The other day at the gym, I saw an ad for Reese’s new, very meta candy: Reese’s Pieces inside a Reese’s cup.
Here’s what the ad looked like:
Basically, this was my reaction:
But The Princess Bride aside, this is partly why I teach Introduction to Literature.
We teach in a world where, as Matthew Crawford notes, our attention is increasingly divided among a growing number of companies competing not only for our money but also for our brain space; they want to be remembered. They want to be noticed.
One way to do this is to be the loudest kid on the block. Such a strategy that naturally leads to such overstatements as calling a new kind of candy (and not even a new kind, but a variation on an old favourite) a “revolution.”
You know how at Yankee Candle, you can smell about seven candles before your nose is so overpowered by the scents that it stops registering anything? The same thing happens with language; the more students are exposed to overstatements like the one in the ad, the less they’re able to register nuance in language and to speak precisely. The language sense is all overpowered. Ordinary language, simple and elegant, no longer registers.
In Introduction to Literature, at the start of every semester, I tell my students I want them to appreciate literature. This is (partly ) what I mean by this: to value words well-used and simply spoken, to attune themselves to the subtle differences, both emotional and intellectual, in word choice.
My hope is that the exercises we do, all the analyzing of imagery and tone and symbolism, helps accomplish this. Whether they do depends on the students of course, and more on my teaching.
But this is the goal: to keep students from swallowing candy ads trying to pass themselves off as a “revolution,” and to use words well.