One of the clichés about today’s students is that they are visual learners. While that’s certainly not true for all of our students, many do seem glued to their screens – smartphones, tablets, or laptops. This orientation to visual learning can make it difficult when instructors such as myself want them to encounter monsters (the theme of my composition course and my book) in text-based materials.
Fortunately, with the use of Monsters as a textbook in the classroom, I can supplement the written word with video. Hollywood – as well as other international film capitals – has made hundreds, if not thousands, of horror and monster movies. In all likelihood, most students’ experiences with monsters have been significantly shaped by their encounters with them in movies, television programs, or even videogames. In my classroom, typically only a minority of students are readers of horror, science fiction, or mystery stories. I suspect this is true for most other instructors.
That’s why I like to bring video into my classroom. I teach in so-called “smart classrooms” that come equipped with computers and projection systems. The computers give me access to the Internet. That’s where the fun begins. I use YouTube clips, either trailers or scenes, to enhance the texts that are in Monsters, and also create new directions for exploration into the whole question of how monsters are present in our imaginations, our lives, our culture, our history, and in the larger world around us. I prepare for class ahead of time by going online to YouTube where I look for videos. I open up multiple Web pages to make them easily available for me during class time.
For example, if I want the class to discuss Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (a brief selection is in Chapter 1 of Monsters), I would likely use a trailer of the 1931 version starring Boris Karloff as the Creature. This is the prototypical depiction, made popular with sequels, pop culture versions in television shows, commercials, and print ads, not to mention innumerable Halloween costume knock-offs. Then, I might show a scene from the 1994 version, starring Robert DeNiro as the Creature. This version was intended to be closer to Mary Shelley’s original story; students are often surprised to see that the Creature speaks – and speaks quite well at that.
I might then quote a passage from Shelley’s novel in which the Creature engages in sophisticated contemplations. Read, for example, from Shelley’s novel at Volume II, Chapter VIII, to show how the Creature speaks. (One witty student suggested that the Creature “sounds just like an English professor”!) This can open a door to a discussion about the nature of monsters than can speak versus those that do not. (Which are more frightening? Why?) We then re-examine the question of what actually makes a monster a monster (and helps prepare students for a discussion of the human monster later in Monsters, Chapter 5).
I find that in the classroom, looking at different film adaptations of the same work can give rise to interesting discussions about author intent, audience (including how audience expectations change over time), and theme. The encounter with both text and video provides a useful opportunity to challenge students to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each medium in storytelling. The results are often rewarding: students are usually surprised to hear the Creature speak, and once they start thinking about the potential messages that lie within different portrayals of the Frankenstein story, they can come up with deeper, more probing analyses not only of the story but its connection to today’s world, and how we communicate messages. This can lead to broader discussions of today’s monsters, both fictional and real.
Since new movies, television shows, videogames, and other forms of video-based entertainment seem to produce new conceptions of monsters at a staggering rate, I’ve decided that if I can’t beat them, I’ll join them. You should try it, too.