Join 3,424 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Am I overreacting, or was my instructor's film choice really inappropriate?
October 30, 2009 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Was it inappropriate for my instructor to have us view and write about this film for our midterm?

I need some other viewpoints on this situation: I'm taking an Organization Behaviour class as part of my IT diploma program. For our midterm, we had to view Paul Haggis' Crash (not the Crohnenberg film). If you've seen the film, it addresses racial strife in LA. I have to admit, I don't like the instructor and I'm baffled by his film choice - a film about - I don't know, an organization - would have been made a lot more sense. But what's really been bothering me is that the film has a scene where a woman is molested, in a very explicit, disgusting and camera-lingering fashion.

I'm the only woman in the class (enrollment in the entire program is less than 10% female, so this is not uncommon). Furthermore, there is only one black student and one Asian student in our class (if you haven't seen the film, the racism it shows centers around black people, Asians and Hispanics - no Hispanics in the class) We didn't *have* to watch it together as a class, but most of us chose to do that instead of going home and renting it.

Even as a 29 year-old woman, I felt uncomfortable watching the molestation scene with my mostly 21 year-old classmates (would it have felt different if they were older? I don't know). I can't speak for how the other students felt.

If I was teaching a class with one student in a wheelchair, I would not show a film depicting any kind of harassment towards people with mobility issues. Unless the course was about mobility issues. I would only show a film with racism if there was a module specifically about racism. And I don't know if I would ever, ever show a film depicting sexual violence towards women.

Please help me figure out specifically what is it about this that's got me feeling like something yicky has happened? Was the film choice inappropriate, what kind of inappropriate, and should I write a letter about this to the department? Or am I simply out to lunch, or using the film choice as an excuse to disparage an instructor I already dislike?

Finally, please don't tell me that watching this film was good for me/us. I'm a former lit major, and this depictions of race here are extremely problematic.
posted by kitcat to Society & Culture (80 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I can't speak to the movie's relevance to your class -- maybe the professor did a bad job of explaining why it made sense to show this movie or something, but that's not really your question.

In general, I do not find it inappropriate to show a recent Best Picture Oscar-winning movie in a class of adults.
posted by brainmouse at 11:48 AM on October 30, 2009 [13 favorites]


You're an adult and they showed you an Oscar-winning film (including Best Picture and Best Screenplay) meant for adults. I really don't think you'll be able to appeal to the school based on the film being inappropriate. It's not porn. If you find the film offensive, you should probably let the professor know that this film offends your sensibilities. Sexual violence towards women is a real problem and I don't see how addressing it in film is inherently offensive, and I am a pretty staunch feminist.
posted by ishotjr at 11:50 AM on October 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's a crap movie, but really, you're all adults, and it's a major, award-winning motion picture. I think you're out to lunch.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:54 AM on October 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


I doubt you have institutional recourse, but it does sound like maybe it wasn't thought through pedagogically and not presented sensitively. If he'd said "we're going to use this film to talk about [x] organizational behavior" and followed through, great. I still think it's best to let students know when something might be disturbing, and it never ends well when hot-button issues are just dropped into a class without context. Was there a related discussion? Lecture? Paper?

Anyway, you can complain to him, or give him a critical evaluation or whatever, but it's probably not a violation of policy (but note that IANACITI).
posted by Mngo at 11:56 AM on October 30, 2009


Can someone please explain what the fact that it's an award-winning film has to do with this?
posted by kitcat at 11:58 AM on October 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


I don't think this was an inappropriate choice at all; the film depicts a world in which peoples' behavior changes according to the social systems they're engaged with. There certainly are organizations of various kinds in the movie, even if it's not The Office. Which is, incidentally, full of racist and sexist behavior, so I guess it would be off your list.

It's not a comfortable movie to watch, and it's not a movie I thought was good (OMG RACISM = FAIL NO WAI) but it certainly makes sense to me as a choice.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:58 AM on October 30, 2009


The film itself is tightly and specifically organized and about the behavior and interaction of various organizations. I know it's not your question, but I think that must have been the point.

The film dealt with issues of racism, sexism and violence, but you're the one placing heavy emphasis on it. Don't decide for other people whether they should be offended. It wasn't inappropriate at all, and having been a lit major doesn't make any difference. You've put yourself in a hierarchical academic setting and your prof has the credentials, not you. It's your job to figure out why he showed this film. FWIW it's pretty obvious to me, even though I haven't taken a class like this, though I've seen the movie several times.
posted by cmoj at 12:01 PM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


He did not introduce the film, stick around to watch it, or lead a discussion about it afterwards. The related question on the exam was: Choose 5 OB concepts and apply them to the film.
posted by kitcat at 12:01 PM on October 30, 2009


kitcat: "Can someone please explain what the fact that it's an award-winning film has to do with this?"

It being award winning has nothing to do with it. But, asking people on the internets if it is appropriate is also not relevant. Only you can determine if it was in appropriate for you.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:03 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I had to watch that very film in two different classes in college. It's quite popular in academia, it seems (and overrated as a film, in my opinion). I think the most relevant thing to point out here is that the movie does not glamorize the harassment. It shows it as the terrible, humiliating violation it is. The movie is interesting because there are no clear "heroes" or "villains," and every character has both noble and terrible attributes. The police officer in the scene in question is shown molesting the woman early in the movie, and the audience is made to hate him. Later, we see his family issues and the movie tricks us into empathy. Never is his bad behavior celebrated; the whole point is to show that there are two sides to every coin.

Further, the movie is not about racism as much as discrimination of every kind, including sexism. And the moral is that all discrimination is unacceptable.

It seems to me that the themes of conflicting social groups ties in well with your course curriculum. I'd hardly call the theme of the movie inappropriate, or your instructor's choice to screen it as intolerant. If anything, the movie's message ought to level the playing field in your not-so-diverse class setting. Respectfully, your outrage is misplaced.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:03 PM on October 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


an someone please explain what the fact that it's an award-winning film has to do with this?

It puts it squarely in the mainstream of American culture. It's not like he showed you porn or Freaks or Female Trouble. If you complain, you'd be complaining about the blandest of the bland.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:03 PM on October 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


Can someone please explain what the fact that it's an award-winning film has to do with this?

I think this helps to dispell anyone's idea that maybe the instructor just decided to make you watch some obscure, racy, cult-film for his own kicks.

-
posted by General Tonic at 12:03 PM on October 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


He sounds rather lazy, but it is a film that is widely regarded as rather good,e xcept by people whose tatses I trust, who thought it was terrible.

Nonetheless, I think you're going to have an awfully hard time making the case why the film shouldn't be shown based on the fact that you were made uncomfortable by the content. If you do not understand what the film had to do with the topic, ask the professor. If the professor doesn't have a good answer, you have a good case for the film not needing to be shown.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:04 PM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Only you can determine if it was in appropriate for you.

Oh, nonsense. This is a question about institutional, professional, and ethical standards, none of which were violated by the mere act of showing this film.

The context sounds lazy and sloppy as hell, though.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:05 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


During a communications class as an undergraduate, our professor encouraged us to watch Crash.

When we see images of violence (racial, sexual, other), it's not always blatant yuck - it pains us to watch it, because it's a thousand times more painful in reality. It resonates with us somehow; even though it's film and it's not the "real thing," such images can make us feel uncomfortable because we know it's not confined to a screen. It's life. Life isn't always comfortable. It's important to be reminded of this, so we don't get too complacent in our interactions (and reactions) with people, and maybe remind us that in our daily lives, we have no idea WTF is going on with the people we cross paths with on a casual basis. No one, and no action exists in a vacuum. Crash may not be an easy film to watch, but sometimes it's a very good thing when films (or other mediums) make us feel uncomfortable and yicky.

In my opinion, the film choice was not inappropriate.
posted by raztaj at 12:05 PM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


You might feel uncomfortable because, since you already dislike the instructor, you interpret his showing this film as an implicit endorsement of sexual assault and racism. Although I don't know the instructor or the content of the class, I think its quite unlikely that this is the case, since the film pretty clearly is a critical exploration rather than an endorsement of these behaviors.
posted by googly at 12:06 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I mean the context as established by the instructor; he doesn't seem to be doing a good job, based on the text of the question.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:06 PM on October 30, 2009


I see that you are in Canada, not in the US, so my answer may not be very helpful.

In the US, college professors hand out course syllabuses on the first day of class. The syllabus is sort of a contract between the professor and the student - the student agrees to do the work/discussions on the syllabus and the professor agrees not to spring any surprises on the class.

If your course had a syllabus and the syllabus showed that you'd be watching Crash in order to write a paper on it, then the onus is on the student to review the material beforehand (may I suggest IMDB?) and evaluating whether they are comfortable watching the movie in a group setting (as you say - the option was provided to watch the movie outside of class).

If the course does not have a syllabus or the movie was not on the syllabus, then yes, you should let the professor know that you were uncomfortable watching the movie in a class setting, and that in the future students should be notified about upcoming movies so that they can evaluate the setting to watch it in.
posted by muddgirl at 12:09 PM on October 30, 2009


Muddgirl, it sounds that the film was for an exam. So not something that would appear on a syllabus.
posted by saradarlin at 12:13 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, I am in a Western prairie province of Canada. Please don't assume that, because my class does not have a lot of racial diversity, this is a prissy, priviledged school filled mostly with people of that decription. Our community has a different racial make-up than what you would find in large cities in the US.
posted by kitcat at 12:21 PM on October 30, 2009


How is the film in relation to organisational behaviour?

I am surprised no one seems to have pointed the obvious. People are different and interactions have consequences intended or unintended. An organisation is easily related to the behaviour types exhibited within the movie. For one example, sexual harrassment is common place within companies and it is exactly like the movie where those involved take different paths to resolution.

Personally it's not the best choice to explain organisational behaviour and certainly it could have been better framed by your professor, however you are overreacting.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 12:21 PM on October 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Right, no movie on syllabus.
posted by kitcat at 12:22 PM on October 30, 2009


I'm a college teacher and I would not show a film where a woman is sexually attacked because I would know there were people in the class who had been sexually attacked. In one of my assignments (I teach sociology) students watch a film about a funeral home and it includes the story of a baby that dies. Out of concern for people who have lost a child I have an alternative assignment that people can complete.

I don't do this to be PC, I do it not to be an asshole. This is a college class, not a therapy group, and unless I have a very specific reason for showing work that might be triggering I don't do it. Especially to get out of the work of writing a real exam.

I realize I can't be aware of everyone's issues, but I do think I can be aware of some of the more obvious ones and sexual assault, sexual abuse, the death of a child are included in that list.

I understand why it made you feel strange and honestly, watching a film about race with a bunch of white people when I'm one of a few minority members would make me cringe as well. (Yes, I'm white).

I might suggest writing a note (to him) at the end of class telling him the film made you feel uncomfortable and you thought he'd want to know. I would want to know. And he can change it or not, but then at least you've said something (and given voice to the students who come after you who might be traumatized) and not done anything just because you don't like him.
posted by orsonet at 12:24 PM on October 30, 2009 [13 favorites]


Regarding the fact that the film is award-winning, I think it is an indicator that popular opinion is that the film is mainstream art. If I were an instructor, I wouldn't hesitate to show the film to a group of adults, and the numbers of Asians, Hispanics, or women in the classroom would not impact my decision in the slightest.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:25 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it would be a mistake for professors to clear exam questions with students in advance, muddgirl.
posted by grobstein at 12:27 PM on October 30, 2009


Your mainly white male classmates may very well benefit from seeing an honest depiction of racism, sexism, and abuse of power.

Watching this film in class did not hurt you. It made you feel "uncomfortable."

I posit that Crash is SUPPOSED to make you feel uncomfortable.

-
posted by General Tonic at 12:28 PM on October 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


I think Crash is a terrible film entirely underserving of the Academy Award and the critical praise heaped upon it, and it sounds like your instructor was totally lazy in how he presented it, but I don't think it was actually inappropriate to show it, given that it is a successful mainstream film and you are all adults.

It's very possible to object to the content of a film without objecting to the screening of the film itself.
posted by scody at 12:28 PM on October 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


I understand why it made you feel strange and honestly, watching a film about race with a bunch of white people when I'm one of a few minority members would make me cringe as well. (Yes, I'm white).

Orsonet - thank you for addressing this particular part of my question. It is precisely the screening and it's context that is bothering me.
posted by kitcat at 12:35 PM on October 30, 2009


As others have said, I don't see how it could ever be "inappropriate" to show a mainstream motion picture to a class of adults. The Alberta and Manitoba film ratings agencies' rating for Crash is 14A, and I assume the other Western provinces rated it similarly, so your professor is not the only person who thought that it was appropriate for viewers of your age.

Stupid? Lazy? Irrelevant? Bad teaching? Sure. Inappropriate? I just don't get that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:41 PM on October 30, 2009


Nthing "not inappropriate" for reasons stated many times upthread.
posted by Roommate at 12:49 PM on October 30, 2009


It's not about "clearing exam questions with students in advance." It's about respect, as orsonet pointed out. If the professor wanted to keep the specific movie a secret, he should have provided a list of potential movies that could be exam questions. Or, he should have re-thought such an "exam" and turned it into a term paper instead.

I have taken several university courses that watched movies with problematic themes like Crash and they were always on the syllabus. I would definitely raise this issue with the professor.
posted by muddgirl at 12:53 PM on October 30, 2009


Honestly, it's not like he screened Salo. This is a mainstream (if overrated) movie that won the Academy Award. It may be visceral, but it's not exploitative, which I think would be inappropriate for the subject of an exam. I don't know anything about the subject of your class, but I can only assume the film had relevance for the professor; it seems highly unlikely that he either 1) chose a movie for no reason whatsoever or 2) chose a movie to disturb you personally.

So, we are likely left with the arguable conclusion that he was not being sensitive by screening the film. If he's not a sensitive guy generally, I think your telling him that his insensitive choice of a midterm is probably just going to put him on the defensive, and that's not a great outcome for you. If you have to speak your mind, I'd wait until after the semester is over. This seems a bit like the "the policeman wrote me a ticket for not using his pen" post from a few days ago.

Of course, if the final is on the Brown Bunny or something, he's definitely on some weird trip and should be reported to the dean.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:16 PM on October 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


you chose to screen it with the class. you were not forced to screen it with the class. if you felt uncomfortable as a white woman watching the movie in the group of people you watched it with, you could have rented it or "borrowed" it from the internet. if racism, abuse, and discrimination were always presented in a very special episode of the teen drama du jour where everyone lives happily ever after at the end, that is what i would find offensive and inappropriate. your professor sounds potentially lazy or out of touch with how it could have made some people feel, and i think you have every right to (respectfully, non accusingly) ask him why he chose that movie over any other and why it pertained to the class. you might learn some things he thought were immediately obvious.
posted by nadawi at 1:20 PM on October 30, 2009


The specific movie doesn't matter. If my professor was going to surprise us with Bambi, I'd still like to know about it in advance.
posted by muddgirl at 1:20 PM on October 30, 2009


I don't see anything wrong with what the professor did. As a Cinema Studies student I took many exams that were presented in just the manner you described.

Though the film is rated R, it is hardly graphic or gratuitous. As mentioned above, the scenes that you found objectionable were intended to make you uncomfortable and were portrayed in a negative light. If I were the professor, I would not have expected this film to hurt anyone's feelings (I probably would not make a good professor).

However, if I were the professor, I would want to know that you were upset by the film. Unless he is a real jerk, he probably did not foresee this controversial and will probably want to avoid offending people in the future.
posted by AtomicBee at 1:24 PM on October 30, 2009


As orsonet said, a prof should be aware of the fact that some students might be sensitive to seeing certain things on film (maybe based on their experiences, maybe general squeamishness), and it might be a good idea to give a warning and an optional alternative assignment. But as craven_morhead says, the prof shouldn't simply assume that the number of black/Asian/female/disabled students in the class determines whether to show it. In fact, what would be really "inappropriate" would be for the prof to overhaul his usual syllabus based on a stereotype that blacks/Asians/women/the disabled are too sensitive to take a critical, unflinching look at certain subjects. Your reaction to the movie is one individual's personal reaction; it does not represent the female or black or Asian reaction. (Anyway, I'm not sure whether you think that the prof should be more hesitant to show certain movies if there are more women/blacks/Asians in the class or fewer. By the same token, if he reserved certain movies that he considered to be worth watching only for the rare class that consists entirely of white men, you'd have good reason to complain about that too!)
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:24 PM on October 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


The specific movie doesn't matter. If my professor was going to surprise us with Bambi, I'd still like to know about it in advance.

What part of this makes sense, pedagogically, or otherwise?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:30 PM on October 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yeah, mudgirl, I don't understand this entitlement to know about everything that will be presented to you in class in advance. Life doesn't work that way; why is the syllabus some sort of contract that works differently?
posted by craven_morhead at 1:31 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Although the choice of film wasn't inappropriate, it is unfortunate that you were made so extremely uncomfortable, particularly in an educational setting. That can be very frustrating, especially when you look around and see yourself as a clear minority.

It's been a while since I've seen Crash, but as I recall, most of its scenes are intended to be fairly discomfiting. Perhaps the sexual harassment scene is the worst, but it's in line with the rest of the film, and the repercussions of the scene are clearly illustrated. You mentioned that you were "disgusted", and that's a good point to think about. That scene was one-dimensional in that it incited disgust and only disgust; the audience wasn't meant to empathize with the perpetrator at all. This is actually in stark contrast to most cinematic depiction of sexual harassment/violence, usually shown as heavy flirting or rough sex. Worth thinking about: how would you have felt, as the only woman in the class, if the professor had shown a film depicting a somewhat graphic and drawn-out sex scene?

Some people have a particularly tough time watching sexual or other violence. This is a well-documented issue for survivors of sexual violence. On the web there are lots of lists of seemingly-innocuous movies with "trigger" scenes of rape, harassment, or anything in between. The reasons for not wanting to see sexual violence are abundant and excellent, but it is not a bad thing that some movies show sexual violence. Like any other taste preference (but more emphatically so) you have to be responsible and not blame others for showing you a film they couldn't have predicted would upset you. Telling every professor upfront that you have a problem with seeing films with sexual violence is embarrassing and will come off as immature or strange. An excellent teacher (like the one upthread) would be aware that this discomfort is common, but excellent teachers are few and far between. So, you should prepare carefully (watch it at home, and fast forward), or avert your eyes, then mention your dislike in a class discussion if there is one.

To answer your question, you felt a power imbalance due to the bad professor and lack of female peers, you saw a scene that made you (for perfectly good reasons) feel disgusted, and misinterpreted it as hostility or incompetence.

This misinterpretation baffles me. Perhaps it might help if you explained your opinion of Crash without using the pseudo-intellectual, vague term "problematic". Your discomfort regarding the demographics of the class is confusing; would it be better if he had showed the film to an all-white, all-male class, or would it be better if he had showed it to a much more diverse class? And why should a teacher calibrate educational content to a student's race and gender?

Your comment about a hypothetical mobility issues film is preposterous. I can't fathom that any student attending an accredited, non-crazy institution would misinterpret a harassment scene as encouragement or tolerance of harassment. Your proposed teaching method would limit the possible choice of films with disabled characters to those which do not acknowledge that people with mobility issues regularly face discrimination and harassment. That is bad, bad teaching for both students with mobility issues and without.
posted by acidic at 1:33 PM on October 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


It seems the major flaw is the film was not set up well. It may be perfectly appropriate to the class but there should have been some pre-announcement of possible content issues.

As to "It's an award winner", hells bells A Clockwork Orange was shortlisted for 4 academy awards including best pic, as well as a bunch of other awards, it was critically acclaimed and so on and so on. Yet, just dropping that movie on a class without set-up, warnings etc would be pretty assholish.
posted by edgeways at 1:35 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


i'm confused at your telling of events.

you say he didn't set it up at all and didn't watch it with you, and you allude that there was no warning.

so, were you guys just in class, he rolled in a tv/dvd player, hit play, and walked out?
posted by nadawi at 1:48 PM on October 30, 2009


I've only ever seen the first ten minutes of this movie, in a freshman comp. class where we also watched O and a version of Othello (which also, of course, dealt with rape and race issues). As a writing tutor, however, I had to read about a million papers on it--written by students of all races. It's a really, really commonly assigned movie in college courses.

If I was teaching a class with one student in a wheelchair, I would not show a film depicting any kind of harassment towards people with mobility issues. Unless the course was about mobility issues.

Quite frankly, as a former instructor, I wouldn't tailor my syllabus like this based on the demographics of the class because it strikes me as presumptuous and condescending. It's not as if students in wheelchairs would be unaware of mobility issues, and discussions about harassment and discrimination in college classrooms do not, that I've ever seen, reinforce that the harasser is correct--instead, literary and film examples are often used to talk about larger issues of race, prejudices, or are used to underscore other concepts relevant to the class. Students should be prepared to talk and think critically even, and perhaps especially, about emotionally loaded issues. It sounds like, based on the exam question, your professor was trying to get you to do exactly that.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:52 PM on October 30, 2009 [11 favorites]


It's an uncomfortable film, to be sure. To be sure, professors who use cinema in their courses are going to face similar issues with any film they choose to screen, depending on the students in the class.

When I had exam material on Crash two years ago, it was explicitly in the context of institutionalized racism and sexism in America, as part of a film-studies course. I see why it would apply to organizational behavior as a treatise on institutionalized discrimination in general. I don't think it's inappropriate instructional material for a class of people who are all legal to view R-rated films.

I do think your prof could've set it up better for you-- film studies courses almost always have the pre-screening lecture where the prof sets up the history of the production and major topics you should be prepared to address in the discussion after the screening. That lecture occasionally, at the individual instructor's discretion, involves a disclaimer about language, sexuality, or other content.

Also, at least in the experience of film professors I've known, formal complaints about the appropriateness of content at the university level are generally met with "You're an adult, and while you may be uncomfortable with this content, we'd prefer that you think about why you're uncomfortable, rather than try to limit others' exposure to the content itself."

A pal of mine showed the "coffee is for closers" speech in Glengarry Glen Ross every year to his screenwriting students at a Catholic university in the States, and every year, one or two people would walk out and report him to the Dean for sexist, overly sexualized, and inappropriate content. The fact that this happened every year he taught screenwriting should tell you that his presentation and use of risque content was pretty much solidly defensible as part of the course material.

Calling the content on its flaws in a class discussion is always fair game, of course. My Intro to American Cinema class watched Reservoir Dogs, and man, the discussion was full of "this is the most racist, sexist, unspeakably violent film I've ever seen," from a class of largely white 18-to-21-year-olds. ;)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:55 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Folks, the US rating isn't so germane in Canada. That said, the Canadian film ratings boards have rated it 14A, which is an even less restrictive rating than the US R-rating.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:03 PM on October 30, 2009


What part of this makes sense, pedagogically, or otherwise?

For all the reasons I've already laid out.

1) Professors have a mechanism of transmitting information about course content to students. It's call the syllabus. There's no excuse not to transmit information about course content that way.

2) Reading an exam question is a private thing. A movie screening is a public thing. The set-up for this movie screening did not give the poster sufficient time to evaluate the content of the movie and judge whether she felt comfortable watching the movie in public.
posted by muddgirl at 2:05 PM on October 30, 2009


As a liberal feminist Angeleno, I thought Crash was stupid and one dimensional. It was more troubling to me that the officer becomes the woman's saviour at the end after he has been her molester earlier.

Having said that, reading the description of your question and the sort of replies you are seeking, I think that your limits are very narrow in terms of what you are willing to consider in the name of learning, and seeking to lay a lot of blame on your instructor for your personal disregard as poor instruction.

You could use what offends you to write an analysis of sexism in the director's vision, his pedestrian creative point of view as an artist, but in stead solicit opinions about to bolster your feeling that you should not be exposed to ideas you will find offensive. I would argue that you are limiting yourself much more than your instructor.
posted by effluvia at 2:08 PM on October 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


On the one hand: the uncomfortable and unflattering opinions about race in the film was actually the POINT of the film, if memory serves. I wasn't too big a fan of the film, but not for any "yicky" feeling -- I was turned off by the fact that the message of the film seemed to be simply that "everyone's a little bit racist", and depicting everyone ickily was meant to underscore everyones' racism, regardless of their OWN race. Same to with the molestation scene -- the premise of the film seemed to be that "we're ALL pretty much crap people, there's no one race, gender, or group that is inherentaly better or worse, and we're all prejudiced."

On the other: ...Huh. I'm trying to think how the prof could have handled this differently, and I'm not coming up with much. Pretty much the only thing that I could see your professor could have done differently is to point out that there are some scenes that are strong stuff, so again, class, let me remind you that you can watch it at home rather than in class....but that's the kind of thing I'd save for the class evaluation you do at the end of the semester rather than putting in a letter to the Dean or anything.

Even the "but what does this have to do with the topic of the class" angle -- well, you say this was a midterm. It could have been that his selecting something that wasn't immediately apparent in its relevance could have been his way of throwing you a curve ball, in the sense that "it's not obviously relevant, but if they're thinking right they'll find connections -- so let me test them that way." And even here, that's not off-base, to my thinking.

Your concerns are valid, but I don't see this as being something to involve the dean in or anything. More like a gentle, informative statement that "Um, that felt weird, so maybe a stronger warning beforehand with dicey stuff like that might be the best way to proceed just so we're braced better."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:15 PM on October 30, 2009


I have to admit, I don't like the instructor

This seems to be the main problem here.

If I was teaching a class with one student in a wheelchair, I would not show a film depicting any kind of harassment towards people with mobility issues. Unless the course was about mobility issues. I would only show a film with racism if there was a module specifically about racism. And I don't know if I would ever, ever show a film depicting sexual violence towards women.

Great, but you're not the teacher. And also, while I understand why you'd make this choice, I don't think it's necessarily a good one. If anything, having a person with mobility issues in your class would make this an interesting opportunity for discussion -- maybe it relates to the subject being taught in ways that people who don't have mobility issues (including yourself, presumably) can't see. Classes like this are an opportunity to learn from each other. If you protect people from having to discuss or face examples of actual problems that they've personally experienced, out of deference to their feelings, then you are pre-emptively depriving them of a chance to relate their experience to others, which can be an important part of someone's development as a person or a scholar. I think that tailoring your film choices to tip-toe around the possible issues of every new batch of students is patronizing and it doesn't do anyone any favors.

The clinic I once sold plasma to in college was showing the movie Blade on all its TV sets. Now that was inappropriate.
posted by hermitosis at 2:21 PM on October 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


I had no idea this thread would provoke so many responses and so much controversy. Wow.

Here are the conclusions I've drawn after reading all of your answers:

The instructor should have introduced the film with something like "I realize this film portrays [x, y, z sensitive elements]. I chose it because of [a, b and c]. You may not want to watch it with your classmates, but this is up to you".

Had he done that, I would only have felt the uncomfortableness that is natural to watching sexual molestation and race discrimination - both of which are extremely disturbing to me and many other people. I truly have no problem with such things being portrayed in whatever art medium if I believe they are not gratuitous. And whether or not the molestation scene in Crash is gratuitous is a topic for another thread, really.


I do think that if you are the *only* woman/black/asian/hispanic/disabled person in the classroom watching a movie like Crash, you're probably going to feel vulnerable somehow, and feeling vulnerable in a classroom isin my view, is not cool. You're going to feel exposed and you're going to know that your classmates are looking at you and wondering how you feel about scene X in the movie. And you're not going to get an opportunity to tell them if there is no class discussion afterwards. How do I know they're going to think about you in relation to the scene? Because I was thinking about the black dude in my class who was laughing (comfortably?uncomfortably?) at all the racist comments aimed at black people and wondering how he felt. Yes, it's good to think about how other people feel about racism, etc. But when you are the single, only visible member of relevant social group watching a film that addresses discrimination against that social group, you don't think "Awesome! All these people are going to think about how it feels to be black/a woman/disabled!" You feel a lot of conflicting things.

And for that reason, I think it was innappropriate for my instructor to screen the film in class without providing an introduction to the film - which would have signalled his own respect for the feelings of said visible minorities.

Thanks, all. I've got my answer.
posted by kitcat at 2:37 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have to admit, I don't like the instructor and I'm baffled by his film choice - a film about - I don't know, an organization - would have been made a lot more sense.

One of the main points of the film was how people behave different within the organizations they belong to and how people perceive them as being different based on belonging to those organizations. All of this occurs despite that fact that people are individuals, with very human concerns.

If I was teaching a class with one student in a wheelchair, I would not show a film depicting any kind of harassment towards people with mobility issues. Unless the course was about mobility issues. I would only show a film with racism if there was a module specifically about racism. And I don't know if I would ever, ever show a film depicting sexual violence towards women.

Speaking as a black male in America, I find this line of thought condescending. There's no need to tiptoe around and sugar coat what I and other minorities have experienced, often on a daily basis. It's real and exists and learning to work with those issues while dealing with everything else that occurs in life is extremely important.

Finally, please don't tell me that watching this film was good for me/us. I'm a former lit major, and this depictions of race here are extremely problematic.

I'm not going to tell you that you're somehow wrong for feeling what you feel. However I would suggest that you missed the point of the molestation scene, considering what transpires between the cop and the woman later in the movie.

I do think that if you are the *only* woman/black/asian/hispanic/disabled person in the classroom watching a movie like Crash, you're probably going to feel vulnerable somehow, and feeling vulnerable in a classroom isin my view, is not cool.
Please stop assuming whatever you think and feel is what every other member of other minority groups is feeling, it comes off as condescending and narrow minded. Everything you wrote in that paragraph is so far from what I, a black male, would be thinking in that class, it's not even funny.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:49 PM on October 30, 2009 [14 favorites]


The professor required a potentially triggering film for an exam. I used to write assessments for the US educational market. The state department of education didn't allow us to mention potentially upsetting issues like abuse in exams because if a student gets upset by the trigger, then their performance on the exam is likely to be affected, which puts them at a disadvantage.

It's perfectly possible to create an exam that doesn't force people to view abuse that they themselves might have experienced. Requiring people of any demographic to view an intentionally upsetting film that could trigger painful memories and then evaluating their performance is not exactly fair or smart. The prof could have offered a choice of films, if films were really the best assessment.
posted by PatoPata at 2:52 PM on October 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Sometimes being challenged with things that make us uncomfortable can be educational. I haven't seen Crash, so I'm not going to address its merits as a film. But I'm dismayed by the presumption that education should be inoffensive, or that potentially conteoversial material should be somehow cordoned off from core topics. Could the instructor have handled this better? Sure. Is the film relevant to the topic of the class? I dunno. Does the fact that the film made people feel uncomfortable and vulnerable have any bearing on its merit? No, IMO, it doesn't. I think you are overreacting.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:53 PM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm dismayed by the presumption that education should be inoffensive

If this is directed at me, I'm not saying that education should be inoffensive. I'm saying that exams that count for a big chunk of the final grade should avoid triggering issues. Sure, watch a challenging film and discuss it as part of the overall class. I'm all for that--especially if I can duck out if necessary without trashing my grade.

As an instructor, you have no idea what people in your class might have experienced and might still be suffering from. Post-traumatic stress disorder isn't some made-up excuse used by weaklings. Challenging films and stories are valuable education. But requiring someone to watch a potential trigger and grading their performance immediately afterward is dumb.
posted by PatoPata at 3:06 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


kitcat - again i ask my question, because something just isn't lining up here.

so, were you guys just in class, he rolled in a tv/dvd player, hit play, and walked out? and to further the question - there was no mention that you guys would be staying 2 hours after class to watch a movie? it just seems very suspect - i mean, didn't anyone in your class have another class to go to or work or the coffee shop?
posted by nadawi at 3:12 PM on October 30, 2009


I'd be curious to find out what people would think constitute exam-suitable "safe" movies that avoid triggering any issues for their audiences.
posted by hermitosis at 3:13 PM on October 30, 2009


I'd be curious to find out what people would think constitute exam-suitable "safe" movies that avoid triggering any issues for their audiences.

And I would be interested in knowing why the only possible format for an exam is a film.
posted by PatoPata at 3:16 PM on October 30, 2009


PatoPata, your point proves too much. Indeed, as an instructor, you really don't have any idea what your students have endured. Consequently, there would be little you could use in the exam context. Someone's parent died of cancer, so Magnolia's out. Someone's uncle died of a drug overdose, so Little Miss Sunshine's out. Someone had a bad childhood, someone had an abortion, someone's brother had epilepsy--it's endless.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:16 PM on October 30, 2009


PatoPata, doesn't your point extend to written hypotheticals? Paintings? Especially moving pieces of music? Unless I'm mistaken, film was not the first technology to elicit an emotional response in humans.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:19 PM on October 30, 2009


Consequently, there would be little you could use in the exam context.

Maybe you missed the bit where I said that I had a job writing assessments that somehow managed to avoid mentioning abortion or drug overdoses. It's entirely possible.
posted by PatoPata at 3:19 PM on October 30, 2009


And I would be interested in knowing why the only possible format for an exam is a film.

it's not, as proven by the professor only making 1 question about the film.
posted by nadawi at 3:20 PM on October 30, 2009


Ok, nadawi. He told us one week before it was to be screened that we would be watching Crash and that our midterm would involve applying OB topics to the film. A few days later, he said that he wouldn't be there for the screening and asked someone to volunteer to pick up the DVD from the office, put the movie on and return it to the office afterwards. The screening was last Friday. Yesterday we wrote the midterm. We did not have a class between the screening and the midterm. I have no reason to believe we will be discussing the film any further.
posted by kitcat at 3:22 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


The screening was during class time - our classes are 2 hours long.
posted by kitcat at 3:24 PM on October 30, 2009


Depictions of race, class, gender in most films are extremely problematic, aren't they? Race, class, and gender are extremely problematic in life. I don't think it's a good thing to only watch things that are comfortable and appropriate.

I saw Crash a while ago and.. I don't know, my objection would be that it's not a very good film (Cronenberg's film is very interesting, though hard to watch, though more worth the time ultimately), but.. I'm afraid I don't understand why the professor shouldn't show it. Actually I don't like this film because it DOES seem suitable in many ways for a nice class lesson - that's exactly the problem - it tries to resolve all this stuff in nice comfortable appropriate ways, which IMHO is bad art. But the kind of bad art that wins awards.
posted by citron at 3:28 PM on October 30, 2009


Before I wrote it yesterady, I was under the impression that the vast majority of the midterm would pose very open-ended questions about OB topics in relation to the film. In truth, it turns out that in the marking scheme the question relating to the film made up about 25% of the mark.
posted by kitcat at 3:29 PM on October 30, 2009


darn, - yesterday
posted by kitcat at 3:30 PM on October 30, 2009


so you had a full week to research the film and decide if you wanted to watch it with your classmates. you didn't do that or thought it wouldn't be a big deal or whatever, and YOU decided to screen the movie with your class instead of watching it alone or telling the professor you were made uncomfortable by the topics and would prefer an alternate assignment.

you're looking for reasons to blame the professor for how you feel when he gave ample opportunity for that to go any other way than you watching things that you feel uncomfortable about in a group of white 21 year old men. instead of trying to find the appropriateness of it, maybe you should spend some time figuring out why your first reaction is to feel victimized or icky or vulnerable by something you had complete control over. you said yourself "It is precisely the screening and it's context that is bothering me", but that was a choice you made.
posted by nadawi at 3:31 PM on October 30, 2009 [8 favorites]


Yeah, the more I'm reading, the more I think the professor did everything right and that the choice of movie was actually a pretty good one.
posted by AtomicBee at 3:41 PM on October 30, 2009


Sweet Jesus and Mary Chain. These kind of sentiments:

Sometimes being challenged with things that make us uncomfortable can be educational.

and

I posit that Crash is SUPPOSED to make you feel uncomfortable.

...are kind of stunning to me. I posit that, for a woman, being made to feel uncomfortable at the display or idea of sexual assault is not a particularly novel feeling. I also posit that it is very tiresome for a minority -- any minority -- to constantly be the subject of "lessons" for the majority in the form of depictions of abuse or violation.

I don't think anyone would argue that education shouldn't be intellectually and perhaps emotionally challenging... but exactly what growth is being stimulated in the woman who ends up watching an explicit sexual assault scene in a room full of men? Or in the black or Asian dude watching over-the-top racism? Is the fact that racism hurts or misogyny sucks supposed to be a new idea for them?

I find it odd and insensitive that the midterm had to be a film that was potentially triggering. To me, it would have made sense for the professor to be up front with the students that there was "explicit" content in the movie, and that they felt they'd be uncomfortable with viewing it, they'd be offered some other option as a midterm assignment. And the reason he would do this is not, as orsonet put it, to be PC, but to simply not be an asshole.

It seems to me that if the professor really wanted to give a lesson in racial or gender interactions in an organization, perhaps he could have had the minimal foresight to see how this would have affected each of his students, and then have the consideration to proceed accordingly.
posted by hegemone at 3:56 PM on October 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


Good grief, who on earth is answering this question? Usually MeFites' advice is "run away at the least sign of problems, spend a fortune on talking to doctors and lawyers before sealing yourself (and your family if any) into a box -- without airholes because who knows what might get in".

And here you are being told to ignore your being sexually abused "because you are an adult". Demanding that you watch a woman being sexually maltreated is abuse. There is no excuse. As you point out, there is not even a strong link to the course that might begin to be used as justification for this choice. The fact that the incident was not being glorified in the film does not magically make it inoffensive. Find out your college's complaints system and use it, to prevent any recurrence.
posted by Idcoytco at 4:18 PM on October 30, 2009


Idcoytco - are you seriously suggesting that the professor sexually abused her by "forcing" her to watch this movie? that sort of logic is offensive to me, a person who has been actually sexually abused. people who throw the abuse word around so casually either haven't been victimized in that way, or are so far from recovery that every twig snap makes them cower in fear.
posted by nadawi at 4:26 PM on October 30, 2009 [8 favorites]


I think the fact that you had a week's notice of the film that you would be watching, plus the ability to watch this in the comfort of your home, takes any remaining sting out of this.
posted by craven_morhead at 4:35 PM on October 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


I posit that, for a woman, being made to feel uncomfortable at the display or idea of sexual assault is not a particularly novel feeling. I also posit that it is very tiresome for a minority -- any minority -- to constantly be the subject of "lessons" for the majority in the form of depictions of abuse or violation.

I don't think anyone here was saying "you should have sucked it up and watched it because it's good for you, like spinach!" however. I think that those statements were more a response to the artistic point of the film in GENERAL.

In the SPECIFIC, of course, anyone is free to see or not see a given film for any number of reasons, among them being "I've had personal experiences which would cause me to react strongly to the images in this film." And if that's the case, then great - don't watch it, or if you do watch it just make sure you're doing so under whatever conditions you feel safe.

Which is why I think the OP has settled on "I could have handled this better if I'd had a bit more of a warning and made my own arrangements." Which I concur is a fine idea.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:21 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you feel the instructor was behaving inappropriately and would like to pursue a proactive approach to the situation, you might want to talk to your school's ombudsman or ombudswoman for advice.

At the very least, and ombudsman can act as a sounding board, and can also act as an intermediary.

Personally, I think that the instructor behaved inappropriately. Leaving racism out of it, showing a sexually explicit depiction of sexual assault in this context displays very poor judgement.

You have the right to feel uncomfortable, and you have the right to express this discomfort.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:29 PM on October 30, 2009


Idcoytco - are you seriously suggesting that the professor sexually abused her by "forcing" her to watch this movie? that sort of logic is offensive to me, a person who has been actually sexually abused. people who throw the abuse word around so casually either haven't been victimized in that way, or are so far from recovery that every twig snap makes them cower in fear.

It's unfair of you to use your own experience to tell other women how to feel and how to think.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:30 PM on October 30, 2009


It's unfair of you to use your own experience to tell other women how to feel and how to think.

i stand by what i said. she was not sexually abused by watching 5 minutes of an r rated film. feelings don't even come into it. it's just a misuse of the word. it like people saying that wearing high heels is torture. it's insulting to people who have actually been tortured.
posted by nadawi at 7:55 PM on October 30, 2009


It's unfair of you to use your own experience to tell other women how to feel and how to think.

OK, we could kind of go down the rabbit hole with this one, but come on. Words have definitions that must remain reasonably fixed in order for them to function within meaningful discourse. The phrase "sexual abuse" indeed connotes a range of things to different people, but it does not follow that its definition is, in fact, totally free-floating, able to be changed based solely on the "feelings" of women (or men, for that matter). It is perfectly legitimate to challenge the highly questionable notion put forth by Itcoytco that being asked to watch a non-pornographic movie is the same as rape, molestation, incest, or voyeurism.
posted by scody at 8:02 PM on October 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Legitimate to question, yes, always, but this is not the place for it and the thread's kind of gotten out of hand. My question was genuine and I appreciate everyone's input. I'm marking this resolved.
posted by kitcat at 8:10 PM on October 30, 2009


[few comments removed - nothing personal but this is not the place for a sidebar about sexual abuse - metatalk or email please.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:11 AM on October 31, 2009


I know a lot of 101 film / cinema courses show Birth of A Nation as an example of early cinematic innovation. It just happens to be about the KKK and white supremacy. If a professor decided to screen it to me without a little background, I would be uncomfortable. But one wouldn't expect to be tackling a topic such as lynching in a Intro to Film course. I would expect to be tackling some difficult topics in a organizational behavior course. If you had been taking a human sexuality class and the professor had you watch Caligola without a warning, would you have been offended? If you watched a film in the privacy of your home, would you blame the director / writer for an offensive scene that caught you off guard?
posted by jasondigitized at 10:23 AM on October 31, 2009


Although that movie is not very good, the scene in question, as far as movies go, was extremely tame. If you really think that it was inappropriate, then you ought to approach every instructor you have for the rest of your life on the first day of class, and tell them that you are a Jehovah's witness. That way, they can give you a special curriculum that will take your strange perspective into account.

Unsolicited advice on the side: Don't ever go to film school.
posted by bingo at 1:06 PM on December 27, 2009


« Older How best to stay on beat, then...   |  is there a "sound opinion... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.