A couple of years ago, I taught in a learning community with a colleague in psychology. Although neither of us has been moved to repeat the experience soon, that wasn’t because it wasn’t fun or interesting–it was just intense. (Partly due to all the planning of special events–such as a visit by Steven Johnson–and partly due to hyperbonding [scroll down].)
Anyway, one of the units with linked content was about AIDS. (My colleague’s research is in psychology & public health.) She regularly showed her students a powerful documentary about AIDS in Africa. I wanted students to think about genre, satire, voice, and, in general, the differences between a medical/scientific discipline such as psychology and an aesthetic/cultural discipline such as English.
I showed, in other words, John Greyson’s brilliant 1994 musical, Zero Patience, which sends up the epidemiological hysteria around AIDS in the late 1980s/early 1990s by imagining–I kid you not–an affair between the ghost of “Patient Zero,” the flight attendant who allegedly was the vector for AIDS’s arrival in North America, and a still-living Richard Francis Burton, now a curator in a Toronto museum. Here are some representative clips from the film: “Pop-a-Boner,” “Control,” and the title track. (Many people seem not to know about this movie–if that includes you, I *highly* recommend it, although it is . . . different. For example, a key moment is the “Butthole Duet,” in which Patient Zero’s rectum serenades Burton’s. It’s a funny choice, raising questions about sexual selfishness, about the physicality of desire — and plus it’s just a great visual gag.)
The students were shocked at the nudity, shocked at the subtitles, shocked at the frank acceptance of homosexuality, and they generally thought that the movie *endorsed* the marginalization of Patient Zero (that is, they read its politics backwards). It was, in other words, an excellent early-semester movie, because we got to talk about all kinds of interesting formal elements of interpretation.
And today, a student was moved to send me (via text message) this striking confirmation of my pedagogical design:
I literally just remembered the butt-hole song from freshman comp, you deranged freak
It’s moments like these, I think you’ll agree, that draw us into teaching in the first place.