I just finalized working on a very cool project, an educational resource on American television drama (in Norwegian) for high school students in Norway, commissioned by Film&Kino, featuring a brief television history and the analysis of Grey’s Anatomy, The West Wing, The Sopranos and True Blood.
I’m fascinated by televisions grittiness: lack of artistic status and unavoidable link to reality. Actors get pregnant or die, affecting storylines. Terrorist attacks or tsunamis affect our interpretation of drama that seems both to foresee and comment on the times we live in.
So this prosject was a lot of fun, as the four series chosen certainly reflect the decade they were created in. Quality television and drama series relation to reality were the topics for my master thesis back in 1998 and I certainly savoured the chance to get back to the topic. After all, I finished writing that paper at the same time that HBO really got great drama off the ground, later followed by Showtime, AMC and several more Network shows.
It was also fulfilling to get to do educational material on great tv-drama, as I’ve worked with film education over the years, yearning for that chance to talk about intricate storytelling and character building of a story told spanning seven years, reflecting ones personal development and history in general.
And that’s exactly when – and why – it got incredibly difficult.
It’s really not easy to analyze seven seasons of The West Wing (we’re talking 110 hours of television for this show only) in a way that gives students the impression of the depth of analysis and the cultural impact of the drama that voiced Bush-rage and saw Obama coming. Especially when you can’t take for granted that the characters are known. Or George Bush. Or 9/11. After all, in 2001, a regular Norwegian high school student was seven years old.
The hardest part of analyzing television is that you get blind to both the details of it and to it’s cultural impact. It’s not *a work of art* in the same way as a singular film or book can be held down for dissection. Tv drama is part of life passing by, out attention challenged by tv dinners, family fights and whatever else we happen to be doing at the time.
The fluffier the show, the more important the analysis is thorough. What are saying? How are they saying it? How does it make you feel? And how do the parts of the story relate to the whole universe? Grey’s Anatomy was the only show of the four I hadn’t followed when it aired, so I had to watch five and a half season during three weeks. It was sickening, literally, but the only way you can see what the repetitions and relations mean. To be able to say anyting important about a drama this extensive, you really have to know it intimately.
Cut to the chase
And yet: thorough analysis does not compute with the internet. And I’m willing to let that go, accepting that I’m the dinosaur, accepting my long train of thought should probably be hacked into tasty morsels and quick pay-off for easily distracted students.
But, then, that’s when thinking of the students, roaming around on the internet, able to combine my texts with the millions of facts and opinions of others.
Writing educational material, you have to keep the end-user – the student – in mind, while directing the text towards the gate-keeper, the teacher, even the most experimental of them restricted to four walls, 45 minutes and a hefty curriculum. This makes educational material a strange genre indeed. “Hello, dear teacher, here’s how you can make this exciting topic that the students are really interested in, fit into school’s incredible traditional framework”. With a topic a bit ‘on the side’ of the curriculum (Norwegian students should ‘have a general knowledge of media texts’), you need to rely on the teacher’s own motivation to actually teach it in the first place.
Luckily, I had some teachers give me input in the process. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to solve the challenges above once and for all.The internet’s impact on teaching and the internet’s impact on learning are two different processes indeed. Strangely, the latter seems to be lightyears ahead, and the former the hardest to change.
Am I producing a teaching resource or a learning resource when I make educational material? Yes. And yes. And all I know is that it’s hard to do both at the same time.