Last night was the 5th season premier of Game of Thrones. No, don’t worry. This isn’t a recap or review of the show. Nor will there be spoilers. I use this as a reminder as to why we need to keep the study of the Humanities in our classrooms.
Humanities, at least in America, are being pushed aside for more STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) classes .We apparently want our children to learn how to make technological advances, but not ask questions about these advances like, “is this a good thing to do? And, how will it benefit mankind?
The Humanities teaches us critical thinking skills and asks us to search our worldview and ourselves. What does it mean to be human? is a question posed not just by science alone but by the Humanities as well.
A lot of students find these classes boring and whine because they are asked to read and consider the Classics. What they don’t realize is that humanity expresses itself through words, art, drama, architecture, and religious worship. These symbolic gestures form our world. To know what it means to be human is to study and understand these very same symbolic gestures.
Once upon a time (really not that long ago) one of the foundation stones of a college education was acquiring critical thinking skills. This meant that one was not easily swayed by bullshit. A measure of one’s education was knowing when to ask questions and look beyond whatever was being presented. “Does that make sense? Is there more than what meets the eye? How do I know this is true?” Those who mastered these skills were equipped to view the world without the use of cultural and gut-feeling filters. They were able to draw upon their education when faced with symbolic gestures and could easily place them in proper context. Humanities majors made good use of these skills, with many becoming novelists and journalists. These were the people who knew what it meant to be human and could translate world events through storytelling or news reporting.
Today there is a push for specialized fields. My son was a journalist major for three years and never once did he have to take a Humanities course. Rather than focusing on learning why things happen, and then learning to write about it, the focus is on how to get the story out. This is disheartening to me, as the first question should always be, “is this true?”, not, “how do I get my Twitter followers to read my news article?”
We have yet to see the full ramifications of this new breed of journalists, but we are starting to get an idea of how this type of approach can be damning. One has to look no further than the recent Rolling Stone article about a campus rape. The story went viral and caused public outcry as well as damage to the University of Virginia (where the rape allegedly took place). The story started to unravel as more experienced journalists started asking questions. A review into the story led to the conclusion that Rolling Stone failed its readers by not asking the right questions. Most of what the young girl claimed turned out to be false. You can read a great analysis of the review here.
Rolling Stone made a lot of mistakes, and many people are to blame, yet all of them could have been avoided by first, asking one simple question: how do I know this is true?
Another example of this new breed of “journalists” can be found on social media. There is a growing trend of podcasts on YouTube and iTunes that call themselves “After Show wrap ups”. Afterbuzz TV, a very popular collection of these shows says this: “For decades, sports fans have been treated to post-game wrap up shows after watching games. Thanks to AfterBuzz TV, at long last, TV fans can do the same”. What they fail to realize is that sport post-game wrap up shows are hosted by former players and sports journalists who know what in the hell they are talking about. This new breed, not so much.
I like to watch Game of Thrones, but because most of my friends do not I have no one to talk to discuss it with. I decided to download an episode of one of these post-show wrap ups. I thought I would be offered some insight into things that I might have missed as I stared dreamily at Peter Dinklage. What I got instead was a train wreck.
I looked at the bio of the hosts for clues as to their stupidity. I won’t name them, as I do not want to cause them embarrassment. They do this to themselves just by opening their mouths.
Would it surprise you to learn they all claimed to have college degrees? Would it be equally surprising to learn that these are specialized degrees? I doubt one of them took a Humanities course or if they did, slept through it and dreamed about being famous.
It would appear obvious that in order to successfully talk about storytelling, one would have to possess a good understanding of the medium. Since the Game of Thrones is primarily about the human condition, one should have a solid foundation for this too. These hosts do not.
Picture yourself watching a scene in which a very large religious statue is being pulled from atop of a pyramid by an army who had just conquered the city. The statue crashes down in spectacular CGI fashion and breaks a part upon impact. You my dear readers do not need to be told what the breaking of the statue represents. Yet here are the hosts talking about it:
Female Host: “ I don’t get it. Why did they pull the statue down?”
Male Host: “I guess to show them who is in charge?”
WTF? They just watched an army conquer a city and then systemically destroy the religious icons and yet, the female host cannot figure out why. You don’t need a college education to understand the meaning behind this destruction. It’s happening right now in the Middle East, and yet this young woman is clueless. She can no more understand this than she can understand why Daenerys (a young queen with pet dragons) would need Tyrion’s (a politically savvy outcast) help. But sadly, neither do the other hosts. As they talk about this possible alliance one of the hosts says this:
“Well, he has read a lot of books. Maybe Tyrion can teach Daenerys how to train her dragons”. I bet he’s read a book about it”. The hosts then go on to discuss the possibility that this is how Tryion comes to help Daenerys. Not by teaching her the game of politics, but how to keep her dragons from eating innocent people. At this point I turned the podcast off. So much for an insightful discussion. Should have just talked to myself as I watched the show. Okay, I would have a least looked at the cat when commenting.
These hosts could have benefited from a few Humanities courses. They would have learned the fine art of storytelling, what symbolic gestures mean, and how politics, not dragon training, is crucial to nation building.
It would be ideal if STEM were to be changed to STEAM. We need the arts, and by arts I mean the Humanities. For without them we wouldn’t know why we do the things we do. Technology might allow us to build better dragons, but Humanities will have us ask: Do we really need them in the first place? I’ll take the guy who’s read a lot of books over the girl with the out of control pet dragons any day.
5 thoughts on “Post-show wrap ups A case for why we need the Humanities”
Thanks to the internet and social media we are all experts now, aren’t we, Sari? With open access and the apparent democratisation of the ether every voice counts, every opinion matters, regardless of ignorance, banality or prejudice.
I despise those vox pop moments on news programmes where, in the interest of ‘balance’ a random selection of passers-by are asked what they think of a newsworthy item after politicians and experts are given their 15 seconds of punditry.
What’s the point when they are equally in the dark as much as we the viewers? The commonsense view? Too often it’s common nonsense.
By the way, Game of Thrones is broadcast on Sky TV in the UK. Sadly, anything that swells the bloated coffers of the Murdoch Empire I avoid like the plague. Probably my personal loss.
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I had to laugh at your post. The “Man on the Street” segments always get to me. If anything it shows us just how ill-informed the public really is. Scary to contemplate.
I understand about not wanting to support Murdoch. His domain are the”Fox” channels over here. I avoid them at all cost.
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The rise of Facebook political memes that appeal to the gut while ignoring reason and distorting the evidence (or ignoring it completely) are another testament to this problem. And the ones based on fabricated quotations or quotations taken out of context. What I find curious is that even when people find out that a meme is completely false (not just disputable, unclear, or an opinion you can have no matter what the evidence), they still leave them up.
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Oh, don’t get me started on Facebook memes! My biggest pet peeve are the fake news websites designed to do nothing more than incite rage. I thought about this as I wrote my post. I have, on occasion, convinced some of my friends to take down bogus posts But, as you point out, most just keep them up. If everyone would ask, “How do I know this is true?’ the world would be a far better place.
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And there’s a woeful asymmetry involved, too: it takes much less effort to make up a bit of nonsense than it does to disprove it. (sigh)
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