I recently started my first MOOC focusing on Rhizomatic Learning and the topic for Week 1 was ‘Cheating as Learning’. After seeing Michael Petroni’s film adaptation of Markus Zuzak’s The Book Thief today and it got me wondering, is seeing the film before reading the book cheating? Does the book come first or are they both completely different?
 
It is usually argued that the book has primacy. Why else would the film be described as an ‘adaptation’? The very term suggests that the book has some sort of pride of place, that it is the thing that is changed for a new medium. However, what is often denied is the place of the adapted text to be a text-in-itself. For example, can you watch the film Tomb Raider without having played the game? Can you listen to Cedric Gervais’ remix of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness”, without listening to the original album version? What is the place of the adapted when considering adaptations?
After discussing the film and Zuzak’s text with my wife, I got wondering about the notion of historical fiction. The film included many significant historical events, such as Kristallnacht, the burning of the books and the bombing of Germany. This got me thinking, is history itself the ‘original’ text in all of this? Should the film really say “Based on Markus Zuzak’s novel The Book Thief, which in turn was adapted from history”. The problem with this is that it then prioritises history, but whose history is it? Whose perspective is it from? What evidence is this understanding based upon?
In the end, it may well be cheating to see an adaptation before reading the print version, however it is better to consider such texts as merely a collection of traces whose true origins are forever lost. Although we may feel that we know or understand a text the more we look into it, really we just get more and more caught up in the mire.

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My wife and I sat and watched Argo the other day. We had both read the hype and were dully rewarded, on the edge of  the couch to the very end. The question that it left me with though was how many other such stories exist through history of extreme risk that have failed and why are they not the stories that we are told?
 
Having completed my rudimentary study of Joseph Campbell and The Hero with a Thousand Faces, I understand that there is a predetermined nature in all of us that wishes to succeed, a staple of the Hollywood film industry. However, how does this match up with the notion of failure? A part of me thinks that even a hero fails somewhere along the way, often this is making of their success.
 
You don’t have to look very hard on the Internet to find a discussion of some of the health benefits of failing every know and then. For example, Seth Godin states that, ‘All of us fail. Successful people fail often, and, worth noting, learn more from that failure than everyone else.’ While Sascha Heckmann posted an interesting image on Twitter suggesting:

With all that said, the big problem with failure is that there is still a large majority out there who treat it negatively and are unable to embrace its potential for a greater good. The first place that this needs to change is finding support and cultural role models who say its ok to fail.
 
In a Ted Talk ‘The Clues to a Great Story‘, Pixar’s Andrew Stanton spoke about the need for stronger role models for women in film. Stanton suggested that Brave is one such film where the writers set out to reposition the female character in the role of stronger and more confident hero. Where are such role models encouraging people to take calculated risks in life and fail every now and then?
 
Some of the films that I’d associate with the idea of failure include The Pursuit of Happyness, The Blind Side and Freedom Writers. Each of these films provides a range of situations where people have persevered through their failures in order to succeed in the end. The problem though with these examples is that they either seem too extreme or involve too much chance. Where are the examples and role models for the common people, those individuals whose life isn’t about changing the world of the down and out or playing elite sport. I am not saying that they are not important, but they are not everything. 
 
I’m subsequently left thinking of the characters like Walter White in Breaking Bad. Yet not only is Walter anything but a role model, but his life seems to be a is a story of unrecognised successes, rather than clear failures. The more I think about it, there just aren’t the models out there.
 
So in conclusion, I return to the place where I started, would Tony Mendez, the protagonist from Argo, be treated the same way at the end if he came back without the six Americans or would he have lost his job? Would his wife have taken him back? Would he have succeeded in life?

POSTSCRIPT

I apologise if you have not seen Argo and I have given away too much.

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