Author: Conor Devlin

Emphasis on story lessens merit of historical fiction

Most of the performing arts that we watch in our free time are founded on compelling stories that writers invent. This extends to movies and plays that narrate the lives of historical figures or famous events, which producers often advertise as “based on a true story.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton, has admitted that when creating the play, he changed certain aspects of the history of Alexander Hamilton to better suit the story Miranda had in mind. I believe that he should not have taken so many liberties with history. Alexander Hamilton is not a fictional character, and his life is not a made-up story that Miranda invented, but a well-known series of historical events that deserve to be respected through the creation of an accurate portrayal.

As a history-buff, I feel that altering historical narratives is disrespectful, especially in the case of Hamilton. This play is supposed to portray some of the most important people and events in our nation’s history. We cannot arbitrarily rewrite history just because it does not make for a compelling and dramatic story. One example of this in Hamilton is the fact that Angelica Schuyler, Alexander Hamilton’s sister-in-law, comes from a family only consisting of daughters, which makes her the one to have to go out and be the breadwinner for the family. In actuality, Schuyler was one of 15 children and had many brothers. Her character in the play is shaped by that inaccuracy and becomes inconsistent with the actual history.

The musical would have turned out differently if Miranda had decided to be more concerned with historical accuracy regarding the life of Schuyler. The story might not have been as good, but it should be based on true accounts and not a made-up story. As a result, the audience would leave the theater knowing nothing but factual details of Alexander Hamilton’s life, meeting one of the aims of the play to increase awareness of Hamilton’s life and the revolution he took part in.

We also see historical accounts being rewritten in many Hollywood movies. Film producers do that for the same reason Miranda changed the story for his play; it makes for a much better narrative. A good example is the recent movie The Danish Girl, which is about the first openly transgender woman in Europe. The filmmakers altered the narrative of thisgroundbreaking moment in LGBTQ history. The movie shows how the wife chooses to stay married to the main character all throughout the Danish girl’s journey toward becoming a woman. The movie does not explain that the marriage was eventually declared null and void by the king of Denmark after the transition.

Everyone has a right and a duty to familiarize themselves with our world’s past. If people want to use film and the stage as a way to learn, then it is the producer’s job to make sure that their audience gets all the facts instead of fabricated versions that serve as compelling narratives.

However, I do believe in the value of creativity and artistic expression. We all have a unique creative spirit and it is up to us to find a constructive outlet, whether it be acting, singing, writing, painting, drawing. Without art and imaginative ideas, our world would be quite dull. But I find that problems begin to form when creativity and artistry conflict with historical accuracy – an equally important consideration.

Conor Devlin ’17 (devlin@stolaf.edu) is from New York, N.Y. He majors in English.

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Closed caucuses silence political independents

With presidential primaries dominating the news, the national consciousness is increasingly preoccupied with who will win the nominations. Fairly extreme conservatives and liberals are both vying for the position. However, the race thus far has shown that very few of our nation’s millennials are aligning themselves with either party; a 2014 PEW Research Center analysis showed that 48 percent of millennial voters now identify as independents. The likely explanation for this trend is the prominence in both major parties of politicians touting extreme, hardline messages that moderates don’t support.

America’s political atmosphere is extremely charged, with Democrats and Republicans showcasing increasingly polarized agendas. Ultra-conservative evangelicals preaching a regressive message are a mainstay within the Republican party and some Democrats have begun to advocate for a complete override of the political and economic system we currently have. Moderates generally do not agree with either stance, leaving this voting group largely unaffiliated.

This growing absence of party affiliation is a positive change because it may help to stop people from voting for a certain candidate simply because they share a party. No one should be tied down to one political philosophy; people should have the opportunity to explore different opinions and methods. Independents have the option to step back and look at the ideas of both parties and then decide who they would like to support.

However, America’s election process presents a considerable challenge for the independent faction. During the primaries, many of the states hold closed caucuses, which means that in order to vote in those primaries, you must be a registered member of the voting party. This unfairly excludes valuable independent voters from the primaries and discourages them from participating in the elections. Every state caucus should be open, allowing voters to participate without labeling themselves.

Accommodating independents would not only help ensure that presidential candidates are selected based on the desires of the populace, it will also help quell polarization. In the primaries, candidates of both factions have to appeal to the hardliners because they are the ones who vote in the caucuses, while independents cannot always participate.

Accordingly, politicians pick increasingly extreme positions until a satisfying compromise seems nearly impossible. Perhaps if we tried harder to include independent voters in the primary elections, the candidates’ hardline attitudes would be replaced by more moderate messages that a larger number of voters could agree with.

The rise in independent millennial voters is a very welcome change and it has the potential to challenge today’s highly polarized political environment. Not only that, but this shift among voters is also poised to encourage everyone to think critically about their beliefs and whether those beliefs are simply driven by party affiliation or by true, personal ideologies.

Conor Devlin ’17 (devlin@stolaf.edu) is from New York, N.Y. He majors in English.

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Faculty in Focus: Mary Trull

As Professor of English Mary Trull creates her lesson plans for the day, she resembles a scholar engrossed in a groundbreaking research project. She is enthusiastic about sharing her knowl- edge and willing to teach anyone and everyone.

Born and raised in North Carolina, Trull received her undergraduate de- gree at Swarthmore College in Pennsyl- vania, where she studied English, phi- losophy and history. She pursued her postgraduate degree at the University of Chicago, with a focus on literature from early modern England and an empha- sis on the dramatists and female writers of the age. She started her postgraduate career at Macalester College, teaching English and drama there for one year before coming to St. Olaf. At first, she taught Intro to Women’s Studies and film studies classes in addition to Eng- lish courses. Now, she is exclusively an English professor, currently teaching first-year writing and the Great Conver- sation.

When forming a class syllabus, Trull organizes readings based on a com- mon theme and in chronological order. Among her favorites are the works of John Donne, John Milton and William Shakespeare. Trull also believes that seeing a live performance of a play is crucial for a deep understanding of it. As a result, she coordinates her teaching of early modern plays with some that are being produced nearby.

Not one to favor long-winded lec- tures on class readings, Trull prefers to engage her students in meaningful dis- cussions about their own views of the material; she accomplishes this by ask- ing thought-provoking questions that are not easily answered.

“I want to ask my students questions that even I am puzzled by,” Trull said.

Her intent is not to stump students but rather to make them think deeply, consider readings and cultivate fascina-

tion.

Since Trull’s classes are given in

the English department, her students should expect to write many essays. She believes that writing about the works studied in the course is more effective than being tested on them. One of the characteristics of her teaching style is talking with students about their ideas for their papers, especially big research projects. In a high-level English semi- nar where research papers often serve as the final exam, Professor Trull loves to get involved with the students’ extensive research and help them along.

Students wishing to take Trull’s classes in the immediate future may be disappointed, as Trull is going on sab- batical this fall to further pursue her own research projects. Her main topics are early modern literature with a focus on Shakespeare and Lucy Hutchinson, the history of science and the original theory of atomism. She said that these projects will take her to Yale University and Nottingham, England to obtain more information.

Trull also plans on participating in the World Shakespeare Congress, a conven- tion where Shakespeare scholars from all over the world gather in London and Stratford-upon-Avon to discuss, cri- tique, research and otherwise delve into his writings. At the conference, Trull plans to develop her research on food and what it symbolizes in Shakespeare’s plays. She has always been fascinated by food in Shakespeare’s works, and she is looking forward to discovering more material on the matter.

To all first-years and sophomores, be sure to sign up for an English class with Professor Trull the instant she comes back to the Hill. Her classes are enjoyable and afford the opportunity to engage with some of the most riveting works of English literature.

devlin@stolaf.edu

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Seaworld’s Orca treatment improves, finally

For many of us, visiting zoos as children was a fascinating, magical and wonderful experience. Most likely, during these visits we were not thinking about the well-being of the animals we saw and their treatment.

But I have now come to realize that zoos and animal theme parks can be sad places. It breaks my heart to see an animal trapped in a small enclosure when it should be roaming free in its natural habitat. Therefore, I feel that the orca performances put on by SeaWorld are immoral and I am very glad that they have been shut down at their San Diego Park.

While I believe that SeaWorld should discontinue the captivity of the orcas and work towards setting them free, cancelling the performances is definitely a step in the right direction.

However, I wonder if this was a stunt done to appease the media and animal rights activists. SeaWorld is a big business and the owner’s main goal is to make as much money as possible. The orca shows were very popular with families and generated a lot of revenue. As such, I find it hard to believe that SeaWorld cancelled the shows out of genuine concern for the animals.

Be that as it may, I think that SeaWorld’s new plan to convert the performances into exhibits that show the orcas in their habitat is a much better alternative. Visitors will be given the chance to learn more about the orcas and their natural environment.

Such an exhibit is preferable to having the orcas experience potentially abusive training for a mindless entertainment routine; it is always better to educate yourself about an endangered species than to regard them as a cheap form of entertainment. It would also be a great way to foster in young children and their families an interest in conserving the environment and protecting endangered animals.

However, just phasing out the orca performances isn’t enough. SeaWorld should think about discontinuing the breeding of captive orcas entirely. It’s very questionable that an animal as big as an orca is cooped up in a small enclosure. Orcas are very intelligent and emotional creatures that need a lot of room to roam. A confined space is damaging to the orcas, both physically and psychologically.

The documentary Blackfish clearly illustrates the problems of housing orcas in such small enclosures. The film details the dangers of keeping orcas in captivity for an extended amount of time and it’s not a pretty picture. They become temperamental, demanding and violent. In essence, it’s not only the well-being of the killer whales that we should be concerned about, but also about the safety of the park’s employees, trainers and guests.

Although I find it unlikely that SeaWorld cancelled the orca shows out of concern for the orcas’ health, I still think that it was a commendable decision and a good first step to finding a solution. Hopefully the orcas will be set free and the park will cease to breed them in captivity; however, that’s still a long way off. In the meantime, we can focus on making sure that our orca friends are treated humanely and with respect.

Conor Devlin ’17 (devlin@stolaf.edu) is from New York City, N.Y. He majors in English.

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Political correctness stifles intellectual discourse

Ideally, college is meant to be an environment where young people can gather to learn and share ideas with one another, speaking without concern of being labeled negatively. Unfortunately, college campuses are becoming increasingly politically-charged arenas where many are hesitant to speak their mind for fear of being scorned or deemed offensive.

This increased focus on political correctness has caused some to limit themselves, and, in doing so, limit the potential for greater learning. This reputation extends beyond the campuses themselves, and many outside observers have noticed a shift in the college attitude. Both Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock have said that they no longer will do stand-up comedy in colleges because they have to make their acts too “clean” for fear of offending audiences. This phenomenon limits the performers as it shifts their focus from creating comedy to pandering to the whims of a finicky audience.

Beyond simply limiting comedians, the fear of critical response changes comedy as much as it shifts the focus of the craft. Often, comedy is used as a means of broaching uncomfortable issues that many would otherwise ignore.

If a comedian makes a joke about a difficult subject and we laugh, it becomes easier to talk about it because some of the fear and the stigma associated with it is gone. When comedians have to shape their act for fear of offending their audience, they are less free to broach difficult issues and we begin to define what people are and are not allowed to talk about.

The general desire to be politically correct may be well-intentioned, but effectively serves as a form of coddling. Beyond simply limiting the creativity of performers, this pressure can cause many to feel that they must tiptoe around the severity of divisive issues. This only serves to delude students into believing that they can expect this treatment in the real world, an expectation that will leave them woefully unprepared to deal with the harshness of reality.

Recently, the University of Michigan canceled a screening of the film “American Sniper” because members of the student body were uncomfortable with the content of the film. In refusing to broadcast the film, the University effectively separating itself from the outside world. While the popular film was still in theaters, students at this school decided not to broadcast it.

There are some examples of those resisting the tide of political correctness. The University of Cardiff in Wales recently asked acclaimed author and feminist Germaine Greer to give a lecture to its students. In response, a small group of students protested her arrival due to her beliefs related to the transexual community. The administration upheld their decision to host the lecture, stating that cancelling it would go against the values of free speech.

Regardless of personal feelings, it is valuable to engage ideas different from our own. Colin Riordan, the university’s vice-chancellor told The New York Times, “Our events include speakers with a range of views, all of which are rigorously challenged and debated.”

Political correctness at colleges becomes a problem when it begins to inhibit education and prevent effective dialogue. The more we limit ourselves for fear of being offensive, the more constrained intellectual discourse becomes.

Conor Devlin ’17 (devlin@stolaf.edu) is from New York City, N.Y. He majors in English.

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