What I was intending in class

April 15, 2004

Eric Muller is not happy about my description of the speech section of Wednesday's class: "
I can think of lots of moods I might be in when teaching about Nazism. Silly ain't among 'em."

Silly was perhaps not the best word, but when I give a stump speech - especially a stump speech from a radical politician - I do my best to convey the sentiment along with the words.

Sometimes it is as simply as pitching my voice tenor when reading excerpts from William Jennings Bryan and the "Cross of Gold" speech, at other times it gets closer to the physical - I have not yet done Billy Sunday's slide but I do repeat Eugene Deb's body lean.

For the Hitler excerpts, I moved my voice up and down, changed the timbre from angry to sentimental and back again, and otherwise delivered the words instead of just reading them. I also banged on the podium, waved my hands in the air, and otherwise shifted my usual gestures to something closer to what AH used in his rally speeches.

When people use body language and tone changes that are not usual for their situation, it is commonly read as being either dangerous, confusing, or silly. All three are responses to a breach of decorum.

And, face it, pounding on the podium is not a standard teaching performance - at least not in the classes I took. Nor is it the standard mode for a televised political speech or political advertisement, the venue in which most of the students are used to seeing speechs.

So, these readings are different, this one was hopefully shocking, and if I did it right then the kids will be caught with a sort of cognitive dissonance where they both see how and why his thought was so reprehensible and see how and why his thought and presentation were so compelling. I don't know about that, I do know that they get very silent and very tightly focused whenever I read a radical politician; they were especially focused this class, perhaps because Hitler is so very evil.

In classes where I deliver excerpts from a speech I end up on a bit more of a performance high than I normally get after class, and that performance high is indeed a guilty pleasure when it comes from playing a Nazi.

Posted by Red Ted at April 15, 2004 09:34 AM | TrackBack