As an instructor of English I have to make reading and writing interesting to students who often consider the internet and its many social networks the epitome of literature, needless to say, much more interesting.
A bit of creativity, and adapting my lesson plans to the world of these students is as important as understanding the meanings of words and concepts such as preterit, subjunctive, subjective, syntax, colloquialisms, first person, second person, or third person perfect tenses, and then hurriedly moving from the theoretical to the practical. The theoretical has its place, but not as a method to get non English major students to put away their smart phones, or prop their eyes open and pay attention to in-class lectures.
I came across a news story about a Tweet on the Twitter network which I thought might stimulate the prankster in them as well as offer an amusing method of becoming literary nuisances.
The original Tweet was from someone associated at the ClemsonTigerNet. It announced the sad death of William “The Refrigerator” Perry, a football player who had played his college football at Clemson University.
(William Perry, for those who couldn’t care less, became famous in the 1980s, a first-round draft pick by the Chicago Bears professional football team in 1985. During his rookies season, the reportedly deceased footballer helped the Bears to a Super Bowl win. Perry was a 350-pound defensive lineman, but was occasionally used in the backfield as a blocker for running backs, and even scored a touchdown once. An unusual player, on a team of many unusual characters…a minor celebrity of the time).
A response was quickly issued by Adam Plotkin, Perry’s agent, insisting, “William ‘Refrigerator’ Perry is alive and fine. (The italics are mine…I just thought it amusing Plotkin didn’t use the usual “…alive and well…” wording. But, I guess fine is better than dead, though most of us would rather be well). I presented this to my students, and brought them up to speed on who Perry was. Then, in the finest Trojan Horse tradition, I introduced my literary angle…Jonathan Swift. And I couldn’t think of a better literary figure to associate with Perry’s death hoax.
Swift died on October 19, 1745…for real. Being the satirical giant he was, Swift wrote in his last will and testament that he wished to leave funds to establish a hospital for “Idiots and Lunaticks” in Dublin, Ireland, because, “No nation needed it so much.” Hoping to instill a sense of just how much fun they could have with social media, using the example of Swift, I then gave them a bit of background on one of England‘s most amusing death hoaxes.
Swift held “almanackers” and other predictors of future events in great disdain. A fellow named John Partridge was one he disdained the more than any other. Swift – taking on the pen name Bickerstaff, and presenting himself as an astrologer, issued several absurd predictions, the most unnerving, a prediction in a pamphlet distributed around London that Partridge would die at 11 p.m. on April 1st, April Fool’s Day. A pamphlet entitled The Accomplishments of the First of Mr. Bickerstaff’s Predictions soon followed, declaring Bickerstaff’s prediction had come true, also noting an error on his part, announcing Partridge’s death occurring at 7:05, four hours different than Bickerstaff’s original claim…a nice touch, I thought. This created the minor uproar Swift intended.
Partridge – very much alive, and a bit outraged at the gall of his nemesis, Swift, was awakened by a sexton outside his window who wanted to know if there were any orders for his funeral sermon. Condolences, floral arrangements, and well wishes for the bereaved family were offered by friends, family, and Partridge’s loyal audience. As Partridge walked down the street several people he knew stared at him, some telling him to inform him how much he resembled a recently deceased acquaintance.
Partridge immediately started a pamphlet-based campaign to rectify the situation, insisting that he was alive and accusing Bickerstaff as a fraud. Bickerstaff countered in a pamphlet of his own that Partridge was obviously dead, since the response was more poorly executed than Partridge’s best written work. This went on for some time, amusing many Londoners, especially when Bickerstaff (Swift) noted that Partridge’s own wife had admitted that her husband had “…neither life nor soul…”
Now this is the kind of stuff that makes literature come alive to young learners…English can be fun…it can be a sarcastic tool to annoy friends, relatives, enemies, and the public in general. I am waiting to see if there will be any announcements in my small sea-side town of my untimely demise, or if I’ll have to start fielding complaints from parents about their children using the internet in what might be considered an abusive, embarrassing, or bothersome manner by responsible progenitors.
Yes…I wait, with the shadow of a pink slip announcing my imminent release from my teaching duties. It’s near unbearable…and I have a hard time with unbearable.
Truly, the possibilities of plotting these sorts of hoaxes are limitless. How much fun can one have with a lawyer, or a real estate agent, or any honery friend or associate?
I may have created a dozen or so monsters in what was previously a dry, boring investigation of one of the most difficult of subjects to make interesting to students who may have never opened – let alone finished – a single book, yet are so savvy when it comes to the internet and social media.