Wednesday, June 10, 2015

ML4ML Joke of the Week: "C'mon, Shakespeare. You can make a better shark!"

My sister-in-law cracked me up inadvertently with this one-liner, which made me realize just how much knowledge of pop culture is at the ready in my head enabling me to laugh at the mixed up references in the joke. 
We were talking about summer blockbuster movies, and she expressed worry over the realism of special effects in Jurassic Park: "It's like c'mon, Shakespeare, you can make a better shark!" I burst out laughing, as did the others in the room. Turns out, she meant to say "Spielberg" (the director of the first Jurassic Park movie), instead of "Shakespeare" (the Elizabethan English writer with the frilly collar and the "To be or not to be" and whatnot), and she meant "dinosaur," the scary creatures from the distant past brought to life in Jurassic Park, instead of "shark" (the scary creature terrorizing swimmers in Jaws). The interesting part, for somebody who thinks about media literacy all the time (me), is that we all instantly knew what she meant to say through the context of our conversation (a new Jurassic Park movie is just coming out this summer) and recognized the errors as humorously related to her intentions. To get the joke, we had to know Spielberg directed Jurassic Park and Jaws. We had to know that each film starred scary, realistic creatures--dinosaurs and sharks respectively. And, we had to know Shakespeare as the emblem of high culture entertainment and art through wordcraft in plays, in contrast to our knowledge of Spielberg's fame for visual entertainment blockbuster flicks of fear and adventure. But we didn't just have to know it, we had to know it instantly, or as humor researchers say, we had to know it for "Just-in-Time" psychological processing (for more, see Hurley, Dennet, & Adams), so that we could recognize, and laugh at, the mix up. It boggles my mind how much pop culture knowledge we must carry around, ready for access at all times. It's an important thing to sensitize teachers and learners to when we begin to teach about popular culture and about how to think critically about its role in our lives. So, why not challenge your group of learners to notice how much pop culture knowledge they must activate "Just-in-time" to get a joke or to laugh at something funny. You could start by relating your own story, or this story--see if anyone laughs or gets what might be funny about it, and congratulate the others who don't have a clue for investing their precious brain power in other cultural resources! Make it a contest to see who can notice the funniest moment involving the most pop culture references (rate the former by vote, and the latter by number of things you have to know from pop culture). The exercise could lead from an appreciation of the extent of what we know, to an exploration of what we should do about and with it...
C'mon Shakespeare, you can make a better shark!

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