History & Film Revisionism

, Adam Sawyer, Leave a comment

I have an interesting story that I believe you may find interesting. Please let me relay the story as it occurred.

Last week on Wednesday March 9, 2005, I decided to visit a professor of mine because I was having difficulty with the class and what he wanted us to focus on during class discussions and in the readings. I take a course called “History and Film” with him and I found myself reading the book and engaging with
certain points the book because I thought they were important pieces of evidence being introduced. Yet whenever I would come into class, we would rarely discuss what I thought were the main points of the book. So I decided to seek clarification as to what he felt was important.

When I approached the professor after class and told him my problem, he repeatedly told me my problem did not make sense and acted as if I were not intelligent enough to understand the material. I tried to rephrase my problem by telling him I “argued” with the book on certain points of interpretation and factual evidence
because they seemed key. This caused me to overlook the points he wished to discuss. I asked him if he could clarify what I should look for in our book, America on Film: Representing Race, Class, Gender,
and Sexuality at the Movies
by Harry M. Benshoff and Sean Griffin.

I asked him if I could point out specific passages where I became engrossed in the material and caused me to become distracted from what he thought was most important. When I finally did point out passages that
I “argued” with (mostly because I thought their
interpretation was not taking certain factors into consideration or because certain issues were taken out of context), he asked me what my problem was with these passages. I reiterated I did not have a problem with the passages, only that my engagement with them was causing me to miss what he felt was more important.

His response was not to offer tips on what he was
looking for but he did begin calling me unpatriotic for criticizing the text and condescendingly explaining that the interpretation the book’s authors advanced was historical fact and nothing else. When I suggessted that certain factors are lacking from their narrative, he flat out told me that I was wrong and that I was wrong to criticize their interpretation of the text just because of their political view (highly liberal). For reference, I never called into question the bias of their political viewpoints, it was he who accused me of being politically biased when my real goal was merely to show him how I was engaging with the text, but not the material he thought was important.

An example of my “engagement” of the text is the
following: On page 214 of the text the authors are
introducing evidence in favor of the interpretation
that Hollywood reflected American society (which they automatically assumed was white, patriarchal, and capitalist and inferred that it was evil) by pointing to certain themes not allowed in Hollywood films. The quote reads, “Even making these films was a brave gesture, for at the time, any mention or discussion of birth control was considered obscene in the United States…Within a few years (c.1910-20), as the Hollywood industry consolidated itself under male control such issues would be deemed inappropriate and banned from movie screens altogether.”

I told him that I didn’t think the authors were taking
into account all of the factors of that historical
era. I had always thought that at this time,
Protestantism and religion was still a major social
force of most Americans and that further, religion did
not believe in the validity of birth control and
deemed in inappropriate for people to use. I
suggested to him that it may be the influence of
religion on the American people that predisposed them not
to desiring the message of birth control to get
out to repress films such as these, and not white
repression over women. He told me that I was wrong and
I was incorrect to question historical fact. When I
told him I did not deny that these actions occurred but
that I question the interpretation of the authors, he
told me if I had a problem with the class, I could
always drop it.

When I was finally able to get my point across to him
that I did not know exactly what he wanted us to take
away from the book, he offered the condescending
advice “look at the big, bold words.” I thanked him
and left his office and proceeded to write a letter to
the Dean of Undergraduate Studies.

I wanted to inform the Dean I had a problem with a
professor and felt I had been rudely treated. When I
went to our scheduled meeting, he automatically
informed me that he would not hear my complaint but
would refer me back to the department head. When I
told him that the department head was on sabbatical,
he rudely informed me “Oh no they are not.” There was
a temporary department head that no student I know was
ever informed about. When I asked him to consider my
plea, he offered to take down some cursory notes and
tell me he would not do anything about my problem.

I feel that my right of free speech and the right to
have my own interpretation of history (or to even
question the interpretations and factual evidence
others employ) has been severely trampled on. This is
not the first time this has happened to me or the
first professor to offer one interpretation call it
the truth, and not consider other possibilities, but
this is one of the more powerful examples. Other
students have also complained to me about this
professor, John Lund, and other professors.

I think this college, Franklin Pierce College, is a
college worth looking into for they do not only step
on laws applying to free speech and assembly, but it
has also violated many environmental laws and its own
charter. Franklin Pierce is notorious for a flock of
geese that call the campus home. The students try to
be respectful of them and the college includes in its
charter that the geese will not be disturbed.
Nevertheless, several years ago, a college official
attempted to kill all of the geese by planting poison
in a liquid form on several areas of grass where the
geese eat. During a particularly rainy season all of
this poison was washed into our drinking water and has
remained ever since. The college has since spent
extensive amounts of money shocking the water supply
with chlorine and informing the students that trace
amounts of gasoline is present in our water and then
claiming it is natural.

Thank you for hearing my plea. I hope it is of value
to you.

Adam Sawyer is a junior at Franklin Pierce College in Rindge, New Hampshire.