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Author Topic: Mature content or the "it makes me feel uncomfortable" thingy  (Read 32925 times)
amador
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« on: May 08, 2008, 2:19:48 am »

I have to confess a student caught me off guard when he told me he declined to come to class for a couple of sessions when we were supposed to be watching clips of films that feature female nudity.  The guy confessed me that he had never watched a R-rated movie.  I got him an alternative film, not as good as the ones I was showing.

I say he caught me off-guard because, had I had the chance to think it over, I would have told him "look, it's not because of the nudity that I'm showing it to you, it's because in film A that sex scene is a metaphor for blah blah blah, and in film B there's a scene of male-to-female violence that has a lot of psychological depth and I want you to discuss blah blah blah".  Maybe it's because I feel sometimes intimidated by people from the religious right, I yielded, but I think I'm tired.

I'm tired of having to justify myself to ADULTS for showing them material that in most Western countries is deemed appropriate for 13 year olds or younger.  I'm tired of hearing "this makes me feel uncomfortable":  I am a different person than I was 12 years ago when I began my higher ed, I had to grow, I had to challenge assumptions, and, yes, this involved a lot of discomfort and pain.  I'm tired of being a pushover to people (generally Christians and conservatives) that I know do not have with others one bit of the tolerance they constantly demand for themselves.  I'm tired of wasting hours looking for "alternative" material for the WWJD crowd that do not even mind sending a thank you note for having gone out of my way for their sake.  I'm tired of people yawping about this being such a free country while they constantly try to impose their views and needs to others just because "this is a state college, and I pay taxes, too".

As of next year, I will explain to students from the first class that unless someone shows me something in writing in their Book or a note by their spiritual director explicitly stating that s/he cannot see human nudity, that person will have to see the material that the whole class sees.  I'll try to explain to them as politely as possible that a certain painting or movie goes a long way further than "it has naked men/women in it".


PS:  Yeah, I live in a Republican county full of hooters and strip clubs.

PS2:  This time of the semester, I think i need a vacation.
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ufo_tofu
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« Reply #1 on: May 08, 2008, 2:28:58 am »

I started putting a disclaimer on my film syllabi along the lines of "we will be watching a variety of films and film clips, some of which may include violence, nudity, sexual situations, and other such adult materials.  If you don't want to watch such things, this is not the class for you."  I'm not going to limit myself to PG films in a college film class.  Of course, I don't go out of my way to find objectional material - I dislike watching sexy stuff with my students even more than I dislike watching sexy stuff with my parents.  Yick.
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Wash: Don't know. I'm starting to like this poetry thing. "Here lies my beloved Zoe, my autumn flower… somewhat less attractive now that she's all corpsified and gross-" [Zoe hits him with a pillow]
the_myth
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« Reply #2 on: May 08, 2008, 2:37:25 am »

I think your agenda for next year is good.

Forewarned is fore-withdrawn from class!

I also had "issues" like this.  I was teaching an advertising-related topic and showed the class an ad featuring a shirtless man with a bottle covering his penis.  It's a famously controversial ad in Denmark that I found both hysterical and rather apt in how this technique is used in contemporary advertising [like David Beckham in the recent underwear ad, with his prominent yet covered penis].

Well, about 25% of the class was stunned into silence.  And all the homophobic males in class got *very* uncomfortable and later accused me of promoting homosexuality in class [although I'm still not sure what sort of crime that was, but, well, you know...]. 

There was no nudity beyond what can be seen on any beach, on MTV, or on any soap opera. Oh, but did a bunch of them find it objectionable!  I mean, how dare *I*, the instructor, show them, supposed adults, a famous ad with NUDITY!  *gasp*  *swoon*  *faint*

A bulk of these students want to go into advertising after graduation.  I hope they don't get any accounts for anything in the fitness, resort, fashion, or alcohol businesses...
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immigrant
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« Reply #3 on: May 08, 2008, 2:55:26 am »

This kind of conversation makes me feel awkward because I guess I'm on both sides of things. On the one hand, as an instructor I know that the best clip to make a point might contain profanity or violence (so far I've not needed to use a clip that contains nudity, though I've thought about using scenes from American Beauty that do).

On the other hand, my religious orientation makes me sympathetic to those who take their faith seriously and feel it is inappropriate for them to view such materials. My take on this is that it's not my place to judge whether the person is a hypocrite - maybe they do go to wing night at Hooters each week, but that's not in my hands. All I can do is try to be respectful of their beliefs (and I think Christian students can legitimately point to Christ's words about lust equalling adultery as the foundation of this particular belief).

I realize this might cause a flame-war, but I honestly wonder if responses would be difficult if it was a member of a non-Christian religious community who expressed discomfort. Maybe not, but I know that even as a practicing Christian, I would be tempted to be more conscious of, say, showing scenes from Apocalypse Now to Hindus (e.g., the cow sacrifice scene) than I would be of showing scenes that could be offensive to those with whom I share a similar faith.

I use a lot of short clips but not many full movies. With the way I use clips it's easy enough to issue a disclaimer and offer people the chance to leave for a couple of minutes. Even with a full-length movie, it would be pretty straightforward to say something like "if nudity offends you, there are clips with nudity at 23 mins and 47 mins - you may step outside for a couple of minutes at these times if you do it nondisruptively". I think the "I don't watch R rated movies" line is silly (especially given the capriciousness of the MPAA system) and is tough to defend from a faith-perspective, but I have some sympathy with those who feel that watching a specific type of scene violates a tenet of their belief system.
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magistra
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discolor unde auri per ramos aura refulsit.


« Reply #4 on: May 08, 2008, 3:10:04 am »

For me it's not a religious thing, but a feminist one.  I hate hate hate that it's fine to show a woman nude -- breasts are fair game in an R movie -- but not a man.  It's done routinely, too, as part of the "woman as sex object" ethos in Hollywood, which seems to have no clue still as to how actual women behave.

Of course I don't know what films you've shown or how you've framed them, but it jumped out at me that both scenes were described as showing female nudity, and one apparently depicts a rape scene.  I hope you're extremely careful in how you present and discuss them, because frankly, I wouldn't want to watch that either.  Yeah, I know, it's pedagogically viable, it's part of our culture, but I still don't want those images in my head.  And do you really mean to say that watching sexual violence is appropriate for "13 year olds or younger"?
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First it was Wolfram and Hart, now it's Blackboard.  There's not much moral difference, if you ask me. -- Malcha

Grammar is the chocolate in the buttery croissant of life.  -- Yellowtractor

Okay, so that was petty.  Today, I feel like embracing pettiness.  -- Mended Drum
zharkov
or, the modern Prometheus.
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« Reply #5 on: May 08, 2008, 8:02:13 am »


Part of education is about being uncomfortable, at least now and then.

If all we do is reinforce existing ideas, how is that education?

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__________
Zharkov's Razor:
Adapting Zharkov a bit to this situation, ignorance and confusion can explain a lot.
carebearstare
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« Reply #6 on: May 08, 2008, 8:36:41 am »

I'm on the fence about this one too, for a few reasons. First, I agree with previous posters about my own discomfort--I teach in a bastion of liberalism in the bluest of blue states, and I still try not to show any nudity  in my classes because it just makes me feel icky. Worse than watching it with your parents, indeed.

Secondly, I have family members who come from extremely religious backgrounds, and it's can truly be a radical paradigm shift that is so far afield as to be psychologically disturbing. For instance, you might be talking about a student who has never seen a member of the opposite sex in something more revealing than long shorts and a long shirt, much less nude. They might come from a home where cable TV is banned and R movies are disallowed. I agree that perhaps these students should be more judicious about choosing their classes and even their places of education. But I don't think it does any good to just write them off and stereotype them, either--we all might have a students like this from time to time.

Education requires being uncomfortable sometimes, I agree, but we all have moral boundaries we wouldn't cross, either. It seems like as educators, we also need to figure out how to juggle these diverse perspectives, which is something that is not easy.
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Well, some posters were being naughty here.
anthroid
hyperdiffusionist wackaloonery!
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No happy socks because nobody gets Manitoba.


« Reply #7 on: May 08, 2008, 9:08:24 am »

I teach cultural anthropology and show films with nudity on a regular basis.  But it isn't Hollywood nudity, it's everyday nudity as practiced, without comment, by millions of the earth's inhabitants.  If students are embarrassed by what so many other societies find to be commonplace, well, so be it.  The point of cultural anthropology, in part, is to demonstrate that American, or western, cultural understandings about (among many other things) breasts, vaginas, penises, and butts are not universally shared, and that there is value to understanding other ways of life, other cultures.

I warn students on the first day of class that we will be discussing human behavior in ways they probably never have before, and that there is nothing that we won't discuss, including sex, defecation, urination, female genital mutilation, adolescent male circumsicion, child sexuality, etc., etc., etc.  I don't get the "I'm uncomfortable" response as a result. 

I suggest that OP make it clear on the first day of class, and students can drop if they wish.  I don't agree that leaving during the nekkid parts is reasonable.  Either the student is in the class or she isn't.
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jrscholar
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« Reply #8 on: May 08, 2008, 9:23:30 am »

I have a friend at a red state school who told me he got one comment from a student calling him a perv (or something similar) just because he brought in quite a bit about the history of sexuality into his lectures, so it's possible some students might be offended by any level of discussion of sexuality.  I've never had a problem, but that's perhaps because of the schools where I've taught.  But then again, I've never had film with nudity in it.

I guess I am a little troubled with the ease with which students will talk about violence (at least in general terms) without flinching.  For this reason, I am careful with the sorts of images that convey violence (I'm thinking of lynching photos in my own classes) so that I don't use them simply to be gratuitous and so that they will not bring their Hollywood-framed sensibilities to it.  (The MPAA is notorious for allowing all sorts of violence in PG-13, but not nudity.)  I still remember my horror at having to carry around Fitzhugh Brundage's Lynching in the New South outside the confines of the classroom.  http://www.amazon.com/Lynching-New-South-Virginia-1880-1930/dp/0252063457
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crowie
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« Reply #9 on: May 08, 2008, 9:30:08 am »

If a student told me he/she had been raped and didn't want to watch a scene involving rape I would respect that.  And I don't know if I would then say, well, I guess you shouldn't be taking this class if you can't cope with being 'uncomfortable' (although I might ask them about whether they thought it was wise to continue in the course, but for their sake rather than for preserving the sanctity of my syllabus).  I have more sympathy with making an accommodation for a student in that situation than students who draw on a moral code to ask for similar accommodations.  I guess it's because I see one as more justifiably derived from experience (ie. the student was actually a victim of sexual violence and may be re-traumatized by viewing such a scene).  Not sure if this distinction I make in my mind is justified, but it is there.
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yellowtractor
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« Reply #10 on: May 08, 2008, 10:13:33 am »

I teach courses with adult content across the humanities, so this comes up fairly regularly.  I have a disclaimer in my syllabi that is almost exactly UFO_Tofu's, and I verbally emphasize the contract represented by the syllabus on the first day of class.

I teach courses about adults being human.  This means lots of sex and death, yes.

Being forthright about this has stemmed the tide of complaints considerably.  Two years ago I had one student who came to me privately, along the lines Crowie describes, and asked for an alternate assignment on a given week, noting that she understood the terms of the syllabus and that if I was unable to accommodate her she would either try to move forward with the reading or else take the grade penalty without further ado.  I was impressed by her maturity, and together we came up with an alternative assignment, at which she excelled.

Caveat:  as we were discussing on another board here recently, and as Magistra emphasizes, how you frame such an assignment, and such a conversation, matters quite a bit, whether or not students are forewarned.  It takes some practice, but it's worth it.
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It is, of course, possible that what I remember as terror was only a love too great to bear.
chomp96
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« Reply #11 on: May 08, 2008, 10:30:53 am »

As pointed out, I think that the key is to be up-front about the potentially objectionable material in the syllabus or on the first day of class.  Provided that the course is not a required one with no alternative, this should be sufficient to head off any issues.

That being said, I wonder if the reaction of some faculty members might be different if the student objecting was a Muslim from an Islamic nation, instead of an American-born Christian.  My guess is that there might be more leeway given, as our culture contains so much of a weak, insincere Christianity that we sometimes forget that some Americans take their Christianity as seriously as most Arabs do with Islam.
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claragold
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« Reply #12 on: May 08, 2008, 10:33:35 am »

I once was in a class where the prof showed a comedy film where these two guys groped a ditzy woman, prof showed movie as being very clever and amusing, and when I complained to the prof that this was an incredibly sexist movie, emphasizing sexual objectification of the most extreme kind, my complaints fell on deaf ears, since said prof could not even grasp the concept of sexual objectification, much less criticize it.

He (left-wing politically) thought himself very clever in showing such movies, because they had other political messages which the left adores. And to top off the disgrace, he, to this day, proudly labels himself a "feminist" (in part, because he supports that women should run as political candidates - something he considers very evolved regarding his own personal evaluation, along with the "f" label he likes to laurel his head with).

What I usually see regarding people who want to impose offensive, crude, vulgar material (specially film) onto others is various combinations of problematic values, attitudes, disrespect, and an overall degenerate mindset. Aside from absolute cluelessness.

I am totally against such an imposition, but not the discussion of the issues themselves that cause people to interpret and sustain different values and viewpoints regarding anything sexual, gender issues, etc. Talking about why a man exposing himself is a crime is different than the prof taking off his clothes in class to demonstrate it. I think if a prof can't grasp the many, many problems that are inherent to nudity in a culture such as ours, they are unfit to deal with anything nude in their classes. And there is no question that anything visual (actual or produced) is very graphic, and usually more problematic than text. Although text can have intense graphic levels too. But there are so many subtleties that can change the nature of what is communicated when a prof discusses such complicated topics.

As to the poster who commented that there is nothing wrong with anything that is comparable to what's on MTV, I'm so tired of having the cultural bar drop lower and lower and be dictated by the lower rung of denominators. I think the duty and the objective of education is exactly to enable students to develop a solid rejection of the junk that is on MTV, and demand that they be able to elaborate an elegant and intelligent reasoning for it.


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Yes, indeed!
anthroid
hyperdiffusionist wackaloonery!
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No happy socks because nobody gets Manitoba.


« Reply #13 on: May 08, 2008, 10:36:56 am »

As pointed out, I think that the key is to be up-front about the potentially objectionable material in the syllabus or on the first day of class.  Provided that the course is not a required one with no alternative, this should be sufficient to head off any issues.

That being said, I wonder if the reaction of some faculty members might be different if the student objecting was a Muslim from an Islamic nation, instead of an American-born Christian.  My guess is that there might be more leeway given, as our culture contains so much of a weak, insincere Christianity that we sometimes forget that some Americans take their Christianity as seriously as most Arabs do with Islam.

Perhaps, though not in my classroom.  I offer the caveat to all students, whether Christian, Muslim, or, frankly, pagan (of which I get many...they think that their belief system will be celebrated in my Anthro of Religion class...they are often as disappointed as the monotheists in the room).
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finallyfullprof
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« Reply #14 on: May 08, 2008, 10:38:01 am »

Part of the problem is that "uncomfortable" has become a code word for "anything I might disagree with or be outside my tradition." In freshman comp, I have students read an excerpt from the Koran that has a counterpart in the Jewish and Christian bibles.  (It's the story of Joseph.) I have actually had students refuse to read it because it is from a Muslim book of faith, and they use the "uncomfortable" or "against my beliefs" argument as well. So far I have had no one complain to my chairperson even though I have not granted any exemptions from the assignment.
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