2019: A World on the Margins
Voices from the Margins
- How might literature help us understand the experience of marginalized groups?
- Should marginalized writers strive to be accepted by mainstream critics? Or should they focus on their own audiences?
- Explore the idea of a literary canon. Who created the list of literary works that everyone is expected to study? What voices, if any, do you think are underrepresented in this list?
- Should the canon be updated, or should the very idea of a canon be scrapped?
- Discuss with your team: as more marginalized voices take their place in the list of works we study in school, how should we decide which traditionally studied works to remove to make space for them?
- Are modern critics overcompensating by finding too much value in works by members of marginalized communities?
- Are today’s films and television series doing more to perpetuate or to change the perception of marginalized groups? Do their creators have a responsibility to do one or the other?
Behind the Scenes of the Page, Stage, and Screen
- For each of the occupations listed below, consider its role in producing a work. Should they receive credit similar to that awarded to authors, actors, or directors?
- copyeditor | proofreader | publicist | literary agent | critic | producer
- stage manager | set designers | stagehand | casting director | dramaturge
- hair & makeup artist | costume designer | sound designer | stunt double
- cinematographer | grips | gaffers | extra | storyboard artist | showrunner
Case Studies & Guiding Questions
- Consider these examples of ghostwritten books, speeches, and songs. Why might a famous figure resort to someone else to write for them? Conversely, why might a writer choose to go unrecognized? Are there times when a different name on a work might affect how people receive it?
- Consider sidekicks and other characters in the margins of a story—from the Wayward Sisters to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Discuss with your team: when, if ever, are their stories worth telling? Is it acceptable for an author different from the original to tell those stories?
- Consider the case of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, which was finished by a second author. What should happen if an author passes away before finishing a work? Who, if anyone, should be tasked with finishing the unfinished?
- Research fandom and fan subcultures, particularly as centered on creative works, whether a TV series (e.g., Star Trek) or even a musical (e.g., Hamilton). You may want to consult this academic text as a starting point. Discuss with your team: do people who participate in fandoms choose to marginalize themselves, and do fandoms themselves have internal divisions between the mainstream and the marginal? Should creators encourage or even participate in fan culture?
- Some critics argue that a new focus on inclusiveness in storytelling has led to the creation of overly idealized characters from marginalized groups—referred to as “Mary Sues”. Even Star Wars’ Rey has been criticized by certain fans for being too perfect. Discuss with your team: should we worry about representations of marginalized communities being overidealized, or is this concern just a conservative backlash to cultural progress?
- Consider the recent announcement of a "reboot" of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a more diverse cast. The news met with an intense backlash, not unlike that against recent female-led reboots of Ocean’s Eleven and Ghostbusters. Discuss with your team: do creative professionals have a responsibility to be more inclusive in their reboots of past works? Are there ways in which you would want to update other classics, such as Harry Potter or the plays of Shakespeare?
- Read about Marvel's upcoming Asian superhero film, which is meant to follow in the footsteps of Black Panther, then discuss with your team: is it appropriate for Marvel to be narrowing their director search to someone Asian or Asian-American, or is this an example of what some critics would call "reverse discrimination"?
- English Romantic poet John Keats wrote in a letter to his brothers that the greatest writers possess a quality he called negative capability—the ability to be "in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”. Discuss with your team: how clear (or unclear) should literature be? Is it possible for a piece of writing (or a movie) to be both confusing and successful?