Monday, July 28, 2008

Suicide promotional literature for teens

I came into work an hour and a half early by accident today and since my car is currently indisposed that meant I was stuck here without a way back home. Thus I'm feeling tired, a tad cranky, and reading a lot of Hobo Teacher today mixed with the influx of idiotic customer calls has only increased my sarcasm level.

Anyhow, I just had a thought regarding the use of Romeo & Juliet in high school curriculum...

Who had the brilliant idea to promote a suicidal love story to large quantities of emotionally volatile teenagers?

My wonderment was sparked by Hobo Teacher's lamentation over the failure of students to sufficiently appreciate the... romance? passion? love? ...behind Romeo's choice to die rather then live without Juliet. And yet, if students don't immediately empathize with Romeo's extreme reaction to Juliet's death, if they actually feel it to be an unnatural overreaction, shouldn't we be kind of... well, glad? Are we actually supposed to be hoping that students will strongly identify with Romeo's decision to die rather then bear the pain of his loss? This with teenagers who are already often prone to emotional overreaction (hey, I know I was! possibly still am...) and are similarly going through all the turmoils of romantic love every day, often for the first times in their lives?

I mean, if suicide is romanticized and seemingly justified in Shakespeare... (Which is practically biblical, right? I mean, King James Bible/Shakespeare = practically interchangeable.)

There's no denying that R&J is a pretty darn attractive representation of death. There's even the whole "happy dagger" bit. I mean, R & J are right in there with the other ultimate pin-ups for star-crossed love: Heloise and Abelard, Antony and Cleopatra, Dante and Beatrice, Tristan and Isolde, Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley... okay, that last one might be a stretch. I suppose teachers could always draw upon the sorrow that Romeo and Juliet's families experience to negate any justification for the double-suicide. (Not to mention perhaps adding a mini-lecture on the pitfalls of impetuous decision making - if Romeo had just waited one second longer!)

Anyways, I'm not by any means trying to start a campaign for pulling R&J from classrooms (although I wonder how successful said campaign might turn out to be). I love Shakespeare and I love R&J. Artists aestheticize death and killing all the time. And I mean, we read Macbeth in high school as well and I know that it doesn't immediately follow that teaching it will cause kids to go out on a murderous rampage of politicians. Right? (Now, A Clockwork Orange - maybe.)

But I do think having teachers lecture teens on a play which romanticizes the suicides of its specifically teenage heroes is just a tiny bit funny.

IMAGE: "Antique key and metal heart on open book, close-up" by David Muir

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