456

What was that line like? “The man is the head of the family and the woman is the neck, so she can turn him wherever she wants”. Well, nothing is more fitting especially when it comes to stubborn Mr Run.  The man in time has developed a very interesting strategy  – which I am often satisfied with, I have to say –  that is, whenever I propose something he is not pleased with, he offers something in return, he is sure I would not say no:

Mrs Tink: “What about going with Mario and his wife to their friend’s  restaurant Saturday night?”

Mr Run: “Saturday? Oh, I’d thought about spending the week-end in Florence!”

Of course, he knows how much I adore Florence, hence, in this way,  he is able to skip what he believes to be an unpleasant night for him.  But it’s not always so easy to find a comfortable way out. He had been trying for weeks to ignore my wish to watch “Squid Game” on Netflix,  forcing himself to enjoy romantic series set in the Victorian Period in exchange. He was even open to watch all the six seasons of Downton Abbey plus the movie again. Since I didn’t mean to wait that much, I decided to act as the “neck” this time using my wild card:

Mrs Tink: “But Love, even Baricco says it is a remarkable series”

Mr Run: “Baricco?”

Mrs Tink: “Indeed”

It wasn’t Baricco, actually, but Gianluca Vacchi, a well-known billionaire , who has become famous for his crazy dances on Tik-Tok  and with over  20 million followers on Instagram.20 million! What is  Baricco  compared to Gianluca Vacchi, he can’t even reach 30 thousand on Instagram !  So, it happened that one day I came across one of his videos, whose theme was one of the games of the show and I was absolutely impressed:

Mrs Tink : “10 minutes, only 10 minutes and if you don’t like it , we’ll switch to something else!”

Mr Run: “Only 10 minutes!”

Mrs Tink: “Ok. Ah, I forgot……………..it’s in Korean”

Mr Run: “Korean!!!”

After those 10 minutes we were totally hooked and I couldn’t imagine but watching it in any other language but Korean.  Squid Game is about 456 people who choose “freely” to participate in a series of competitive games in which the alternative to winning a prize pool of 45.6 billion is “elimination”.

The last to be recruited is Seong Gi-hun,  a lazy but well-meaning man who’s living on the back of his elderly mother’s meagre income. Because of his betting habit, he loses his family, constantly disappoints his young daughter and  is even  forced to sign a physical contract promising his organs in case of any more delays in payment by some debt collectors.

All the other 455 contenders share stories of failure, desperation , exploitation, loneliness and they believe the game to be their ultimate  chance  of social redemption. They are taken to a distant island  and secluded in  a sort of alienating labyrinth  which has clearly  the form of Esher’s staircase. The  players always proceed in line, like Dante’s defeated souls of the Purgatory.

They are under the control of  workers/soldiers  who are dressed in red and wear black masks with 3 signature symbols: circle, square and triangle.  A circle means a straight forward worker, who is at the lowest level of the hierarchy, those with a  triangle are soldiers with weapons, while a square refers to managers with the most power. The presence of such a strict hierarchy  and the  idea of  identifying the rank  and the task of the workers through a symbol seems to be borrowed  by Edwin A. Abbot ‘s “Flatland”, which was, actually, meant to be a satire against the oppressive hierarchy of Victorian England which reduced lower classes and women into submission.

In fact Squid Game’s target  is  clearly the capitalistic system and  its rules . The contests are nothing but metaphors of our competitive society, which is unpredictable, unfair and deceptive.  No game is ever explained to the competitors before they may choose the means (or companions) to play with and  first time the protagonists of  Squid Game choose to take part into the competition,  they do not know the consequences of the defeat.

But the second time, even though they are no longer unaware, they feel “forced”  to go back to play.  Why? Because the labyrinth  of  their life has just one way out possible: that game. This is how they feel. Despite the organizers  do not miss an opportunity to point out that the competitors have “freely and consciously” joined the competition, we know that  that freedom  is just illusory. In fact,  are  we really “free” to choose when we have to accept an underpaid  job,  or to end up into debt, because we made an investment without knowing the conditions and consequences?

The awareness that only one of them will be destined to grab that chance makes the game more violent and ruthless. The competitive and selfish side of human nature  takes over  any form of cooperation and compassion.  Men turn  into those Hobbes’s wolves who move circumspectly  according to the saying “mors tua vita mea“.

In this moral downfall,  there are beautiful lyrical  moments when those half buried sentiments of piety, compassion, friendship,  brotherhood and love  surface  intensely  in a last desperate fight between hope and disappointment. It will fall on  Seong Gi-hun  – our picaresque hero, whose number 456 symbolizes, according to numerology,  the need to take steps forward to reach a new level – the task to take us to the that level offering a sparkle of hope.  I can say no more, otherwise I would reveal too much; but it is truly a great product and it is worth watching it. If don’t trust me, trust picky Mr Run.

Smashing Mr Thornton

I couldn’t believe my eyes  while I was reading a comment of one of my students to a post on Gaskell’s “North and South”. It was not a comment, actually, but rather, a deliberate attempt to pull apart piece after piece the romantic aura that surrounds Mr Thornton,  who actually shares the top step of the podium along with Mr Darcy for the most iconic and beloved male character of 19th century  English literature. He found faults in a man who has always been considered fault proof; he regarded weak the one who has always been the epitome of strength for any woman; he even found immoral traits in the uncontroverted  picture  and quintessence of  moral behaviour.

LADIES (angry): To the gallows!!!” “Blasphemy!!🤬🤬🤬

MRS TINK : “But, my dear ladies, calm down! I believe that even  this irreverent  young  man has the right to be tried first, so let’s hear what he has to say. He asserts that our minds have been clouded by the romantic charm of this character – well, that could be, especially since  Mr Thornton took the semblance of Richard Armitage, we must admit it –  and that, let me read, “the man appears systematically unable to take a single good decision in any field of his life”.

LADIES (super angry):To the gallooooows!!!🤬🤬🤬

MRS TINK : C’mon ladies, don’t rush into conclusion. He may have some good points! Let him speak his mind first and eventually we will decide what to do. Just cool down!(whispers) Ohhh, good ….so, he was just saying that some of Mr Thornton’s decisions were wrong…..

STUDENT (aside): All!😑

MRS TINK (To the student): Oh! Shut up! I’m m trying to save you from this angry bunch of ladies!🤨

STUDENT (boldly to the ladies): It is under everybody’s eye  that Mr Thornton’s business fails, can you prove the contrary?😏

MRS TINK and The Ladies: No, we can’t. But…..😧

STUDENT (more audaciously): Furthermore, he does not prevent the strike and hires the Irish in the mill provoking violent reactions.😏

MRS TINK🤨 : How could he have prevented the strike? He had no means to give the rise in salary the workers demanded and he was not alone in this, after all, there were other manufacturers.

STUDENT: “Yes,  but he was the most influent one, wasn’t he the magistrate of Milton? But, I have not finished yet. He proposes to Margaret even if he knows that she will probably refuse him and then he commits an abuse of power deciding not to investigate the same Margaret!😧

LADIES (in unison):  But he did it for love! He wanted to protect her! How insensitive!😮

STUDENT : I know, but that was actually a crime, or do you have another word to call it?😏

LADIES: We cannot listen to this nonsense any longer!😤😤😤

STUDENT (raising his voice): One more thing! He does not join his brother-in law’s speculation  and doing so, not only he loses all his wealth, but he also does not overcome the trauma of his father’s death. The very few good decisions such as hiring Higgins, for example, derive, directly or indirectly, from Margaret. Please forgive me ladies, but I did find hilarious seeing your romantic hero, the strong self-made man, the passionate lover with the endless sideburns, saved by a presumptuous 20-year-old girl from the South. Now I’m done. Thank you.😏😑😑😑

LADIES:(silence)😲😲😲

MRS TINK: (trying to break the silence). So you mean that Thornton is a loser .🤨

STUDENT: That’s what I mean.😑

MRS TINK: Well, I guess you should have thought about what makes Mr Thornton a loser first, in your eyes at least . To make you understand my point, I want to compare him to one of the greatest “losers” in world literature.

STUDENT: Who is it?🤔

MRS TINK: Hamlet. If you remember his story, we may say that Hamlet, to use your own words, appears “systematically unable to take a single good decision in any field of his life”: father, mother, Ophelia, the revenge plans etc.  He, actually, never truly acts, and if he does, it’s just because he cannot avoid it. Three seconds after talking to his father’s ghost, the initial flame of rage starts to put out and soon he feels unfit for his demand of revenge. Even in the last act, when he finally revenges his father’s death killing his uncle, he doesn’t even know how he found himself in that situation, as the duel with Laertes is actually his uncle’s trap in order to kill him. Have you ever considered Hamlet a loser?🤨

STUDENT: A victim maybe?🤔

MRS TINK: In a way he is a victim, but he is the victim of his conscience and conscience , he says, makes us all cowards, that is, unable to act freely, because we cannot avoid the burden of the moral implications of our actions. The ethical dilemma between what is right or wrong consumes our will, and thus “ the native hue of resolution, is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought”. Undoubtedly, the name of the comet star that guides Mr Thornton’s action is: ethics. He always tries to do what is right, even if he knows that it will not end up as he wishes, as in the case of Margaret’s rejection or when he hires the Irish. Had he been ruthless, he would have employed them much before, it is also because of this delay in taking this decision that he loses all. It’s in this constant search for the correct thing to do, his attempt to overcome the trauma of his father’s death.🤨

STUDENT(puzzled): So you mean that ethics and success cannot go hand in hand?🤔

MRS TINK: Correct.🙄

STUDENT: And that Mr Thornton‘s comet star is ethics.🤔

MRS TINK: Exactly.🙄

STUDENT: So, he is a loser.😑

MRS TINK😒: If you measure a man by means of his profits, yes, he is. But a man is more than the money he can make. I’m talking about other qualities such as sensibility, reliability, courage, sacrifice, the capacity to love; Mr Thornton is all this and more. Hence, he could never be a loser for us all, my dear. Never.😍😍😍

LADIES: To the gallows?😡😡😡

MRS TINK: No…….Student, stand up! You are sentenced to watch the BBC series again twice and read the book. You will produce then another comment on the topic and if we can spot some evidence of your redemption, we might even let you live. Off you go!

(Exeunt)

Progression or Regression?

I fell asleep. I fell asleep and for a couple of months I have been lulled by the sound of waves, sun kissed. I fell asleep and fluttered every single day on leisure-land where a pleasant and reinvigorating breeze weakened any attempt of the few sensible thoughts left hidden somewhere in a synapse of my dormant brain to make me quit that state of bliss. I would have slept even longer, in fact, but for that annoying bell, a school bell, actually , which forcibly brought me back to the dullness of the real world and duty. Good-bye leisure-land, I must go, uncertain of my fate.

When you have to start afresh, it is advisable to begin with baby-steps, something effortless and pleasant, if possible, at the same time, to break the ice, otherwise one always tends to postpone the initial effort, which is usually perceived as huge. I thought that filing all the works, projects, power points I had left scattered on the computer the year before would have been a good start and so I did. While watching the screen, I couldn’t help but wonder how technology had actually helped me beat my natural disorganization ( and laziness); in fact , all the school years with papers, tests etc. . were there, beautifully ordered before me. It is memory. Whatever I needed , with a click it was at my disposal.

And I clicked. I don’t know whether it was an evil school-elf or just curiosity which induced me to do so, but I clicked on year 2015 first, 2010 then to get to the early twenties and then I stopped, a bit puzzled. Evoking memories, even working memories can be cruel sometimes.  What remained of that summer state of bliss and dizziness definitely faded away as the facts were plainly before me and needed to be assessed.    

What facts? To make myself clear let’s take a class as example: the third year of high school , average age 16 and let’s follow how learning and expectations have changed in these last 25 years. I have always enjoyed reading Romeo & Juliet at this stage, as the theme of love is captivating and it is a good starting point to get to know Shakespeare, but how has the way I do it changed in time and why?

LATE NINETIES: in those years I was a devout reader of the Arden Shakespeare editions with all those beautiful notes and explanations, hence, I wanted all my students to have one. Despite it was not so easy to find it as we are in Italy and there was no Amazon then, they found a way to get one eventually, all of them . As far as I can remember they enjoyed the accurate study of lines and sources of Romeo and Juliet. How do I know? Well, the following year they asked me for more, so I infer, they liked it. But, did it really matter in the late nineties whether students really enjoyed or not a lesson?

EARLY 2000s: all of a sudden it seemed  it had become quite hard to find the Arden edition anywhere, hence, I told them to buy whatever edition they could find, I would have provided them with the missing information . Of course,  there were always two or three students in the class  who managed to find the Arden edition, but the decline was now inevitable.

LATE 2000s: As in the last years I had found hard managing to read the entire play by the end of the school-year, I decided that they could have used a bilingual edition. We would have read and analysed the most important parts in class in English, while the rest could have been done even in Italian if they wanted, and they wanted .  After all, the knowledge of the main themes of the play was what really mattered I said to myself. It seemed a good compromise to me.

EARLY 2010s: These where the years when school started to be overloaded with projects of any kind, hence, as I was always running out time I decided that the reading of Romeo and Juliet would have been limited to the “Balcony scene” and the end of the play. I also made them watch the catchy “Romeo and Juliet version”  with Di Caprio. It seemed they truly enjoyed it. I was satisfied.

LATE 2010s: I thought it was I good idea to make them act  the “Balcony Scene” and shoot a video. I chose 6 couples e six directors, one for each couple, and gave them the lines. They shot from the balconies of their homes and eventually the films were assembled together with soundtrack, titles, backstage funny moments etc. . It was creative, it was fun. I was proud of them – and myself.

COVID YEARS: on-line learning has required a new way of communicating in order  to be effective. Words couldn’t but go hand in hand with images to be catchy. In this respect I have found useful GIMP,  a cross-platform image editor which I have adopted to embellish my power points. For Romeo and Juliet I decided to take and edit some shots from Di Caprio’s movie and create a sort of photo novel of the “the Balcony Scene” and make  William Shakespeare himself comment and explain the lines of the play:

It was fun, I have fun exploring the news frontiers of learning, I must admit it,  but looking back to what I used to do almost 30 years ago, I cannot help but wonder: what chances of success would my precious Arden edition of Romeo and Juliet have with today’s students? How should I consider all this process of continuous adaptation to new generations’ educational needs a progression or a regression in learning ? Are these needs real or I have simply surrendered, choosing the shortcut of light entertainment? Is it possible that eventually I am the one to be blamed?