Definitions of key terms used in this course
this page always under revision
recheck definitions at appropriate intervals
(before exams, before submissions, etc)
Below are my definitions of terms used in this class — they represent the methods, themes, goals, boundaries and expectations of this course and, usually, are key elements in grading
In all but a few cases I expect you to use the best academic sources you can find for your film research. This means, basically, non-web material for the essays as much as possible but when web-material is used it needs to be content that you know the author of and that author, you have reason to believe, is expert on the topic. Sometimes this will be impossible and if so, so be it, but I will watch (and grade) closely, hoping to see good to excellent sources in all cases. There is a lot of web junk when it comes to films. Remember our excellent library system and consider these sources of online academic material: JSTOR, eBrary, ProjectMUSE. Beware of Google Books and similar sites unless you can acces large blocks of text that role out, fully, arguments. The course pages sidebar "Support" has a more complete statement, with links.
Student access. Students must work with films that are complete in their edition, English subtitled, and which they can repeatedly view. (One DVD owned between two students is sufficient if they are responsible about loaning the film back and forth regularly.) Students must work with exactly the same version (including its subtitles). If access is online only, that is, if they do not have a copy of the film in hand, students must be aware that they have exposed themselves to a very serious grade risk if the film or parts of the film are pulled from the net before the end of the time (when I will want to view it).
Instructor access. I have different requirements for different assignments and it can vary among films and teams. Watch for my comments elsewhere. I will not visit sites that require me to register in order to view films. I do, however, subscribe to Netflix and their streaming feature is acceptable.
For films held by our library system. You MUST confirm that the film is still in the system; you definitely cannot simply state that it should be there because it is in the catalogue. You must physically check out and view the film before submitting your film choices. Please remember that such films usually cannot leave the building and that other students may by using the same film. Plan accordingly.
The JES process is designed for two students to think independently and write independently on the same topic. A series of PCSs (Preliminary Comparative Statements) give partners a chance to make independent assertions and respond to them. For the ICE (Independently Comparative Essay) each partner does his or her own research and essay writing on a mutually agreed upon topic (NDT). This means partners jointly set various parameters so that their completed essays (ICE) are close to each other in topic but they otherwise work "blind" to each other so that interpretations and conclusions are different. I But "blind" also means not leading your partner into your conclusions at any point in the process, including the selection of films. In many situations you are asked to speak generally about a film but not offer interpretation. This is difficult: "I know a good film about loyalty" is an interpretation. "I know a good film that explores issues of loyalty, betrayal and such" is better because it doesn't conclude anything. This is the single most common error in the JES process, the most subversive to its goal, and the greatest time-consumer at the end of the process when the error occurs.
Students sometimes tend, when comparing, to find striking differences or easy-to-defend differences. Or, perhaps they are interested in showing how diverse objects actually share certain characteristics. These are not the projects of EA105. Rather, I hope you find similarities or differences (and differences are the first choice in most cases) that you judge to be relevant to the goals and themes of the class, relevant to core values, and not necessarily easy to recognize. This is the default request unless I explicitly state otherwise. If the request to compare is on a quiz or exam, the ability to compare as above is part of the grade.
We deal with complex issues in this class, many of wish lack clear definitions. In order to find our way through the forest, we do our best to keep clarity in analysis. One common sentence structure in students' analyses uses "and" as in:
One obvious pre-modern core value illustrated in the films is that love can be so ignorant and naïve.
This simply confuses things. It introduces two ideas at once; one is already a challenge. It also suggests a relationship between the two words but it is unclear exactly what type of relationship. — Are they the same thing? (Clearly not.) Is one a subset of the other (Hmm, I don't think so.) Are ignorant people always naive people? (Not really.) So, in the end, this is not a very useful pairing; it is just a common pairing. Try to stick with one thing at a time. It helps the reader follow you accurately.
"Content" is requested in many circumstances for the paper: meeting details, film description, thesis statements, the essay body itself, and so on. By "content" or "content-rich" I mean substantive statements rather than summary or topical statements.
Topical statement: "My partner and I met and noticed we have a lot of differences in how to interpret the films." (You have only said: "There were differences ...")
Content-rich statement: "My partner and I met. Anne felt that Himiko's jealousy was primarily the result of a difference in status between Himiko and the other woman. Jeremy thought that was possible but personally felt the jealousy was the result of an insecurity Himiko had based on an earlier relationship." (You have said both that there were differences and what those differences were.)
Topical statements pop up in abstracts of articles (when I ask for them) and thesis statements. Avoid them. Examples:
Topical statement (intended to be a thesis but really just a statement of what the paper will be about): I will explore sacrifice in two films, "My Little Sister" and "The Last Letter".
Content-rich statement (a real thesis): I will explore the final sacrifice that is made by the main protagonist in two films: "My Little Sister" and "The Last Letter". I plan to conclude that the sacrifice in my little sister isn't really that at all. Because of the content of her suicide note, as well as the location of that suicide, it is, instead, simply an act of anger meant to hurt her lover. However, "The Last Letter" involves a real sacrifice by the protagonist: he gives up his love to allow her to marry someone else. This is not what he wants for himself, but he realizes this is best for the person he loves. I compare these two sacrifices and suggest that, in the case of the Korean film, the movie is less about romance than plot twists and the dark nature of people, while in the case of the Japanese film, the theme is unrequited love from beginning to end. I suggest that the Korean film is fairly distant from any premodern roots but the Japanese film continues a long tradition of not being able to be with one's lover, something we saw already in The Tale of Genji.
Sometimes it is easy to determine the values of a character. For example, Chunhyang clearly is committed to a whole range of Confucian values. Sometimes it is easy to determine the values of the values of the intended readership. Again, it seems fairly clear that Chunhyang is designed for a readership that honors Confucian values. However, in the first case you determine this by the actions of Chunhyang. In the second you determine this deductively: Chunhyang seems to be presented as someone whose actions we should respect. In other words, besides the writer's choice to have Chunhyang act in specific ways and lead to specific (positive) results, she is given certain personality traits and is the object of certain rumors/observations that all point us towards the conclusion that we are to see her as a virtuous woman.
In the example of Chunhyang we can conclude that the worldview that embraces everything is Daoist-Buddhist-Confucian (although which is dominant leads to complicated analysis). We can conclude thus simply because it is a mainstream story in a historical context where these three, and only these three, thought-systems were prevalent. The balance among them, however, can be expected to be specific to the text.
What about the Tale of Genji? Here, too, it seems like all the characters are operating within more or less the same set of values and, again in a Daoist-Buddhist-Confucian world.
What about Story of the Stone? In this case, clearly (based and their speech and actions) characters differ in the values that they put first. Part of why we can say Xifeng and Baoyu are distinctly different individuals is because they seem to have a difference of opinion as to what is important in life, how others should be treated and so on. They are aware of each others values (we are not dealing with aliens); they have merely made different choices. Ah, but what of the narrator/author? Is he on Baoyu's side or Xifeng's side, or is he neutral? Do you think the audience is on Xifeng's side or Baoyu's side? These questions are difficult to answer and probably anyway lead to answers such as "Perhaps it doesn't matter much" or "The author seems more interested in presenting each for their own qualities rather than suggesting one is more correct than the other" or "The story is built to be appreciated by a diverse audience, or to allow an audience to enjoy at the same time the self-interested Xifeng and the empathetic Baoyu." But even if we say they have different values there is still only a range of possible values. None, for example are democratic capitalists.
As for worldviews in Story of the Stone, again everyone works within the same Daoist-Buddhist-Confucian world. Many of the characters are not good Confucianists but that Confucianism is a system worthy of respect seems not to be challenged by the narrative except to some degree by the Daoism that Baoyu embraces even when on the mortal plane. Of course the Daoist-Confucianist balance differs from character to character with Baoyu more Daoist than, say, his servant Aroma or Baochai. While it is true that the story is framed with a Daoist-Buddhist immortal world, this does not necessarily mean that these systems are more honored than Confucianism since they are treated as operating in separate realms, not in direct competition.
Things becomes tricky once we begin to consider contemporary films because each of our countries have gone through the process of modernization in their own ways. This modernization means that modern domestic film audiences almost certainly incorporate non Daoist-Buddhist-Confucian values to some degree into their lives, if ambiguously. Further, with directors trained in New York City, or living in Paris, or making multi-lingual movies with international funding, it is not easy to situate them statically on any grid that would represent "how much" of that person is Western. They have a complex and fluid relationship with the film industry, film history, their own personal visions of things, and so on. They also work collaboratively with a wide variety of individuals who have their own mix of values and worldviews. We peer into this complex soup of ideas and try to speculate on the status of traditional core values within it. Interesting, but not easy and surely next to impossible to make conclusive statement about. Still, how something is said ("said" includes camera angles, music, all the tools of the trade of cinema) and how the narrative (at the level of the story's events) "treats" a character (punishes him/her, grants him successes, etc.) are probably the best clues we have at hand. Beware, however, taking different events to suggest different cultural positions. This, of course, is far too simplistic a path to a conclusion!
For the purposes of this class, this means Japan, Korea (North/DPRK and South/Republic of Korea), and China (People's Republic of China, Hong Kong [special Administrative Region], and Taiwan [Republic of China] are treated as within the Chinese cultural and linguistic sphere and all count as "China" — you cannot compare, say, Taiwan to Hong Kong).
I request a specific and consistent management of film titles. This helps me keep track of things during the complicated grading processes, and reassure me that you know the necessary details of your film production.
How to cite films for this class IN THE BIBLIOGRAPHY:
1. Use the English title that you have been working with.
2. You can include other titles (any or all of these—original, romanized version, alternate English translations). Please them in brackets as below.
3. You can decide whether the movie title, or some other component is most important. OUR DEFAULT IS TO LIST THE DIRECTOR but if you think the screen writer is more important or the director is really really irrelevant, you can list that screen writer, or the title first.
4. Put director's last name in CAPs.
5. Several elements of the below are NOT part of normal citation style. They are specific for this class, to help me grade. Please don't use this for your other academic work.
6. Please never abbreviate "director".
So, given the above, these are the basic models for citation, using Three Times.
Hou, Hsiao-Hsien, director. Three Times. Country: Taiwan. Language(s): Mandarin. Taiwanese. First released: May 2005 (Cannes film Festival).
How I accessed it: downloaded file.
How the instructor can access all or part of it: Netflix.
Three Times. Director Hsiao-Hsien HOU. Country: Taiwan. Language(s): Mandarin, Taiwanese. First released: May 2005 (Cannes film Festival).
How I accessed it: downloaded file.
How the instructor can access all or part of it: Netflix.
OR variations such as:
Three Times [最好的時光; Zuì hǎo de shí guāng; lit. "Best of Times" or "Best Era"]. Director Hsiao-Hsien HOU. Country: Taiwan. Language(s): Mandarin, Taiwanese. First released: May 2005 (Cannes film Festival).
How I accessed it: downloaded file.
How the instructor can access all or part of it: Netflix.
Note: imDb lists the country as France, Taiwan. If you feel that knowing the production connection to the film is important for having a nuanced understanding of the cultural context, list it. Listing it makes a statement by you. It might be the case for Three Times, it was, after all, released first in Paris.
7. Sometimes it is very important to know that the film is based on a graphic novel series, or a novel, etc. Example:
Isao, Yukisada, director. Spring Snow [also released with the English title "Snowy Love Fall in Spring", 春の雪, Haru no yuki, lit. "Spring Snow"]. Based on the novel Spring Snow by Yukio MISHIMA. Country: Japan. Language(s): Japanese, some Thai, some English. First released: October 2005 (Pusan International Film Festival).
How to write film title for this class IN ALL OTHER INSTANCES:
Three Times (Taiwan, 2005).
The purpose of the film description is twofold:
- to help students master the narratives of their films
- to help me understand student submissions
Please write summaries with these goals in mind.
Also, there are a number of odd requirements (see below) that make for "ugly" English. Please follow the instructions anyway.
I do not read your summaries from beginning to end (except when grading). I jump in quickly to find a specific something (to help me remember an item). Further, I am doing this in a very complicated reading environment with 30-60 story lines to keep in mind and hundreds of characters, with tough deadlines to meet, and at the same time that I am grading you for other things. The constant repetition of names, the putting of names in bold, the consistent use of names, the frequent "tagging" of characters (husband Joe rather than Joe), the frequently paragraphing — all these things help me read your summary quickly and accurately in bits and pieces, forwards and backwards.
The film summaries are part of an early JES submission with each student writing a portion of the summaries. These summaries are then is cut-and-pasted numerous times into various submissions. You are free to use your partner's summary.
When are summaries graded?
The FIRST set of submitted summaries is lightly graded and is an individual grade. Most of the simple cut-and-paste summaries in later submissions are graded only from the perspective of whether they are there or not. However, towards the end of the JES process you will be carefully graded on the summary. Therefore, by that time you should rewrite any aspect of either summary that you are not satisfied with. This might be an individual grade or might factor in to a group grade (so that, in theory, it is possible for a group grade to not match between team members if the summaries are different and score differently).
Specific requirements (and these are graded)
1. The film summary should be about 300-500 words that summarizes the films from the perspective of their "love" narratives. You are not graded for completeness in details; you are graded for an excellent overview of the entire film. Make your words count.
2. The original film summaries must NEVER be pulled from the web. Web-based summaries (that includes paraphrased summaries) receive an "F". Absolutely all aspects of the summary should belong only to you. You are free to use your partner's summary and then edit it in ways that you think are best. However, I recommend that you check with your partner as to the original source of the work. Any summary that you submit is graded as if you have accepted all of its contents according to the rules of the summary. Therefore, if your partner used the web, then you used your partner's summary, you are responsible for the plagiarism even though it was not you who originally did so.
3a-3c. Summaries must give a) a good sense of the film's basic artistic approach, b) mood, c) ethical environment and so on (those things which we have discussed affect interpretation, reveal values and worldviews, etc.). This is graded.
4. Please paragraph frequently to help me follow main events easily. This is graded.
5. Summaries should be written and rewritten until they have excellent clarity that includes all of the below (all the below is graded):
- be sure that the basic outline of the love narrative is prominent in the description—in other words, the most important bump or bumps along the way, and the results of a story line. Don't just set up the situation. This isn't supposed to sound like a blurb for the back of a DVD or an advertisement for the film. It should give the outline of the full story, spoilers included. Remember the topic of our class is not Asian films; it is the identification and comparison of romantic values so your summary should focus on that.
- cultural setting(s) ("countryside Japan", "urban Hong Kong" etc.)
- time period (by year or, in rare cases, historical era: 2007, 1990s, Edo Japan, Tang China, etc.)
- names of key characters in the story (always cited in bold and with the first mention given more details of that individual in parenthesis — age, sex, employment, whatever is relevant to the story)
- all main events of the story (try to prevent the summary from spinning out of control by including too many "maybe main" events)
- the story's outcome
- descriptive passages at appropriate places that give a sense of the movie, not just the skeleton plot line but, rather, a "feel" for the story
6. Treatment of character's names:
Specific character names should be consistent (use the same name every time you mention that person) and include something about them (beyond the initial set of details required in the first mention of the name) to help the reader (me) keep track. So for example, "surfboarder Koji" is more informative than just "Koji"—it will remind me of the individual. Otherwise I have to memorize the who storyline to follow your comments.
Be sure that the basic outline of the love narrative is prominent in the description—in other words, the most important bump or bumps along the way, and the results of a story line. Don't just set up the situation. This isn't supposed to sound like a blurb for the back of a DVD or an advertisement for the film. It should give the outline of the full story, spoilers included. Remember the topic of our class is not Asian films; it is the identification and comparison of romantic values so your summary should focus on that.
7. Your summary first provides a bullet list of main characters and the main romantic events related to them. Please be sure to list their sex, age, social status when relevant and, if it is usually helpful, something about their personality type —cheerful, cynic, cruel, etc. Bold an entry every time you use it here and in the summary and I prefer boring repetition of names than "him" "her" and so on. When skimming these can get really confusing. An entry might look like this:
- Chunhyang (female, late teens?, rank ambiguous between low-class free woman and courtesan): Chunhyang becomes the wife of Mongnyong, a talented and handsome man of about the same age. Chunhyang is a strong and beautiful (somewhat) woman who fiercely upholds her duties and fidelity to her husband. Mongnyong discovers Chunhyang in the countryside, falls in love, asks Chunhyang's mother for permission to marry. They do marry but Mongnyong must leave Chunhyang behind to study in Seoul. (He cannot take Chunhyang with him because she is too low class for his family.) Mongnyong returns to rescue Chunhyang from the evil governor who wanted her to serve him sexually.
For Spring 2011 I am going to do a trial run of allowing films made before 1999. I want to preserve the below explanation for future classes in case I decide this is unwise but, for Spring 2011, you can use other films as long as you show you are aware of their historical context (which means both within society and film history for that country).
I prefer that all films used in this class are 1999 or later. In this class the paper is oriented outwardly and in modern times: How does China/Japan/Korea present itself NOW to Western audiences? Knowledge of traditions (Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism and so on) is expected in developing an interesting, informed and credible thesis about this. We are NOT asking the question: How do traditional values get representation in cinema? If that were the case, 1920s, 1950s, and so on films would all be legitimate choices. We don't do this; we work with the first premise. And, given that premise, there are two reasons I selected 1999 as the cut-of point:
1) We are measuring modern solutions to presenting East Asian stories of romance to an international audience. We use a specific method for this. One of the primary components of that method is to control, as much as possible, our variables. Therefore both films needs to be very close to each other in time, since world communities are dynamic and swiftly changing. Two films on different points of a timeline are no doubt using different strategies because of international situations, filming trends and so on. 1999 is an arbitrary threshold.
2) The political status of Hong Kong and changes in Korean law make films made before and after 1999 different in the sense that domestic audiences underwent major changes (Hong Kong films gain access to mainland audiences differently; Korea creates a quota system encouraging domestically produced movies against American releases).
BUT, I am aware that there are some excellent pre-1999 movies out there, movies that students would like to consider. If you are set on doing this you need to do two things:
Email me with a very good reason (more than you like it) why this is the best choice for your team
Make sure your second movie is within 4 years plus/minus of that film's production date OR write an additional essay (making your team paper a four segment, not three segment, set) that lays out clearly what differences the two different production dates might have introduced into your analysis.
The final joint segment is a written document of 850 or more words (around 850 should not be taken as the ideal target, it is a minimum) that puts into shape the team's careful comparison of the two individual essays (ICE), with the themes of the class in mind. It is written jointly and on-the-spot, in a face-to-face meeting where it is sent to me with both partners present and before the meeting ends.
There are three primary aspects to this work (and the template asks you to separate these):
- between the two essays—discovery and report of areas of convergence ("convergence" would be areas of similarity between the two partners' ideas) By the way any similarities that result from the preconditions (particularly the NDT and instances) do not count. Focus on similar interpretations and conclusions.
- between the two essays—discovery and report of areas of divergence while including some speculation on what is the basis of the different views ("divergence" would be areas of difference between the two partners' ideas)
- as a result of the Step 06 meeting—new ideas (emergence) that arise through dialogue based on comparing the essays (these do not have to related to the essays specifically, or the JES goal, or even the films—anything related to the themes of this class is fine)
For this step, the process is more important than the product. Being required to write an essay is just a way of requiring the students to share their ideas synergistically rather than just "Oh, yeah, that's cool" or "Oh, I hadn't thought of that." The final meeting is, therefore, more than just finding out what the other person was thinking but talking together to see what is the result of bringing these two essays together.
This step does not need to comprehensively cover all aspects of both essays; it can pick up portions only but should not limit itself to a small corner. It is, therefore, not a single idea developed, but should range over various aspects of the essays. It should emphasize dialogue and a mingling of the ideas.
The end product is a single MS Word .doc or .docx, if possible, but don't allow this requirement to interfere with arranging a 3-hour meeting. I can also accept .rft files.
This document has an unusual requirement. After every sentence that has analysis or conclusion or opinion, in parenthesis there must be a code that indicates whether the idea is Student A's or Student B's or shared. Please indicate this by putting the FIRST name of each student in parentheses after the relevant comment. Please continue to do this even when obvious because I scan for parentheses when reviewing the document. For convergences and divergences the name should be whoever first noted the convergence or divergence. (*If you bring to the meeting a list of convergences and divergences based on your reading of your partner's essay before the meeting, it will be easier to claim ownership of noting the idea first.) For emergences, it is likely that it will be difficult to determine who noticed it first and there will probably be a more two-name designations but, when possible, try to note who first hit on the idea. Notice in the example below how "Sara", though the author of the report, refers to herself in third person as "Sara". This is helpful to me in keeping everyone straight in my head.
Example (invented based the first segment of "Three Times" where Sara is the submitter of the joint statement): "Sara thought that May loved the off-duty soldier and that this showed a type of modern independence on her part. (Sara) Jerry felt that she was just following his lead and that this suggested May was rather traditional in her way of thinking. (Jerry) As we talked we began to wonder about the man's behavior and concluded that that behavior might be a good clue on how the director wanted them to think of the story. (Sara/Jerry)"
The joint essay set (JES) that the team submits has three components: two essays (ICE, one from each student) that are written entirely independently and one joint statement that is co-written during a final face-to-face meeting. These two individual essays are called the "individual comparative essay"—ICE. The details of the ICE are withheld until all students have submitted their NDT, so that the ICE is forced to work within the NDT rather than students creating NDTs that they think might be good for the ICE.
"Instance" is any text, film, passage, scene or other sort of moment that has become the object of analysis and is situated in a very specific time & place—what that person said or did in that text (or film) which is of that specific historical circumstance. This helps us keep in mind that we are studying cultural moments, little snippets, and that we cannot study, or make conclusions about, a whole culture through a handful of examples. Our class is only one of many baby steps in the process of getting better at reading another culture. That being said, it is through instances that we learn languages and, indeed, cultural worlds (what to do in this situation; what such-and-such a body movement means in that situation; what "X" means when said in this type of situation). We extrapolate from instances to build workable environments in which to move and to make interpretations. (These comments based on TOM / "Theory of mind" —our ability as humans to construct the world of another to have a general understanding of how that person will probably behave.)
This is sometimes a weak point in the student's submission but it is graded carefully so please read the below. This class pivots on the concept of dialogue between team members so I look carefully at the meeting details to try to visualize the quality of the dialogue.
Meeting details require a statement of when (and for how long), where and how in addition to the other content, so please make sure you have a record of this. Please be sure that the meeting(s) time (date and hour), duration (in minutes or hours), and location are listed and accurate.
I want content-rich details of the meeting. I am trying to imagine the nature of the conversation. So, for example:
- What paths did you take to get to your final position?
- Which student took which positions or contributed which ideas?
- How dynamic was the dialogue?
- How close or far apart are the two students on their opinions?
- Is there a sense of direction or not?
I should have answers to most of the above questions.
When it helps clarify things, use both partner first names: "Maggie thought Alyssa's point was very useful." Avoid "Student A" and "Student B". (I have to look such things up; I don't have it memorized.)
Here's an excerpt from an actual, and excellent, description of a non-quantifiable aspect of a meeting. You don't need to be this colorful, but this passage did indeed help me understand the vitality of the relationship and the nature of the dialogue (one student drawing out the other):
I felt throughout the discussion that David is either psychic or I am really easy to read, because, during a lot of our discussion, David could clarify what I wanted to say even though I didn't say it. And I really admired David's overly dramatic sentences (which I highlighted with squiggly lines). We had a lot of fun discussing the ideas behind those sentences and what I thought of those sentences.
The NDT defines the working boundaries of your essay (ICE) so that the two individual comparative essays (one by each member of the team) will be relevant to each other even when written "blind" to the partner, and so generate a successful Final Joint Segment.
Warning: Define in-bounds / out-of-bounds limits for your topic but do not define the items situated in-bounds. At this stage you don't really know the full shape and intent of the JES but defining the items can cause real trouble, trust me. Example—A recent NDT was: "We want to examine faithfulness in the relationships primarily concerning Mrs. Chan in In the Mood for Love (China, 2005) and the Girl in My Sassy Girl (Korea, 2001) with respect to their current relationships." This would be a bit too simple as an NDT, a bit too much of a template, except that, for these films, it happens to lead into very interesting territory. So the NDT, itself, is fine. BUT, when grading the final essays it was clear that the two students had discussed what "faithfulness" would mean. Two unfortunate things resulted: First, both students got faithfulness wrong (this is a term with special, restricted meaning in this class, for good reasons) so both scored lower than they should have on the essay. If they hadn't worked together on this term one of them would probably have gotten them out of the trap at some point. But it was the blind leading the blind in this case. Second, the essays had very little interesting tension between them, which made the final step lifeless. So three grades (individual essay grades and final step grade) suffered simply from the one error of going to far in defining specifics of the NDT. That it will be about faithfulness is fine, defining what faithfulness is is not fine. It is indeed tempting to build an NDT that seems like it might be easy to do (and probably partly because of an already foreseen thesis)—but this isn't a good idea. Always, always go with what seems like it will kick up interesting directions perhaps a bit unpredictably, rather than easy pathways to conclusions. The final essay is a special format and very restricted and what seems easy at this stage will come off as too simple and shallow in that narrow box towards the end. ALSO, if you focus on the areas of the movie that are most strongly portrayed (its main, most obvious message), it is more likely the two of you will end up with exactly the same conclusions; in other words, the force of the movies' messages pretty much writes the essays for you. Better is to find a more controversial or ambibuous or otherwise open to interpretation but relevant area of the films to discuss.
The NDT, above all, defines a certain range of specificity:
The NDT is specific enough to generate two ICE that have enough common ground that a FJS can be written. However, it is not so specific that conclusions are already in place.
So, "expressions of jealousy as a way of expressing one's love" would be a narrowly defined topic, while "Jealousy is a false expression of love" introduces a conclusion that your partner might not agree with.
Position yourself close enough to each other to write on similar topics but not so close as to decide for each other what to think.
Therefore, NDTs are topics, not interpretations or conclusions. One of the typical ways students lose points in grading the NDT is to insert interpretations or conclusions or anything that looks like the early shape of a hypothesis or thesis.
The NDT is burdened with restrictions in order to make sure it stays within the boundaries of the course and produces an essay that is workable for the final joint segment. It
- identifies ONE topic that will be compared
- it should take up the issue of a value or worldview that is "core" and should therefore allow some space to refer to premodern content,
- it should allow for identifying similarities or differences between the films within the themes and goals of this class—either is OK but since the goal of the course is to identify significant cultural differences (be they obvious or subtle), you should NOT try to generate an NDT where the two films are treating the topic in the same way but rather seem to be treating the topic differently
NDTs can take many different shapes as long at they are not too general, too specific, offer interpretations / conclusions and mention the two films. Here are schematic examples of extreme ends of the spectrum of short and long NDTs:
SHORT: "Whether 'faithfulness' in our modern films 'X' (Japan, 2001) and 'Y' (China, 2007) resembles 'faithfulness' in the premodern texts we read." COMMENT: While short, it has a very clear project and it is easy to imagine essays pursuing this goal in interesting ways.
LONG: "'Faithfulness' is a significant topic in our two films — 'X' (Japan, 2001) and 'Y' (China, 2007) — and we will explore whether it has the same treatment in the two. However, there are many relationships in these two films and so, to insure that we both write about the same individuals, we have decided to primarily consider Mr. J's loyalty in 'Y' and Ms. K's loyalty in 'X'. However, we think we will probably need to refer sometimes to other characters as well, to make our conclusions fully complete. COMMENT: These students have looked ahead and realized they might not be very close on their essays unless they specify who they are going to talk about BUT they want to keep the freedom to mention others. (If this isn't in the statement, comments on others might be graded down as "off topic" by me later.) By the way "significant" is nearly an interpretation but seems OK to me.
Beware the compound topic (of x, y and z / x and y are... / x and y both ... etc)! — An NDT that includes the following compound phrase is outlining at least three different papers at the same time: "The necessity and balance of passion, truth, and security in relationships."
- "necessity and balance" make two subjects for the sentence, uh-h
- "of passion, truth, and securty" lines of three different things to analyze (they are NOT the same and to treat them as the same is another common problem: term slippage, where term A is treated as if not different than term B, such as loyalty and duty, etc.)
Get your NDT back to ONE topic!
An example of an NDT that errs by stating a conclusion: "Relationships are defined through a deceptive lens." That is a thesis statement, a conclusion, not a topic. You could safely change this to: "We will explore how deception MIGHT be changing the way a relationship is perceived." That leaves open the possibility of concluding either way.
Beware, in both your essays and NDTs, of sweeping conclusions, of phrases such as "Korean and Chinese traditional values". ALWLAYS remember you are just working with a couple films and a couple premodern texts and cannot decide the cultural world of a whole country based on that.
Conclusions or even speculations that are broader than is warranted. I also refer to these as sweeping conclusions. Avoid them! In some versions of this class I emphasize "instances" — we study instances (a text, a film, or even a section of a film) not full cultural spectrums. Perhaps we can get some hints about the culture of a country through the study of instances, but it seems fairly obvious that we must proceed exceedingly carefully. Here is an example of overreach, it is a student's comment about two films:
One obvious difference in worldview is how each country views death in a loving relationship.
That "each country" simply MUST be "each film".
Overreach has exactly the opposite result of the goal of this class. We are trying to learn to notice differences, some not obvious, among cultures. Overreach makes a sweeping conclusion that shuts down the alert search for cultural nuances.
There is a specific range of goals that are accepted for the paper in this class. This definition has its own web page. Go to Joint Essay Set Goals.
When we are considering whether, say, Confucianism is relevant to a film, statements such as "Confucianism seems important to this film" are not informative enough, given the themes and goals of this course. We need to investigate with more specificity.
To do this we first need to break down Confucianism into something more specific such as xin or ren and limit our analysis to that, even while recognizing the inadequacy of such a limited approach. It is, nevertheless, a start towards something larger (even if we never have time to build that larger analysis).
Then we need to give some nuance to what we mean by "relevant". In this class I ask that you go beyond general statements like "very relevant" or "not very relevant" and instead make some tentative conclusions along any of the below, or a mixture of them. I have picked the term "relate" to refer to this, since it is more or less neutral and open in meaning. "Relate" always suggests any or all of these three:
1. To what degree is X quality present or absent? For example, "gay rights" is entirely absent from, say, The Tale of Genji. The narrative simply has nothing to do with it (to readers contemporary with its composition and distribution). "Money" is very present in the film Three Times (Segment 2, the bordello), even though it is not discussed frequently. So "presence" cannot necessarily be measured by frequently or prominence. You need to judge how relevant it is with that in mind but not just that in mind. When we look at modern films, premodern values are almost always "faded" to some degree. To notice that isn't noticing much. Go farther.
2. To what degree is X quality modified? This does not mean reduced in value. (The would be the "faded", above.) Rather, for example, if the premodern value is, say, "one should respect one's elders, whether they are right or wrong" but if the film seems to suggest, "one should respect one's elders, if they are themselves moral beings", then that is a modification. These caveats often appear in films to broaden their appeal.
3. Acceptance / resistance.
A value might be enthusiastically endorsed, such as faithfulness in the film Chunhyang. It might, however, be only grudgingly accepted. It might be mildly resisted or questioned in some way. It might be directly challenged and presented as misguided or out-of-date or wrong for the situation.
Further, these events might happen at the level of the film in its entirely or at the limited level of a particular character's attitude or action.
Also, transgressive behavior provides an interesting instance that is neither acceptance nor resistance; it might be the pleasure of breaking a rule. It might set up a competing value or it might just simply enjoy the illegitimacy of the act.
Finally, films often take multiple positions. For example, in the following trailer it is clear that the typical value "one should love people more than money" is being upheld by certain characters in the film. It is also clear that "there is nothing better than money and it is completely OK to do what is necessary to obtain it, kind or not, legal or not" is a value embraced by some and very attractive, seductively, to others. It is less clear whether the trailer is taking sides. It switches back and forth and shows the appeal of both and though it would seem to take its baseline to be "people before money" it also seems to present, for marketing purposes, a very gleeful, "yeah, man, I, too, secretly desire to go for the golden ring more than anything else". (Aside: the director, I know is on the side of "people before money", given his filmmaking track record and off-screen comments but the film seems to allow space for both). Trailer: 'Wall Street/ Money Never Sleeps' Trailer HD
This is the MPAA rating, so "PG" etc. If you don't know, write "rating unknown". If you know it has not been rated, write "unrated".
What types of resources should you be looking for?
They should not be general in nature. General introductions and overviews might help you position yourself with your topic—these will be considered just secondary listings on a bibliography and do not satisfy the basic requirements. Please find something that is not a wiki, or an encyclopedia entry, or a general textbook, or such. Be very careful of Web sites. Avoid them unless the Web site you want to use has a specific author and you can learn something about the reliability of the author. This is of course different than using the internet to access academic journals and books (JSTOR, MUSE, EBSCO, eBrary, etc.). If you wish you can look at my general page about online resources (link might be broken): here.
They must be relevant to your narrowly defined topic and your instances, but "relevant" can be very broadly defined in some cases. Use your judgment to decide if it is "relevant" (and in part you will be graded on your ability to identify relevance). Please don't feel you need to find, for example, articles on "Asian" love; something in Western psychology might be just as useful.
Part of the purpose of this class is to expose you to different, well-considered ways of thinking about romance. At least one resource must be about the aspect of romance you are considering, such as an academic article on the nature of jealousy, etc.
What rises to the level of a good academic resource?
What you are looking forward is disciplined thought and argument about your films and romance, something grounded in philosophy, the sciences or whatever, definitely something beyond pop culture. (No Cosmopolitan or Elle articles on love, and no Internet Movie Database, official Web site for the movie — it's mostly PR — or Fan site articles please!)
Resources must be credible, of good academic quality (established or obviously credible Web sites, academic journals, academic books). ... Information drawn from movie reviews and interviews should be from institutions that are broad in nature or well-established. ("Ebert & Roper" / "L.A. Times Movie Reviews" are OK, "my_thoughts_on_cool_movies.com" is not.) In most cases, do NOT trust DVD commentaries, though they might be kept in mind.
Resources on romance must be rigorously analytic in nature (not just introductory volumes, survey works, newspaper or magazine articles -- beware of books by journalists who have just lived in an Asian country and now claim to be experts, and so on).
Resources on the films can be analytic but might be just informational.
I realize that it might be very difficult to find information on directors and so forth. If you claim there is no information or that X is the only source of information, expect me to spend 5 minutes Web-searching to confirm that.
"Romance" is, of course, a Western term situated within a specific historical and cultural situation that was not shared widely with East Asian countries until modern times. East Asian countries now all have an uneven blend of "romantic" values that are native to the social, philosophical, religious history of each country and their understanding of imported Western romantic values that are deeply involved in broader issues such as individual freedom and so on. When I use the term "romance" in this class, I am not using it to mean, as it might mean in the West, "a positive experience of amorous love" or "the early stages of a marriage-bound relationship" or "a thrilling, dreamlike state built around thoughts of another specific person" or "having one's head in the clouds unwilling to affirm the reality of a specific situation". All of these are workable definitions, and there are others. However all of these arise from some fundamental Western values associated with love.
We, nevertheless, need an English terms since one of the preconditions of this class is that we must, unfortunately, take English as our common language in order to level the analytic field and include equally narratives from China, Japan and Korea.
So, "romance" it is, but it means, more or less, this:
Heightened emotional states positive ("I want to be with you always") or negative ("I feel more guilty than happy when around you"), within or without marriage, that arise from thoughts of a specific person(s) real or imagined ("Fred, the man I love, I think" or "the perfect woman that will sometime marry me" etc) or a specific situation ("a fabulous and disastrous affair" or "a perfect house, bank account, set of children and husband/wife that enables that") and which forcefully insist on an answer to the question of whether or not to be together with that person(s).
In other words, we do NOT in this class, primarily study country-to-country differences in the institution of marriage & family. We focus, instead, on the feelings, expectations and romantic behavior of two or so people, who may or may not be married, intend to marry, were married or whatever.
Further, we do not assume that romantic feelings are necessarily morally proper or necessarily a positive experience.
Further, we do not assume that romantic feelings are universal because they reflect an actual entity that could be called love that is stable across country boundaries and eras (as in, specifically, Christian definitions of divine love).
Further, we do not show interest in just the early stages of attraction where two people seem compelled to be together. We can, and will, look at other stages of a romance.
Finally, our focus is not on the "biology" of love. Humans are social animals and, in addition, they do have sexual drives. They will seek to make bonds and they will seek to make the next generation. We are not exploring "What, really, is at the core of an intimate relationship?" Our perspective is much less essentialist: What are the differences, some almost paradigmatically difference, some so subtle as to usually go unnoticed, from country to country when the topic is how romantic stories are told and understood and the values that inform those stories.
This is not a class on how to love someone, or how to romance someone. But it is a class on how to understand one's own values better, how interpretation of behavior differs greatly from one person to the next, how East Asian countries share certain values that contextually affect interpretations of romance, and how East Asian countries also have substantive differences from one another.
When trying to deduce a story's worldviews or values (whether text or film), please be careful to keep a distinction between what happens and what such an event might or might not indicate about similar or different values or worldviews. Just because the story (narrative) chain of events differ between two texts or films does not necessarily mean they work from different values or worldviews. Here's a student example (when asked to find differences between two countries represented by two films):
In Addicted (Korea, 2002), Dae-jun fell in to an unrequited love with Eun-soo much earlier than his brother. He never gave up, and finally got to be with Eun-soo. However, in contrast, even though Ah Keung in L for Love, L for Lies (Hong Kong, 2008) fell into an unrequited love with Ah Bo much earlier, Ah Keung died and wasn't able to be with Ah Bo.
This has not established different values, only that different things happened. To establish that there are different values (if that is truly the case) we need to read something like "Addicted seems to present this final success as a glorious outcome, as a result, maybe even an inevitable result, of his determination. L for Love, L for Lies seems to present Ah Keung death as almost inevitable, as if the film is saying that love is difficult or impossible to find, that something will always go wrong." — If this is the way it is, then there really are differences. But if L for Love, L of Lies seems to be a "frustration" film (a tragedy in the Greek sense), where it seems that the possibility of love is affirmed but something just went badly wrong in this particular case then both films uphold the view that love is possible, that efforts might or might not be rewarded but it is good to try hard.
So, in short, you cannot deduce a text's or film's values based solely on narrative events; it is necessary to think about how those events are presented.
A common phenomenon in student comments is "term slippage". Since we deal with very complex and ambiguous issues, I try my best to instill discipline in the analysis done. "Term slippage" is a messy exploration of an idea, or a sly rhetorical move when done on purpose. Here's a possible (not actual) example:
In L for Love, L for Lies (Hong Kong, 2008), beauty and grace are the most important [feminine] values. Ah Keung falls for Ah Bo because of her kind and trusting nature.
This hypothetical student is implying that the personality traits "beauty and grace" are the same as the personality traits "kind and trusting". This may or may not be true, but to slip from one set to the next raises confusions we don't want and makes an argument simply by association which isn't good enough for this course.
A provisional thesis is the same as the below except that in Step 04 you have not yet carried out your analysis so it is more hypothetical in its language: I think it is likely that I will conclude X because when I do Y analysis my sense is that this will be the result. It is, in other words, a hypothesis, but I want to keep the terminology more symmetrical, so "provisional thesis" and then, later, "thesis."
*Students often say for the "Y analysis" portion above something like "when I looked at the movies". Be more specific than this, if possible. For example, "When I compared the way the plots progressed the different results X and Y suggest ... and the various camera filming techniques for the scenes we are focusing on suggested ... , so I concluded that ..." In other words, what you were looking at when you were "looking at" the films?
It is not necessary to phrase things in just this way. The provisional thesis (and definitely the thesis) should pass these readerly tests:
- Do I, as a reader, know specifically what you are talking about ("Flying Daggers" not "Asian films" / "the social more that seems to be present in Korea that upholds traditional marriage" not "attitudes towards love" etc.)?
- Do I, as a reader, clearly know what your conclusion is?
- Do I, as a reader, know a little bit about how you got to that conclusion? (In other words, you do NOT want the reader to react with this thought: "Well, that person is just declaring an opinion, it doesn't seem to be based on any analysis.")
A thesis is a brief and distinctly clear and specific claim that you will present, with whatever support can be managed in the limited amount of space available. Try to stay within 100 words or less.
- It is not a topic (such as "the use of time in 'House of Flying Daggers' and '2046'"). This is the most common error regarding the thesis, that is, the student describes his or her topic but does not state his or her conclusions about it.
- It is not a question or an announcement of a project (such as "I will look at whether the use of time in 'House of Flying Daggers' and '2046' makes a difference in how familiar the story strikes a Western viewer.")
- It is not just a statement of opinion (such as, "I think the use of time in 'House of Flying Daggers' and '2046' ultimately doesn't make a difference in how the story is perceived.")
- It is an argued conclusion: "When I looked at the use of time in 'House of Flying Daggers' and '2046' I concluded that time is irrelevant in the first movie but relevant in the second BECAUSE ...(further details of the process by which you arrived at your conclusion, both what you did and the evidence, loosely defined, involved)"
Thesis. Complicated but especially good. The JES goal was to explore tensions between a country's traditional and modern and/or values, using love as an example. It argues that traditional attitudes persist but the films go beyond those negative attitudes, presenting positive aspects of a type of love considered "wrong":
The romantic relationships that are depicted in "Go" (Japan) and "Spider Lilies" (Taiwan) would traditionally be considered "illicit" and are still regarded somewhat ambivalently. However, the trauma typically associated with such illicit relationships is subverted and overcome in both films. The relationships become a way to overcome past tragedy as well as a way to redefine the self and one's future.
Provisional thesis. As a thesis statement, it is very good, very solid/credible and grounded in details. The JES goal was to explore cultural differences between East Asian countries, using views of love to argue the point. This thesis statement does identify differences, but would have been stronger if it has explicitly said "the differences are ..." It is, nevertheless, quite good. Notice how the differences also have quite a bit in common, suggesting common values between the two countries as well:
From an analysis of illicit relationships that invoke empathy in "3-Iron" (Korea) and "Curse of the Golden Flower" (China), I will likely conclude that the married women, who each have an illicit lover, are the figures that invoke the most empathy. This is because they are trapped in societal roles. In the Korean movie, the woman is bound by the duty to be a pious daughter (in the form of a subservient and loyal wife). In the Chinese film the wife is bound by the expectations that an Empress must obey and respect the Emperor despite her objectified, ornamental existence. These societal duties make it impossible for the wives to openly give voice to and pursue their own romantic desires except through illicit relationships and we, as observers, empathize with them.
Thesis. Far too general, even if true:
With deception and betrayal in a relationship, it is difficult for romance to continue to advance into something deeper.
Thesis. Appears specific but misses the most important piece of information—since the JES goal is diversity of love in two countries, specifically how they are different needs to be stated, but this thesis only says that they are different:
The instances of loyalty within "House of Flying Daggers" (China) and "Shinobi" (Japan) reveal how the women characters (Mei and Oboro) are the ones who ultimately bear the burden of choosing between remaining loyal to one's clan or to one's lover. The male characters (Jin, Leo and Gennosuke) know exactly what they want to accomplish and are not troubled by choice. While both "House of Flying Daggers" and "Shinobi" force the female lovers to pick a side, the differences in Chinese and Japanese culture dictate Mei's and Oboro's decisions in determining the outcome of the movie. [But what "differences" and what are their decisions?]
values / worldview. This is an evolving portion of my class and the terms do indeed cause some confusion. Further, they are being defined specifically for this course. I am not making a larger philsophical claim.
Here is the basic, most important point: by "worldview" I mean metaphysical explanations of things (such as "everything changes constantly") that provide relevant contexts for interpreting romantic situations ("he tells me he will love me forever—but I know that everything changes"). A "value" as I use it is the social ideal (the perfect woman is demure) or social norm (women should be demure in their behavior). Worldviews are more absolute than values. In the case of values, one can be aware of another's different values and simply not agree with them (although more typically one is relatively ignorant of the values of another in much detail). In the case of worldviews, however, they tend to represent the outer limit of what one can imagine (Jauss's "horizon of expectation" applied by me to the notion of cultural spheres) or represent non-negotiable views, things the individual is so sure are the way things are that it is difficult to convince him or her otherwise.
Note: Some students mistake "values" to be no more than "widely held ideas / characterizations". Commonly held notions are different from metaphysical claims of how things work or moral standards although obvious all three have a tight relationship with one another. Still "values" as I want to use it to draw some distinctions, are different that the phenomena where "lots of people in this society would agree that love is ...." which are simply identifying what most people would agree are definitions of love or parts of love. Such comments are closer to articulating something we might call "common sense" than "social norm". The confusion arise in part, I think, because social norms are grounded in common sense. (Social ideals has a different relationship to common sense.)
Here's an example of the misunderstanding in action. A student answers on one of the JES forms like this: "A less obvious premodern core value of the film is the concept of possession and jealousy as love." This implicitly argues that "X society defines love as possessing another and, when that is challenged, love is experienced as strong feelings of jealousy." While this is a widely held idea it is not a worldview as I define it because there is nothing metaphysical about jealousy ... unless you want to say, and I suppose this is possible, that Buddhism argues that a basic component of love is jealousy since one is always in fear of losing what one holds dear. It seems sort of awkward though to go this far with modern films since we all understand that there is jealousy in life without turning to Buddhism to notice it. Buddhism offers a reasoning behind it, but we have already accepted that it exists, in whatever country or culture we live. Further, it is not a value as I define it, since clearly the norm is not, usually, "One must be jealous." BUT, in some society's, yes, if you are not jealous and possessive then probably you are not truly loving and you are expected, you "must", show jealousy. (Think of our early discussion of "macho" and the killing of Carmen as proof of his love/passion.)
Ideals and some social norms have a presence in society as the perfect expression of something, but not really expected of anyone. Most things that we would call social norms (society's values) are publicly upheld behavior, behavior that just about everyone in the room is willing to say outloud as "one should ..." ("One should not kidnap under-age children."). But there are also "behind the scenes" norms that might be widespread or specific to a sub-group, that is, behavior that wouldn't publicly be stated as acceptable but privately is acknowledged as how things work. ("One should return money found on the ground but if you didn't do so, well, I understand, I probably wouldn't return it either".)
Worldviews are important to us because of their essential role in narratives: they help explain how things work. They are also important because they help create a "horizon of expectation" (Jauss); that is, help define what is imaginable. It was difficult for me to accept the raw video of an airplane flying into the World Trade Center because it was so beyond expectations. It didn't immediately make sense when I saw it the first time. I suggest that a premodern man would have problems with the phrase, "I would like to go to that party but let me call my wife and see if she thinks it is OK to not come home right away that night." This second phrase is a crossover between a metaphysical and social construct. (Men do not need women's permission because yang acts, yin accepts action or because men has authority granted to hem by society.) Worldviews are an important component of context and understanding context, I have argued, is the name of the game in terms of interpreting things correctly.
Values are important to us since they shape the expectations and possibilities of a romance. "If you love someone you should put them first" is more acceptable as a definition of love than "If you love someone you should have them do a lot for you, you will feel good." Other examples: "A woman who commits adultery should be stoned." "If a man makes a promise it should be kept." "If I have said yes to a marriage proposal your made to me I don't expect to hear later that you've changed your mind." These are all values that offer courses of action, leverage when wronged, expectations that help predict your partner's behavior, etc.