.

Through looking at other examples — either fictional or non-fictional — try to determine whether popular culture depicts this as a severe violation, a minor problem, or somewhere in between.

If possible, make a comment about what this says about societal values.

Note: I have placed this in the Arts category, but it could potentially sit in the other media forms (like TV or Film) if they are most discussed.

  • I think adding an element about how there are movies where all someone does is take off a characters glasses and they are hot (She’s All That) is also a form of cat fishing happening. Or even a mistaken identity like in Eurotrip. There are a lot of instincts in movies or shows where people get tricked into think one thing about a character and finding out different. This will be cool to read/write. – mynameisarianna 12 months ago
  • I think this is a really great topic, especially with the Tinder Swindler on Netflix becoming so popular. A slightly different form but the same principle. – BrennaDempsey 12 months ago
  • The recent Netflix movie LoveHard tries to tackle both characters who have catfished and their attempting to convince others it is wrong, but in the end the main charactes still end up what does that all mean? – derBruderspielt 11 months ago
  • While the television show "90 Day Fiance" definitely has its racist, xenophobic moments and is not necessarily focusing on "catfishing", I think it also opens up the interesting dynamic of long distance relationships and its tendency to encourage hiding the truth. Often, both people are "catfishing" in some way, either by hiding appearance, intention, information. The show is really ambiguous in regards to who you should feel sympathetic towards. In the MTV show Catfish, usually the viewer is positioned to feel sympathetic with the person being catfished (of course, the presenters are quite balanced and often give the catfish an opportunity to be heard out). In many of the relationships that involve lying or covering the truth in 90 Day Fiance, it is a bit more ambiguous and often both parties have hidden something. – aidenmagro 10 months ago

Fragmented Literature: What Does It Achieve?

Modernist texts are often heavily fragmented – the plot is jumbled and does not follow a simple beginning to end chronology. This can be off-putting for many readers as it can make a story hard to follow and less immersive.

However, what are the benefits and what does writing in fragments achieve? An article could look at a selection of texts that are fragmented and offer an analysis of what this particular structure is doing.

For example, in Kaddish for an Unborn Child by Imre Kertesz, the plot keeps circling back to the same line, its repetition representing the repetitive trauma it has caused the protagonist. Or, in The Corpse Washer by Sinan Antoon, the plot is broken up by page long chapters detailing the nightmares had by the protagonist which can show how they interject in his life just as they have interjected into the plot.
There are many works of literature that fragment the narrative and do so for thoughtful and strategic reasons. Thus, exploring texts that do this meaningfully could be an interesting read!

  • I suppose in literature that would be food for thought. But, I can emphatically say that it occurs in film as well. Take for instance the film Raging Bull. To the untrained eye or first time viewer, the boxing scenes appear fragmented, or improperly edited. In fact, it is a deliberate technique known as image collision. Effectively what it does is arrange a sequence of scene cuts with no apparent flow between them. The viewer is left to fill in the gaps or smooth over the perforations in the actor's activity and the camera movement. In the process, the audience is drawn into the cinematic spectacle before them. I would be interested in knowing if this a common practice in literature as well. (Aside from the obvious example, Alice in Wonderland.) – L:Freire 2 years ago
  • Interesting. Modernism was a reaction against the inflexible confines of Victorian literature that preceded it. The motif of the circle, as in Kertesz's text, is an alternative to the traditionally linear conception of experience. The Modernist's realised that individual experience is not as simple as a traditional linear narrative with one major point of conflict; we think back, we reconsider, we hypothesise. The Modernists simply reflected this reality in the forms of their works. – hlewsley 2 years ago
  • I find fragmented writing to be very confusing, but very intriguing as well. A reader following a straight line can get tiring and boring. Putting in fragments adds not only a timeline to a story, but also adds depth to characters, settings, and plot. The reader is able to tie things together themselves rather than have someone tell them which is more entertaining. – devdroses 2 years ago
  • I don't really see "fragmented" stories as innately more confusing than linear ones. If you think about it, any story that starts in medias res or uses flashbacks--especially more than a couple of times--is making use of non-linear storytelling. That being said, probably one of the most infamous "fragmented" stories is The Trial, a novel by Franz Kafka. In that case, the reason why it's so fragmented is because the story was discovered after the author's death, and he hadn't managed to complete the story or put the pieces in order in the first place. Another interesting example of non-linear storytelling is in the movie Memento. The protagonist of that movie suffers from an inability to make new memories, and so the entire story is told in reverse, with the later events being shown first and the earlier events shown later, so that the audience can realize how confusing and misleading it would be to live in such a way. – Debs 2 years ago
  • What an interesting topic! This could be a hard one to write because temporal shifts and fragmented plots work to “achieve” different purposes for different Modernists. Perhaps a thesis that explores a few common effects of the narrative style within a particular subset of Modernist writing would work well. One might consider narrowing to the early Modernists or even just the early female Modernists, for instance. Or, contrarily, a broader survey of Modernists using the style over time to achieve the same purpose would be super interesting, too. Again, keeping the focus narrow will be difficult, but I think it would produce a rewarding piece. – JCBohn 2 years ago

Job Precariousness in Sitcoms

In many sitcoms, characters often suffer the consequences of job precariousness. This includes being underpaid, taking jobs they hate, or losing their jobs altogether.
Almost the entire cast of Friends, Jess from New Girl, Britta or Jeff from Community, or the Roses from Schitt’s Creek are just some examples.

An article looking at how these scenarios play out in T.V. could be an insightful read. Are they accurate depictions of real life, or do they diminish the real-world anxiety of this aspect of life? Is it enough to simply allude to homelessness or not being able to make rent, or should a show force its characters to endure this? You could offer a comparison of shows that do this well and shows that, perhaps, do not do this so well.

You could offer an assessment regarding the impact this has on viewers, and contextualise the shows within both their setting and time of release.

  • It would be worth expanding this topic to examine and analyse similar scenarios in sitcoms from around the world. In this way, a comparison could be made between varying cultural values and institutional attitudes towards low paid workers. – Amyus 2 years ago
  • I think contextualizing the shows based on time of release is a good idea. Specifically, comparing the perception of unemployment in shows through every decade or during periods of financial downturn could be particularly interesting. – huiwong 2 years ago
  • It is interesting how you pay attention to this specific feature in sitcoms. Writers might also look into how job precariousness help to develop the plot, to make the plot fitting to sitcoms. – Heather Ka Man Chung 2 years ago
  • I have noticed that it seems far more of an element where the characters are if a grittier sort of Everyman: someone more working class. This would not be so much in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (for example). – J.D. Jankowski 2 years ago
  • Good one! I just submitted a topic about how sitcoms evolve in general, and this could be part of that or an article on its own. – Stephanie M. 2 years ago
  • This is so interesting. I think building off of Amyus and Huiwong's comment, it is really interesting to think of in the context of the working class. You could go at this through a lens of the levels of realism in character being fine without jobs, getting jobs easily, or living at a comfort level well of the range of their job. These are all obvious but it would be interesting to look at the way unemployment in the times of covid have given higher stakes for viewers watching this sitcom. – skruse 2 years ago

Sitcoms: Live Audience Laughter Vs. Laugh Track

For many sitcoms, including applause and laughter after every punchline is something of a staple. Laugh tracks, or ‘canned laughter,’ have been used in comedic television programmes for decades. However, many shows are also filmed in front of a live studio audience to produce the same effect.
Evaluate the impact that filming before a live studio audience has on the programmes which use them. Moreover, how does this compare to the artificial laugh track? Is real laughter better than fake laughter? Or, are the criticisms ultimately the same? Such criticisms could include that the laughter is forced for unfunny jokes, it breaks the fourth wall, or it unsettles the timing of a show
When building an argument, specific examples of T.V. shows should be discussed. The writer should choose specific scenes to analyse in order to demonstrate how they have been directly impacted by the choice to film in front of a live audience, and how their reactionary noises are used within the show. Try to limit the amount of personal opinion here, and have your argument based solely upon the artistic criticism of the shows themselves.

  • Perhaps another important element to explore is the decline of studio audiences and laugh tracks in sitcoms in general. Ever since shows like Sex and the City, Curb your Enthusiasm, and Arrested Development pioneered the single cam approach, it's become much more the norm in the medium (the last time more than one multi cam sitcom was nominated for the Outstanding Comedy Emmy Award was 2005.) Whether for flexibility in shooting, less reliance on punchlines, or less restrictive genre conventions, comedy seems to be headed in that direction more and more, leaving both live audiences and laugh tracks in the dust. – Double U 2 years ago

What is the difference between Bildungsroman and Coming-of-Age?

The word Bildungsroman is often used interchangeably with the term coming-of-age when describing growth-oriented literature. However, they are not necessarily the same. A Bildungsroman text is one that focuses on the psychological growth of a character. It follows said character from youth to adulthood, especially as they find themselves in difficult situations. Coming-of-age, however, is more of a broad umbrella term for any story about growing up.

Through using one or more Bildungsroman and coming-of-age texts, the writer of this article could explore this difference. Some points to consider are the way a Bildungsroman is structured in four sections (loss, journey, conflict/growth, and maturity). Also, the way a Bildungsroman focuses on the entirety of youth, not just a small portion of it.

Conversely, the coming of age text chosen should be used to show the ways that it is different from a Bildungsroman (such as, for example, focusing on only a month or year of youth). An article explaining these differences, with examples, could be an informative and educational read.

  • I was always kind of under the impression that a Bildungsroman was a subset within coming-of-age stories. As in, every Bildungsroman is a coming-of-age story, but not every coming-of-age story is a Bildungsroman. – Debs 2 years ago

What Makes a Good Bottle Episode?

A bottle episode refers to an episode of a T.V. show written to require only one or two sets, and only few non-regular cast members. These episodes are often the result of a dwindling production budget, or a pre-emptive cost-saving attempt.

Some people view these as lazy, but bottle episodes often make for great television.
An article on this could discuss specific examples of shows who have made successful bottle episodes, and how they have done so. Reasons could include great drama due to the restricted movement of characters. Or, many fan favourite bottle episodes are enjoyed because they showcase their characters in their truest form. The examples available are plenty, with famous shows like Friends, New Girl, or Community all having done them.

The writer of this article could also use poorly received bottle episodes as a contrast, so long as they discuss why they were not successful.

  • Good topic! Bottle episodes are fascinating. I know a few good ones, especially from shows like The Twilight Zone (I'm a fan of some of the older stuff). You could even argue that certain shows or seasons are made up of bottle episodes. Once Upon a Time is my favorite example, especially the early seasons, because if you leave Storybrooke, something bad will happen. (Or, hold on, is that a bottle, or just a "closed circle?") Anyway, love the topic. – Stephanie M. 2 years ago
  • Is "The Fly" from Breaking Bad is another good example of a Bottle episode in a dramatic show. It was pretty polarizing when it was released but has some great acting from Brian Cranston and Aaron Paul. – Sean Gadus 2 years ago

The Portrayal of Women in Gothic Literature

Look at the portrayal of women in Gothic literature. What tropes do they often fulfil?

There’s the shrieking heroine of The Monk or The Italian (written by Matthew Lewis and Ann Radcliffe respectively). Even modern day Twilight has this.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula shifted things by having Mina as the ‘new’ woman – the only reason she was respected is because she supposedly had the brain of a man. Even then, she was viewed as someone who needed protecting.
Even texts like Jekyll and Hyde make a statement about women’s place in society by simply NOT including women in the narrative.
Modern Gothic texts tend to favour the cool and powerful female protagonist, which in theory seems empowering, but can also be problematic.

What is the effect of each portrayal of women? Are the women in each given text empowered or powerless? Is historical/social context important in how the female characters are portrayed? Do any texts defy their time period? Is there a difference between texts written by men and texts written by women?
An article on this should analyse a wide variation of texts, from different time periods.


    The Outsiders' Impact on YA

    Young adult fiction (YA) is immensely popular today, for both teenagers and adults. But the category itself is only very young. S.E. Hinton’s 1967 novel, The Outsiders, is popularly considered the first ever work of YA fiction.

    So, what precedent did this novel set for the rest of this category of fiction? What aspects of Hinton’s novel are now staples in YA?

    An example is the discussion of weighted and important topics in a manner that is consumable by teenagers (The Outsiders discusses the harsh realities of every day class divisions). Or, like many YA books nowadays, Hinton’s protagonist is characterised as an outcast, or ‘special’ (he even has an unusual name, Ponyboy, something many other YA protagonists have).

    Discussing a few YA texts that share similarities with The Outsiders will help to show the aspects of the original text that have become commonplace in the young adult category.

    • You do have themes that seem to have been popular in this particular time and a bit beyond outside of literature too. See the television series The Brady Bunch (c. 1966-69) – J.D. Jankowski 2 years ago
    • The Outsiders is a tremendous book and had a huge influence on many writers and readers. – Sean Gadus 2 years ago

    The Novella, a forgotten medium?

    I propose an article that looks at novellas. The article could describe first what they are, explaining the length and conventions, explore how they differ from both a novel and a short story.

    It could be worth looking into the history of this medium, when were they most popular and why? What were the first texts classified as novellas and what purposes did they serve? Perhaps offer suggestion as to why they are not big in the literary scene today.
    Then, the article could offer analysis of some famous novellas, The Metamorphosis, Heart of Darkness, Jekyll and Hyde, Of Mice and Men, just to name a few.
    Offer suggestion as to why these in particular were popular, was it their content? Context? Were their authors already published writers so fans would read anything of theirs?

    If so desired, contrast the good by offering examples of novellas that are perceived as not good and offer reasons as to why. Are they not given the space to be fully developed? Does its brevity mean it is missing something?

    Use this analysis to draw conclusions regarding the novella’s place in literature including, if possible, whether this medium is likely to regain popularity or merely survive as a medium at all.

    • Cool topic! I very much prefer long novels, but I have read some wonderful novellas, including Jekyll and Hyde and Of Mice and Men (although I have mixed feelings there b/c of outdated disability representation). Do you think serialized novels might fit the topic as well? – Stephanie M. 3 years ago
    • Serialised novels could absolutely fit the topic, if they can be logically incorporated into the discussion. Perhaps, they could be used to substantiate the length argument. Are novella-length texts enjoyed more when the reader knows there'll be one or two more instalments to follow? – Samantha Leersen 3 years ago
    • I love novellas, they have the detail of the novel with the accessibility (almost) of a short story. I think it would be useful in this prospective essay to acknowledge that a lot of the novels we associate with this time period (early 1900s) were originally serialised and were not necessarily released in the form we know them today. – hlewsley 2 years ago
    • One novella that could be analyzed here would be Hemingway’s last major work, The Old Man and the Sea (1962). Notably it is not serialized. – J.D. Jankowski 2 years ago

    Narrative Distance in Life Writing

    Life writing (memoirs, essays, autobiographies and biographies, auto-theory, etc.) is inherently personal in nature. These writings focus on personal stories that can be confronting for the reader to read, AND for the writer to write. They intend to communicate some form of personal, human truth.

    But what role does narrative distance play in these works? Does life writing have to be first-person perspective that recounts events exactly as they transpired? Or, can a writer distance themselves from the writing and still achieve the same intimacy of life writing?

    A range of texts could be discussed here; texts that approach life writing very differently.

    Some examples could include clear-cut autobiographies written in the first-person (of which there are many), or works of fiction where a made-up character represents a real person (semi-autobiographical works, like Jane Eyre or Frost in May). A more out-there example could be cook books — these often express personal stories under the guise of recipes. Travel writing, too, can often be an inadvertent style of writing about the self whilst maintaining some narrative distance.

    • Good topic! If I may, The Essays, of Michel de Montaigne could, perhaps, be a relevant example. Indeed, the goal of Montaigne was to depict himself in such a way every reader could find a bit of himself through the pages. In the preface, he wrote: “I am myself the matter of this book […] Every man has within himself the entire human condition”. Montaigne, under the cover of an autobiographical work, tackles, however, many subjects, whether it is social analysis ("Of Cannibals", for instance) or philosophical thoughts, through references to many ancient thinkers. The fact that it is a rather old book (1570-1592) and a French one, may also stress another aspect of narrative distance. – Gavroche 2 years ago

    The Morals of Video Game Violence

    Video games that require or encourage violence are prolific. There have been countless studies on whether the violence of such games has psychological impacts.
    But, what are the moral implications?

    Using a selection of games that involve violence, consider whether it is morally wrong to ‘physically’ harm a virtual character. Explain why.

    You could argue either side of this argument, or argue that the moral implications differ depending on the situation. For example, perhaps some forms of violence are more acceptable than others (e.g. fighting vs. murder). Or, maybe there’s a difference between harm the game tells you to inflict to complete an objective, and the harm you choose to inflict but has no bearing on your completion of the game.

    Ensure sound justifications are provided for whichever stance you take. Relevant philosophical discussion would complement this topic well.

    • Dealing with morality in anything encapsulates a very broad landscape, so I think the focus should be on video games where violence is so easily accessible or even promoted. Some franchises that come off the top of my mind would be Grand Theft Auto, Assassin's Creed, Elder Scrolls/Fallout, or even Infamous because these games have built-in consequences for committing morally "wrong" actions. There could also be an inclusion of games with multiple endings that rely on a player's "good" or "bad" choices such as any of the Telltale Games, but even then that might require an entirely different essay. Personally, I believe this topic could be made into 2 essays: one about games with easy ability to commit violently "wrong" acts and how they punish players who commit them, and games that embed the moral and ethical dilemmas of violent situations through its storyline. – Daniel Ibarra 2 years ago

    What in the world was Roland Barthes on about in 'A Lover's Discourse'?

    In 1977, Professor Roland Barthes released his book ‘A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments’.
    Over 200 pages long, this text is dense, lengthy, and at times incoherent.
    Therefore, an article deconstructing and analysing this text would be an insightful read.
    What is Barthes trying to say? How does he say it? Are his ideas accepted and approved of, or disagreed with?

    One point he seems to be making is that our own experiences of love are dictated to us by the discourse of love within our culture. It is through this language that our expectations of what love should feel like are formed.

    Therefore, after breaking down Barthes’ text and some key fragments/ideas, this article could look into examples of popular culture and how they have influenced modern ideas of love. The romance genre in film, tv, literature, and even music are prevalent. Everything from Shakespeare’s plays to Romantic Comedies to Disney movies.

    If, indeed, you deduce other claims worth discussing in the text, find popular or contemporary examples to suit that also!


      The Monk Vs. The Italian

      In 1796, Matthew Lewis published the novel ‘The Monk’. An early example of ‘masculine’, or horror gothic, it covers many shocking and depraved themes.
      In 1797, Ann Radcliffe published her ‘feminine’, or terror gothic novel, ‘The Italian’. It is viewed as a reaction or response to Lewis’ novel. It discusses some similar themes, but in a milder way.
      An article could compare and contrast these texts. Worth noting is the things they do the same, such as offering commentary on Catholicism or exploring issues of love and sexuality.
      They also differ in several ways, from opposing treatments of women and the use of supernatural occurrences.
      Overall, the article should conclude the ways in which Radcliffe has used the original to build her own story, and also where she has deliberately chosen to deviate from Lewis’ text. Potentially offer insight into how the two authors’ differing approaches reflect the society at the time. An in depth understanding of horror vs. terror gothic would be worthwhile in building a substantial argument.

      • I've only read The Monk and I found it quite shocking and entertaining. Great gothic novel. I would be interested in reading more about it and the comparison to another gothic book would be something quite compelling and thought-provoking. Looking forward to learning more about it. Don't forget to present these novels in the context of their time and to sketch out the wider landscape in literature in the 18th century. – Dani CouCou 2 years ago

      Film Adaptations Better than the Book

      In almost every ‘which is better, book or movie?’ debate, the book wins. For a plethora of reasons, from intense detail to unique character-building, books are almost always dubbed better than their adaptations.

      But what about the film adaptations that are better than their original book?
      Offer several examples of adaptations better than their original. Discuss what they do so correctly that allows them to win this battle.

      Do they take away the difficult language of a book to make an important story more accessible? Are the characters better rounded and more realistic? Does the film cut out unnecessary details that are included in the book? Is there a changed detail that improves a film — different setting, different main character, different conclusion, perhaps. Is it simply a case of visuals portraying the content better than words can (say, an intense action sequence for example).

      There could be ANY number of reasons and ANY number of films to be discussed.
      This topic does run the risk of coming across as too subjective though, so ensure that sound analysis is offered to justify your claims.

      • I like this topic, but I would hesitate to characterize any movie or book as "better" than the other adaptation, because that's strictly a matter of opinion. What I would do instead is, focus on how books and films are completely different mediums, as well as how and why certain books lend themselves better to film adaptations. I might start with longer-form books, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The books are great, but as someone who read them, I'd say they're also a slog. The movies definitely communicate the books' messages more clearly, and leave more room for discussion/exploration. – Stephanie M. 2 years ago
      • I'm so glad you brought up this topic! I don't believe books are always automatically better than their film counterparts. Perhaps it is also a matter of upholding whatever came first. As you mention, there are many films which are based off of an initial written text. What about the case, though far less common, of films where a book was written in conjunction with or second to the film? For example, one of my favorite films is The Third Man. The screenplay was written by Graham Greene, who also developed a novella version. The book does a good job of illustrating certain details one might miss in the film, but the film is a masterpiece when it comes to "underplaying." It only says what it needs to, which makes it so memorable and striking. I also prefer the film adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany's to Truman Capote's novella, despite the fact that the film departs quite a bit from the source material. One of the reasons is I found Audrey Hepburn's version of Holly Golightly far more vulnerable and sympathetic a character. Truman Capote lingered on the superficiality of his characters, which left me feeling uninterested by comparison. – aprosaicpintofpisces 2 years ago
      • You managed to rehash a contentious issue among art lovers. As has been stated in prior posts, adaptations are analyzed ad infinitum. Yet in terms of this topic, I think you could argue slightly different, for a change of pace. All writing goes through drafting phases and all authors go through periods of productivity and delay or self-doubt. That said, how can we destroy a film adaptation that is merely going through a rough phase, on its merry way to the final version? Doesn't sound fair to the director. As far as adaptation goes, an author that is true to his craft and steadfast to the theme will inevitably produce the elusive masterpiece,followed by an equally acclaimed film adaptation, one may argue. Another incumbent will fumble the narrative by second-guessing the motive and the medium, failing to strike a vital chord with the audience in the process. Nevertheless, it's a valid concern. There is a documentary on The Virgin Suicides that makes the case for inclusion of the writer within the filming process. Of course, Sofia Coppola has the ultimate say over the characterization of the narrative. But the author of that novel, Jeffrey Eugenides, was a vital component behind the dialogue, the mood, and the setting. Also, it is not uncommon for the reverse to occur and achieve rather successfully. For instance, the Star Trek TV episode "All the Yesterdays" made a seamless foray into a series of acclaimed novel tie-ins by A.C. Crispin. The onscreen romance between Spock and Zarabeth translated into two compelling novels on time travel and a supposed offspring between the pair. A compelling factor in this debate is circumstances. The ancient Greeks wrote dramatic recollections of events that moved audiences of the time and to this day in practically every discipline that has emerged since then. But, in those times there were no motion pictures to reclaim those texts. Then, Shakespeare entered the picture with an equal fervor for shining light on the pressing matters of his day. Presently, we submit to the same appetite for literary escape with authors such as J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins, probably as eagerly as the Greeks and the British did in the early days of the art. In those times as is today, the stage was the medium for the written script. I venture to guess that audiences had their preferences for certain actors and theatres when reading the written play was not a viable option nor a preference. Perhaps, it may be that reading the plot in the comfort of a familiar setting with pleasant music or refreshment is the reason why some people opt for this method of entertainment. Indeed, the pace of a book or the flash of color and splash of sound in a film is what draws fans to each particular venue. So, an author's style or an actor's appeal may be the reasons why people turn to different sources of entertainment, including the online variety. I suppose radio producers had the same challenges in their respective field that could be incorporated into this topic. – L:Freire 2 years ago
      • I feel like this topic has been discussed over and over again over the past year. I believe there may be an article about this topic on the site over the past year. – Sean Gadus 2 years ago
      • I feel like we have almost moved past the "which is better?" question. Growing up it was always comparing the film to the source text, but as I become older I find myself comparing the media less often. I focus on if the adaptation did the source text justice, and if the changes that were made were justifiable. The film version of Gone Girl, for example, sticks to the novel pretty nicely, but with some detail changes that both enhance and take away from the book. While films like Annihilation and I'm Thinking of Ending Things are different visions from the source texts, and I respect them both for what they are. They almost become separate stories, but so long as the intent of the source text is respected, then I can happily enjoy the film versions. – Benedetto 2 years ago
      • I think this is an awesome topic. I recently took a literature and cinematic adaptations course and it was probably one of the best classes I've ever taken. The plethora of subject choices for this topic leaves the submission possibilities endless. Seeing some of the other comments in regards to the 'what's better' stance, I think having an opinion, as long as you provide your reasoning, makes for great reading/ writing. However, I do think an interesting twist to that line of thought would be s to examine whether or not the written work complements the cinematic version, are they sisters or do they seem to be unrelated whatsoever? Awesome topic! – megantheninja 2 years ago

      Historical Texts that Captivate Readers

      Writers of history usually receive the bad reputation of being boring and uninspired storytellers, for the events of history aren’t designed to be page-turners. On the other hand, there are histories that embellish for the sake of storytelling but compromise accuracy. This is also criticised.

      Thus, an article exploring histories that are both accurate and educational whilst still captivating audiences would be a great read.

      Offer examples of good histories, and give reasons as to why they are effective as both works of popular literature AND educational history resources. Jung Chang’s Wild Swans or Ten Days That Shook The World by John Reed are two good examples.
      Some factors that make history writing ‘good’ include: the inclusion of personal stories (not mere objective facts), prose that is accessible to all, not just academics, and the formation of a chronological narrative that, while remaining accurate, sparks interest and excitement.

      There are some wonderful examples of written history that tend to get lost amongst the ‘boring’ stuff. So an article highlighting examples of good history, and analysing why that is, would be interesting and perhaps even helpful for those looking to write public history.

      • Seeing this topic has reminded me of Lucy Worsley's recent PBS documentary series Royal Myths & Secrets. In it, she explores how the public images of famous figures such as Elizabeth I, Queen Anne, and Marie Antoinette have been heavily distorted from their flesh-and-blood counterparts. Details such as when these historical accounts were written, the relationship between writer and subject, differences between national propaganda/mythical storytelling and textual evidence/alternative accounts, etc. all play a role. Like you said, it raises ethical questions over what "the truth" is in the pursuit of a good story. Do the ends ever justify the means? – aprosaicpintofpisces 2 years ago
      • This something that I struggle with as a student of history; what is a historian's vocation? Is it just writing just what happened as Leopold von Ranke put it so long ago? Or is it telling a tale about what happened as Herodotus did in his masterful work? Or should a historian try to craft laws of history in the vein of the early and post-War Annales School? Is he/she a scientist, a writer or a philosopher? I'd think it was a mix of all three. – RedFlame2000 2 years ago
      • I read an interesting essay once that noted that whilst it is a common truism that history is written by the victor, it is a less-acknowledged truth that any account of history is victorious. This is fascinating. I think the value of historical fiction lies in its ability to deviate from the established norms of historical acccounts that are at best insufficient and at worse, misleading. Historical novels allow a depth of exploration that traditional historical accounts rarely achieve. Furthermore, they allow a experiential response in consequence to what is inevitably a personal perspective of events of the past. – hlewsley 2 years ago

      The Portrayal of Small Towns in TV Shows

      I’ve been watching That 70s Show recently and noticed that their small town has a bad reputation, the after-graduation goal is to get out of the dead-end town. ‘Being someone’ means moving away from home. Then, I got to thinking, there are elements of this thinking in many other shows I have seen, Daria, Gilmore Girls, Community.
      Is this prolific enough in TV shows to be considered a trend? Is there reason for this? Does the same ‘I need to get away from here’ thinking occur in characters born and raised in the city? Is this specific to American TV shows, or other countries’ shows too? Perhaps an article on this topic could offer a suggestion as to why the city is so romanticised?

      • "I'm gettin' out of this hick town!" Yes, I think this is an interesting phenomenon in film and TV. That 70s Show is a good example because I think it was much more prevalent to make those statements back in the 70s, 80s etc. The forces of urbanization meant that better jobs could be found in cities, but also there were lots more cultural waves going on that were focused in cities. If you wanted to be a punk or a hippie or anti-establishment like Hyde for example, that was something that you couldn't find many like-minded people for in small town America. Many high school and college movies of the last few decades had a dynamic that set the "interesting, alternative" type main characters against the jocks and cheerleaders of small town life. (Juxtapose this with something like Riverdale which only slightly criticizes jocks and cheerleaders, and ultimately upholds them as kind of the social rulers of high school). I think the 21st century has maybe seen a re-romanticization of small town life, in contrast to urban life which isn't idolized so much anymore. – Claire 3 years ago
      • Another tidbit: I think, to make this a more recognizable-sounding topic, you should frame it as something like "Leaving Small Towns as a Coming-of-age Milestone for American Youth." – Claire 3 years ago
      • Not sure how far back you want to go with this, but you could also do some research on the Industrial revolution as well since it caused one of the first big population shifts in history. It might be worth looking into as a short paragraph before you get into everything else as it frames the mindset a little. – MaeveM 3 years ago
      • I feel like some of this has to do with the cultural biases of the content creators, who usually live in big cities like Los Angeles and NYC. People in those kinds of places tend to look down on small towns and consider them "boring" or "old-fashioned" and that comes through in the stories. – Debs 3 years ago
      • I feel like everyone has the American Dream to some extent, and probably especially those in small towns. Boredom, bad entertainment, dull nightlife... of course they'd want to escape and live it up somewhere culturally (and literally!!) rich. Cities are centers of progress and wealth. Maybe it's easier for people in small towns to believe that that wealth is accessible/available to everyone. – Sophia Tone 3 years ago
      • Nice topic. You might also want to check out The Middle, where living in the fictional town of Orson, IN is central to how and why the Heck family does a lot of what they do. Narrator and mom Frankie is very up front about the fact that Orson is *not* romanticized, that her family is just doing the best they can. Additionally, you might check out some older sitcoms like Family Matters and Full House. They take place in cities--Chicago and San Francisco, respectively--but there is almost no sense of urban life except in select episodes or arcs, such as FM father Carl Winslow being a cop. The "small town," cheesy feel is very much still existent. Just a thought. – Stephanie M. 3 years ago
      • I'm not familiar with a lot of non-US tv shows, but here's one example: The Netflix series Dark is set in the small fictional German town of Winden, and most of the younger people seem to really hate it and want nothing more than to get away. – JamesBKelley 2 years ago

      Behind The Scenes Content: What are we really getting out of it?

      It’s no secret that film viewers often cherish the extra content attached to films. Deleted scenes, gag reels, director/actor commentary, behind the scenes footage generally.
      But, why is that? An article could look at various aspects of this.
      Do passionate fans just crave as much content as possible? Do film-buffs take a genuine interest in how their favourite media comes to be? Is it a learning tool? Is it a curiosity – perhaps, a curiosity to see how the people behind the serious-faced characters interact with one another? If a film is made to entertain by creating a (usually) fictitious world or story-line, then why are viewers so obsessed with this ‘real-world’ aspect of them?
      On the other side – what do film makers gain from this? Why do they include the extra content they choose to?
      This desire for extra content is evident in films like Shrek 2 where they animated an entire American Idol spoof with the characters. Or, the creators of Monsters Inc. animating various blooper scenes. Perhaps examples like this could be discussed.
      This could also work for TV shows, if so preferred.

      • Very interesting topic! Perhaps the article could also tackle, or maybe just conclude on or quickly mentioned as it is a different angle, the possible future of such content? Indeed, at least for now and as far as I know, such features are only available on physical supports (DVDs, Blu-rays…). Could behind-the-scene contents, therefore, be used and put forwards to help the film physical supports market? Or, on the contrary, would such content be absorbed (or erased?) by successful VOD platforms, such as Netflix? – Gavroche 3 years ago

      Is Fashion an Art Form?

      The simplest definition of ‘art’ is "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form." Given this definition, could fashion be labelled an art form? We dismiss clothing as an everyday aspect of life, but it may actually be inherently artistic.
      An article on this topic could look at designers, both big and small. Look at the creative process and discuss how clothing is designed. Think of what needs to be considered, colour, shape, material. These are also considered in other art forms, like sculptures or paintings.
      The article could also look to how people choose to dress. Is this, in and of itself, a kind of art? Is it a type of artistic expression?
      Painters or photographers create websites and Instagram pages to show off their creations. People in fashion also do the same. This is a niche you could explore when highlighting parallels between fashion and other art forms.
      The fast fashion industry is often criticised for ripping off other brands or designers. This might suggest a personal aspect to the creation of fashion. Just like you would not copy someone else’s painting for profit, should designers not be copying other people’s fashion designs?
      Finally, as with art, in the fashion industry there is a hierarchy of what is considered ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Like art, fashion is constantly subjectively judged. This is another parallel which can be explored.
      Ultimately an article on this topic should draw a conclusion, is fashion an art form or is it not? It should provide evidence throughout to support which conclusion is drawn. There are a plethora of angles this topic could explore.

      • As a source for whoever writes this topic, the book "Beauty: A Short Introduction" by Roger Scruton is an amazing source for defining beauty and looking at the different forms of art in a philosophical/historical context to encourage questions like these. – Abie Dee 3 years ago
      • I find this topic interesting. I think it can be, especially if you connect it with other art forms, like cinema. Look at Edith Head's work, or Adrian's with the film stars of the 1930s and 1940s. Givenchy with Audrey Hepburn in the 1950s. I would also like to hear more about the journey made from the sketch to the finished product, worn by someone. I also think that fast fashion is something terrible for our lives and our planet and should not be considered art, even in copy form. – danivilu 3 years ago

      The appeal of 'ensemble' tv shows

      Friends, That 70s Show, Community, The Office, Modern Family, the list spans kilometres. These kinds of ensemble tv shows, where rather than being just one main character, the focus is on a main group of characters, are incredibly popular today.
      Investigate WHY that is. Is it something to do with the kind of show – many shows with ensemble casts are comedy or sit-com? Can viewers better find someone to relate to within a group, rather than with a designated sole protagonist? Does it open more expansive avenues for story-telling, when the focus is on six different people as opposed to just one? Does this keep viewers more invested, less bored? Is it the relationship aspect that draws viewers in? Do they enjoy feeling part of the on-screen group’s little family? Arguably, within a group, characters can afford to be more flawed as they have their peers to keep them in check, does this make for more relatable characters? Or is it the opposite, do these shows create caricatures (the smart one, the funny one, etc.) and is that why people enjoy it?

      This article should offer specific examples of TV shows and what it is about them that people enjoyed.

      There is something about this TV show formula that just works, and an article offering an answer to ‘why?’ could be very interesting and insightful.

      • Interesting topic! The cool thing about ensemble casts is that it gives more audience members a chance to find someone they can relate to. If there's a single defined protagonist, you either relate to that person or you don't. If there's a large ensemble cast, though, then it's more likely you can connect to someone in a fairly major role. – Debs 3 years ago
      • Certainly the writing team has more work cut out for them with an ensemble cast as opposed to one main character. Also, it leaves the door open to additional characters that interact with one or more of the main cast. Ensembles, represent a wider slice of the demographic pie and gives multiple actors a chance to shine. Often lesser character's get a spin-off show for themselves. One main character can be daunting for that specific actor, as many are less capable of truly engaging the audience. If a viewer misses an episode of a one character show, it can be hard to understand what may have happened or will happen but with an ensemble you can play to the strengths of the other actor's character's. If your main star does something outside of work that the viewing public doesn't like, or perhaps is illegal or unseamly it can wreck a perfectly good or even great show. Just look at what happened to the Rosanne reboot. She ruined what arguably was and would have been a multi season hit show. Rosanne flipped out on social media and the show got axed quickly. If I was part of that cast I would have been very upset at what the main character did on her own time. I'll close this out by also saying that it's much harder to handle the eventual fall from stardom if you're a former Superstar that was a singular character, than if you had a group of stellar characters to play with. There's more than a handful of actor's that took that fall hard. Some didn't make it through that pain and ended up destroyed by depression, drugs, alcohol and heartbreak and in the absolute worst outcome suicide. Super Stardom isn't for everyone. – WillyMac 3 years ago