Four Lions & Boston Marathon: Breaking the Frame

Orson Welles called it “breaking the frame.” Also known as the fourth wall.…the breaking of a narrative….like when an actor in a movie pauses to speak directly to the audience. Teaching is a performance space too. It is removed from reality. When we are in this space we are allowed to “bracket” many things in order to make our pedagogical performances work…..i.e. narrow the real world down to just us, our space, our thinking. And once in a while the frame breaks….. without your permission. These are the events and their notes.

March, 20-ish 2013
Mid-morning: IR class topic: Terrorism

Readings: Kydd & Walter, Kilcullen, …etc etc.
Discussion point: critical analysis of the film Four Lions. A film about a group of British males who plot to attack their home country.

Notes:Compelling, awkward, funny….Were we supposed to laugh? When the seemingly mentally impaired activist accidentally blows himself up….were we supposed to laugh?

A new perspective on terrorists. They are disaffected, second and first generation young males. They manage to bomb a marathon. No real coordination, just a bunch of dudes acting like asses who also managed to make explosives.

April 15th, 2013–no class day–

Boston bombing suspects
… a couple of young males, disaffected by their lives in the United States… bomb a marathon. The Boston Marathon. Their logic, unclear, seemingly accidental….. no real coordination…. just a couple of dudes ….

April 17th, 2013
Mid-Morning: IR Class Topic: ??????

What? What?    No Seriously…..what?

There are awful coincidences that come along when you teach. A marriage of random events, and fiction.

The real world, it crashes into your classroom, makes a mockery of your safe space. …and you know very well that what happens next just might teach them something…..teach me something.

….or we can collectively run away.

Step 1: Establish a distance between the very shocking thing that had happened and the thing we had just been exploring from an intellectual perspective.

Step 2: No wait…back up…. have a good long look at the event. Maybe we spent the hour talking over the finer points of analysis, guessing from the color of the smoke, the location, the time of day….all the suppositions.

Step 3: Predict and analyze. How would Kydd and Walter understand this? What does this mean for Kilcullen’s hypothesis?

Step 4: Gracefully declare the class productive.

Notes: BULL$!!@% Spackle that damned hole shut again! 
A class assignment accidentally became inextricably fused to a real world event. I hated it….hated it….

I used those articles like a crow bar:…. to pry myself clear, to pry us all clear from the feel of that event. We intellectualized it….. we walked through it, stared at it, shook our heads…..and we giggled. Not at the pain, but the incredulity…. the gross coincidence. And we laughed at the uneasy way we desperately and willingly returned to seeing world through the end of a straw. At least we could memorize that and understand it, mock it sometimes. 

Narcissism. There’s no way to speak to this without inviting that claim. But there’s also no way to talk about struggle in a classroom in the shadow of big events when they break the frame. I felt sick and fortunate at the same time. I didn’t have any answers.

Nothing clever….just a really wicked reminder that no matter how you teach, it is a performance space….

also… apologies for any misuse of the 4th wall concept. I entirely recognize that I’m playing fast and loose with the concept.