Be It in the Theatre

The first time I ever saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show in a theatre, I was fifteen years old.  I had watched it on television on Halloween with my family (Thanks, gay uncles!) and just HAD to see it live.  I was hooked.  My bad-influence friend (We all have one, right?) and I put on shoplifted negligees, fishnet stockings, strappy high heels, and heavy makeup, and teetered over to the theatre with her stepfather, who agreed to walk us there to assure the staff that we had parental permission to see the film.

Not that we needed it.  As soon as we hopped into line, the guy playing Eddie sauntered over to us, looked down, and said, “Hey.  You girls virgins?”  “Nope,” we staunchly replied, not wanting to have to participate in the virgin contests that we’d heard about.  We wanted to seem cool. Yeah, sure, we’ve done this before.  No bigs.  Her stepfather almost had a heart attack, which sent us into fits of giggles as we tried to explain to him that Eddie had meant Rocky Horror virgins, not actual virgins.

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As soon as we walked into the magnificent and ornate theatre where the movie was being shown, I felt my heart leap into my chest.  Home, my head said, over and over, and my heart repeated it.  Home.  I’m home.  So many people were walking around the theatre, hugging each other, making tasteless jokes and sexual innuendos, laughing hysterically.  Some people were dressed like the characters, some dressed up in leather and lace, and some folks were just there in jeans and sneakers.  Everyone seemed to fit in – no matter who they were or what they looked like, everyone fit, like a quilt.  I knew it right away: these people were my people.  The first time you find home is electrifying: you can feel all your nerves light up, connecting you to the people and the space around you, and you’re floating and so grounded all at once.

At fifteen, I don’t think I understood every audience participation line and joke that was made that night, but I got most of them, and the next time I went back, I yelled as many as I could remember.  I found audience participation scripts; I joined fan clubs and discussion groups, ecstatic that there were other people who loved dark and bawdy humor as much as I did.  I started going as often as my parents would let me, eventually going almost every weekend.  I participated in born-again virgin contests (Great concept, no?) and costume contests and amateur night.  I got to know some of the cast members, who treated me like a little sister.

The guy who played Frank-N-Furter is forever burned into my brain as the first adult I ever felt pure, unadulterated lust for.  He was all swagger.  There was sizzle in his smile, and he prowled when he walked.  He owned that role and looked So. Fucking. Hot. in that leather jacket and corset I almost couldn’t contain myself.  I ogled him week after week, fantasized about him at night, probably wrote in my diary about how badly I wanted him.

It came as quite a shock when years later at an anniversary show – years after I’d last seen him – he walked up behind me, tapped me with a riding crop, and drawled, “Well – look who’s all grown up.”  I think I faintly squeaked, “You remember me?!” Yes, he assured me – he did.  As an adult looking back now, I think it’s likely he got teased by other cast members for having a teenage fangirl.  I thought my staring was happening on the sly – we always do – and it never is.

I joined a cast in university, then another, before dropping it once I became old enough to go to pubs on Saturday nights.  Rocky Horror and the people I met there helped shape who I am more than I can ever know, I imagine.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the end of the film – the song “I’m Going Home” – and how touching and earnest a song it is in the middle this weird, sexual sci-fi and horror parody.  I am going home soon – and for me, part of going home is going back to that theatre and that movie and being thankful that I had a space as a young person where I could embrace and relish being exactly who I was.

As there’s quite an overlap between sex geeks and RHPS fans (and Pagans and Trekkies and Ren Faire people and kinky people…), I know some of you have Rocky Horror memories, too; what was your first experience with it?

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‘Tis the Season…

…for some corrupt-ass shit.

The English department secretary at my school sent me the following email hours before I hopped on a plane to come home for Christmas:

Dear Jo,

You have special sport students in some of your classes. I’m writing to let you know how to grade for those students.
 I attached the excel sheet showing the list of sport students. 

They will get a pass according to the score and rank which they win at the sport contest. Therefore, (name of my university) wants you to give the designated letter grades by which I mean you should give them a pass.

Please contact me if you have questions.
I teach once-a-week, pass / fail conversation classes; the cutoff point for passing is 60%. Basically, if the students show up most of the time, participate, and pass the exams, they pass the class.  In the list of twenty or so students that was sent to me, only one actually passed my class.  There were others who only showed up for the exams just to fail them, some who came once in a while without a textbook and then sat in the back on their cell phones the whole time, and some who never showed up to a single class or exam.  

Our university’s policy is that when it comes to student athletes, their class scores for all of their classes are based on how well they do in their sport.  If they’re athletic rock stars — say, in tae kwon do or baseball — they never have to go to a single class and can still get an A in all of them.  

This is not unique to my university; it’s common practice in private universities all over Korea.  I know shit like this happens in the US as well, but it’s shocking to see it so out in the open.  Maybe it’s better that way… at least there’s no pretense.

I always wonder what our student athletes do after university… do they go on to national competitions?  Then what? Do they coach?  What if they get injured?  Changing careers is relatively easy in the US, but extremely rare in Korea.  Students don’t even change majors in Korea. So if athletes just stop learning the same skills and knowledge their peers are learning at age 15, what happens when they need it?

Do Not Be Alarmed

I started a new university job this week; as a new teacher, I got a “Welcome to X University / Here Are Our Official Policies” handout last week at the new teacher meeting.  Imagine my shock and dismay upon reading the following paragraph (copied here verbatim):

“It should be pointed out that students in the sports department have a special system of grading.  This means that students with athletic scholarships are given academic scores based on their performance in that particular sport.  These students can often be absent from class, late and apathetic to appropriate academic behavior.  Simply put, their effort in class does not matter if they place high in their respective competition.  This being the case, it is essential that you identify these students at the beginning of the semester,  However, do not be alarmed.  Take each individual case in stride.”

I don’t know — I mean, I consider the fact that my university took the time to include in writing in an official university document that student athletes can sleep through class or not even bother to show up, and we’re still supposed to pass them PRETTY FUCKING ALARMING.  I’m sure college professors (for sure high school teachers) in the US are pressured to pass athletes (or, in the case of New Orleans, musicians) no matter their academic performance, but at least they have some means to fight back against it.

New KTO (Korean Tourism Organization) slogan:

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Korea!  We have the cojones to own up to corruption. 

The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy

A friend recommended Donna Freitas‘s The End of Sex to me months ago; at the time, I remember feeling skeptical, thinking that it was going to be a pulpit piece (especially given that the author received her Ph.D. in religious studies from Catholic University) about how sex is ruining college students’ lives.  
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I was sort of right. 

Not in the way I expected, though.  I expected the book to be pro-abstinence; instead, it turned out to be pro-critical conversation and agency.  The End of Sex contains a strong critique of hookup culture as a ubiquitous force that places specific normative markers on the sex lives of university students in the United States; it argues that this culture is so dominant that students feel socially coerced into getting drunk and have meaningless (and uncaring) sex on the weekends, then gossiping and / or bragging about it.  She says that students feel pressured to engage in hookup culture because they don’t have other relationship or sexuality models to fall back on, and that there are social repercussions for not participating or criticizing it. 

For the purposes of this book, Freitas went to seven universities (both religious and secular, public and private) and conducted online surveys and in-person interviews, and had a selection of students maintain journals detailing their relationships.  She touches on the history of hookup culture and spends a chapter defining it: who is involved, what it means, and where / why / how it takes place.  There’s a chapter on the role of alcohol in casual sex and chapters on social expectations of young women and men in terms of sexual identity and gender roles: young women are expected to express their sexuality via acting as an object of men’s desires, while young men are expected to aggressively seek out sex and encouraged to disconnect from their emotions when it comes to sexuality.  She talks extensively about theme parties on college campuses and how these parties promote and perpetuate sexual roles and identities.  The last three chapters of the book are focused on ways to opt out of the hookup culture — namely, virginity pledges, abstinence, and dating.   

The chapter I found most fascinating was the dating chapter; most students that Freitas interviewed said that they had never been on a date; that furthermore, they didn’t even know how to ask someone out.  Students said that for them, dating came post-hookup, if at all.  That they desperately wanted to go out on dates, but didn’t.  Freitas talks at length about a professor at Boston College, Kerry Cronin, who gave her seminar students the assignment of going out on a date (read more about it here).  The students used the class as a justification to ask someone out — as in, “Hey, I have this assignment where I have to go on a date, so, uh, you wanna go out sometime?” — because they didn’t know how to just SAY to someone, “Hey, I like you.  Want to get a cup of coffee?”  There seems to be a strong disconnect between what young people want (or what they’re told to want vis a vis romantic comedies and television shows) and their lived behaviors.   

Of course, the book made me reflect a lot on my college experiences; I definitely didn’t go on dates in university — but I would have loved to.  I never felt pressure to hook up like the students in Freitas’s book say they do, but I did hook up – a lot.  All of my relationships in university started after I’d already had sex with my partners. 

Not to say that Freitas is condemning this practice; rather, she’s encouraging an open dialogue on college campuses about what good sex is and why we engage in the sexual practices, attitudes, and behaviors that we do.  About who we are sexually and what we want from relationships.  She says that university faculty and staff “should be opening up young adults to a broad conversation about the many possible goods of sex and empowering them to ask about its meaning” (p. 11); that students need to be given space for personal reflection and a chance to discuss hooking up as just “one option among many for navigating sexuality and relationship[s]” (p. 186).As a university teacher, I think this is an outstanding idea.  To me, the greatest strength of this book lies in the conclusion, wherein Freitas makes a call to action to folks who work at universities to open a discussion about sexuality, romance, and relationships in their classrooms, on panels, in special programs and lectures, and in freshman orientation.  So often in university, students are taught to analyze and deconstruct theories, but never given the opportunity to discuss real-life applications of theories.  Students should have a space in which they can talk about desire, pleasure, connection, and intimacy — not just the possible negative outcomes of sex, which is what most college campuses focus on.  She makes a very powerful argument at the end of the book that discussions of the personal enhance academic discourse and that conversations about how best to navigate our lived experiences is empowering.          All this being said: I still hook up, and I love it.  When I’m really into someone, I absolutely want romance, intimacy, and connection, and dates where we talk for hours on end are wonderful.  But there’s also something special about getting a text message that says, “I’m going to pop in before meeting my friends on Saturday just so I can taste you.”  Whew.      

It’s important that there’s room for all kinds of sexual connection in our lives. 
    

The Curve

I teach conversation classes to third and fourth year English majors.  They easily have the highest-level English skills of all of the students at my school; they’re engaged, funny, and really dedicated to being the best students they can be and advocating for their own education.  They actually come to my office hours just to chat!  This is why it is so heartbreaking that I’m giving a C+ to students who earned a 90% in my class and a B+ to students who earned a 96%.  The difference between an A and a B student in one of my classes was that one of them came to class late once.   

Most university classes in South Korea are graded on a curve; at my university, only 30% of the students can receive an A — no matter how successful they are or how hard they’ve worked.  They could all bust their asses, come to every class, practice presentations until they’re blue in the face, and still only nine of thirty-two can get an A.  Another 30% must receive a C or lower — for some reason, the computer grading system has decided that although the percentage is the same, nine students can get an A, but ten students must receive a C.

This won’t stop after university.  Most jobs in South Korea have mandatory professional development and evaluations in place that rank employees; raises are partially based on these rankings.  This system of hyper-competition has real life consequences.  If a student has less than a B average at my university, he or she is unable to participate in special programs, like our English intensive course or study abroad.  This means that students are effectively being punished for actually earning As that we’re taking back from them. 

There are those who praise the education system in South Korea for forcing students into high achievement tunnel vision simply because it affects student test scores; however, this model of education is deflating and destructive.  It lowers student and teacher morale. 

The school computers won’t allow grades to be submitted if there is a higher percentage of A grades or B grades than is supposed to be there, and the way we enter grades is by typing in number scores from student work.  What this means is that we have to purposefully enter egregious numbers to lower our students’ scores.  This is not just a practice at my university, but at most private universities in the country.

I’m at a loss for how this is supposed to a good thing in any way for anyone.

UPDATE!  I teach one class that was promoted throughout the department as not having a curve, which is part of the reason students sign up for it; it’s a multi-course program that all of the foreign instructors are part of.  We graded fairly and told the students their grades last week.  Today we got an email telling us that actually, the academic affairs office has decided that only 40% of the students in that class can receive an A… which means that students who think they’re getting an A+ will really be receiving a B.  Way to go, Terrible U! 

It was a Pong Night…

oh god why.

I was watching my students play beer pong last night* and I thought, “Heck, yes – this is what college is supposed to be like.”  They were totally different people from the kids I see in my classroom (the ones who are always working furiously, high-strung, and hypersensitive about a tenth of a point difference between their score and their friend’s score).  They were relaxed, confident, and happy.  They let go and just got to be university students. 

I remember some of my uni professors very well; I even remember a few assignments.  But when I think about my time in college, I don’t think about either of those things.  I think about all the hours I spent in a dingy, dark, smoke-filled basement dive bar, playing bumper pool and listening to rock music on the jukebox.  Or watching my buddies bowl on Sunday nights in the same basement bar, keeping score on a piece of paper while doing homework and seeing if anyone could get a shot shot (7-10 split; everyone buys a shot for the person who makes it).  Or going to house parties of people I didn’t even know, carrying a six-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade (it makes me cringe now, too) with me.  They were the best and the worst years of my life.

Students in South Korea carry a heavy load.  At my last university job, the students all had to take twelve classes a semester.  So it was nice to see the most sweet, quiet student squeal joyfully upon landing a ping pong ball in her opponent’s cup, yelling at them to drink it all after giving her partner a high five, then doubling over in laughter, her deer-like eyes twinkling. 

We remember events in flashes and moments, and that was a moment worth remembering.   

*In South Korea, it is not only welcomed by school admin for staff to spend time with students outside of school, but encouraged!  What a difference from the States (where my principal once told me I was not allowed to give my swimmers a ride home after swim practice because of liability).