Sunday, August 8, 2010

My Old School

A couple nights ago, as part of my long penitential march through Michael Haneke, I watched Benny's Video, and was reminded of an incident from my high school days.  This is one of those things that, looking back on it, I can hardly believe it actually happened -- that it wasn't just a dream I had.  Like the time I was flipping through channels of German television around Christmas time in 1990, and stumbled across a show titled "King Size Dick singt Weihnachtslieder."  Until I had the internet to back me up, I spent a few years mistrusting my memory -- did that really happen?

Here's what happened: I was in a "U.S. Government"class that every student was required to take in their senior year.  As usual for these classes in which everyone is thrown together haphazardly, the thing had the feel of a gym class -- the buzz of low levels of aggressive annoyance from a bunch of students who really didn't want to be there.  It was taught at a low enough level that anyone could understand the material, which made it tedious for most, and deadly dull for everyone.  The teacher was a recycled Driver's Ed guy who, like us, really didn't care about the material.  What he did care about was showing movies during class, which meant less hassle for all concerned.

The Incident involved a particular one of these films -- a movie on the women's suffrage movement that we were watching one day, which was actually pretty interesting -- lots of original footage.  One of the more colorful (and by "colorful" I mean, inter alia, "bomb-throwing") figures of the movement in the UK was Emily Davison, who was killed by the King's horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913, as she sprung out in front of the racers as part of a suffragette protest.  Her death was captured on film, and was part of the movie we were watching in class.  When we got to the part where she jumped onto the track and was cut down by the horse, the teacher quickly jumped up and stopped the film.  He then turned to the class and said -- "Ok, everybody -- want to see that AGAIN?"  At which the other students all yelled "YEAHHHH!"  So he rewound the film, and once again played the footage of Emily Davison's death -- this time with the class cheering and clapping as she dashed onto the track, was crushed by the horse, and fell, mortally wounded.  I just put my head down on the desk -- all I could muster by way of feeble protest.

I still remember watching it unfold as if in a dream -- as if it never really happened.  I thought of it when my high school class had its 25th reunion last month.

The jockey whose horse killed Emily Davison was "haunted by that woman's face," and committed suicide years later.


von Wenk said...

Haunting. I take it you did not attend the reunion?

mrc said...

No, I did not. This story is a bit misleading (not least because I make myself seem like some sort of pillar of virtue), because I enjoyed much of high school, and had a pack of good friends -- but none of them attended the reunion. It was a class of 500, and the vast majority are working at auto dealerships and 7-11's in my hometown.

The much smaller group I was friends with is scattered across the globe... but that's not the only reason I didn't go. The whole idea of the "high school reunion" feels abhorrent, and not just because it's a cliché. I wouldn't mind seeing my friends again, but the thought of nonironically reliving the early 80's feels -- I don't know, like trying to relive kindergarten by getting down on the floor in a big group, drinking Juicy Juice, and playing with Weebles [] -- at age 43. Not just boring or irrelevant, but off-puttingly regressive.

(Though I used to say that I would go if we got Leslie Hall to do the music -- she is actually from my home region, and kind of captures that area brilliantly...)

Mr. C. said...

Quite right, but not really too misleading because the "pillar of virtue" moment just means that you had already moved beyond pedagogy at a level hoped for in the lesson plan. I wonder if your teacher might not have secretly anticipated a moment like that, all while pandering to the basest nods of approval from the crowd? I guess I tend to side with teachers in such scenarios.

In any case, don't punish yourself with MH for the wrong reasons. (If there are wrong reasons for watching his stuff!) And you do know how to end on a quirky ironic note, nicht wahr? It's what the format seems to demand...

mrc said...

I would love to think that the teacher had been hoping for such a response! I've always interpreted that episode as a glimpse into the dark heart of "fuck yeah" America; but reenvisioning it with nuance and strategically muted sympathy is certainly a stronger reading: much more interesting to think about.

Unfortunately, I had a couple run-ins with teachers at Rocky High that left me feeling less than generous -- I could devote an entire separate post to The Time Mrs. W. Tried to Kick Me Out of High School For Refusing to Memorize the Seven M's of Capitalism (when she brought in a businessman with these ridiculous worksheets we were supposed to fill out lauding the Virtues of Entrepreneurship, and talking about how horrible unions were, I refused to take part, and sat reading Dante instead of paying attention in class). Another well-conceived teen-age rebellion!

On the other hand, I had some amazing, brilliant teachers that I idolized -- I convinced my gf at the time to name her rat Arthur, after my Shakespeare teacher, and you can hardly get more fan-girlish than that.


p.s. -- no worries re MH -- I'm far too pleasure-seeking to watch anything I don't like. I suppose I'm continually distancing myself from my enjoyment of his work because ... it's a difficult pleasure, as you know better than I...

p.p.s. -- just literally LOLed at yr alias, which it took me a few seconds to get...