Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Miseducation of Ratna, Ken and Kumi: A Textbook Investigation Pt. 5

 Note: When I left Japan, I brought three of my school’s English textbooks with me. This will be the last time I analyze a specific chapter/activity/page from them. For the first four installments of this running segment and some basic information on the New Crown English Textbook Series, please refer to my earlier posts.

Pt. 5: Ken Colonizes England
Chapter Title: “A letter from the UK”
From: New Crown Series, Volume 1, pgs. 88-89.
Chapter’s Theme: This chapter consists of a single “hand-written” missive. It was mailed to Ken by an English-girl-we’ve-never-met-before named Mary. Apparently they are pen-pals. I thought pen-pals were extinct. Whatever. Mary and Ken write letters to each other. In this letter Mary answers Ken’s inquiries about life in England.
Graphics: An animated depiction of Mary composing a letter. A drawing of a rabbit-in-a-coat eating carrots. A photograph of sheep exiting a stone shanty. A photograph of an old mansion. A photograph of a sign championing “Old Harry Rocks” (I’m choosing to leave that alone). An animated depiction of Ken reading a letter and grinning like a devious little ass-face. 

Sure. Why not.

Content and Analysis:

Sentence: “15 January
                    Dear Ken,”
Analysis: Good job, Mary. You know how to scribe a formal letter. You probably know how to write a bank check, too. British people are so practical. But your food sucks and your weather sucks and your freedom sucks. Keep writing formal letters, England. America will figure out some other, freer, way to communicate. Like maybe the internet. Yeah. We will make the internet.

Sentence: “Thank you for your letter.”
Analysis: So decorous. So dull. So British. And what is that fine utensil you’re writing with, Mary? Is that a fountain-pen?? Mary, Mary, Mary. If you had the internet, you wouldn’t spend so many pounds on ink cartridges and postage stamps. Poor England. Warm beer and fountain pens instead of the internet. I bet the Peace Corps doesn't even go there.   

Sentence: “I received it yesterday.”
Analysis: Woah, Mary. Ease up. Don’t tell Ken when you received his letter and definitely don’t write back THE NEXT DAY. That’s an amateur move. It makes you look desperate. Play it cool, girl. Tell Ken you received his letter like a week ago but you’ve been busy with your friend Alfie. That’s a British name, right? Alfie. What a stupid name. Anyway, learn how to play The Game, Mary. Obviously Ken likes you. But don’t forget: he’s a teenage boy. He wants attention from every girl in the world. If you come off as zealous and available, pretty soon he’ll be asking for Polaroids of you wearing only your summertime pajamas. It’s a slippery slope from there, Mary. Before you know it, you’ll be using your fountain-pen to draw nude self-portraits. And for the love of god, do NOT buy Ken a plane ticket to England. Just don’t do it.

Sentence: “You asked me about Peter Rabbit.”
Analysis: Goddamn motherfuck you, Ken. You asked your pen-pal crush about Peter Rabbit??? Are you kidding me? Ugh. You are the worst. You’re so much worse than everyone else. And by the way, what question could you possibly have about Peter Rabbit? He’s an anthropomorphic character from some old children’s stories. The end. If you have a weird obsession with Peter Rabbit, research him on your own time. It shouldn’t be too hard. Again, he is a character from a series of very famous books. Read them. Don’t make chaste little Mary explain mind-numbing shit to you just because you know she’ll do whatever you want. That’s cruel. Good thing England has made divorce legal. They have, right? Who knows. England is such a backward place. 

Sentence: “He lived in the Lake District.”
Analysis: Stop it, Mary. Don’t humor Ken. He doesn’t care about the Lake District or Peter Rabbit or your feelings. He’s testing you. This is how it starts. First the odd, charming queries. Then the accounts of his troubled childhood. Then he’ll say he loves you. Then the Polaroids. DO NOT SEND ANY POLAROIDS.

Sentence: “Last summer I visited the Lake District with my family.”
Analysis: Don’t tell Ken anything about your personal life, Mary. Zilch. If England had the internet, you would’ve learned this stuff a long time ago; AOL Chatrooms basically raised me. But you Brits have no idea. You know another place that doesn’t have the Internet? Wherever Manti Te’o is from. He had no chance when he came to America and went online. A suggestion, Mary: research Peter Rabbit less and Manti Te’o more.

Sentences: “I enjoyed it very much. It is a very beautiful place.”
Analysis: This is getting tedious. Ken probably isn’t bored, but I am. By all means, keep spouting boring British/personal facts, Mary. Eventually Ken will take his licentious schemes elsewhere.

Sentence: “The National Trust protects the Lake District.”
Analysis: What the hell are you talking about, Mary? What’s the National Trust? Does it protect the Lake District because Peter Rabbit supposedly lives there? Do you Brits know that Peter Rabbit isn’t real? There’s an organization to safeguard his habitat, so I’m going to hazard that no, England does not realize Peter Rabbit is fictional. A quick visit to Wikipedia would illuminate this misunderstanding, but, alas, we are talking about England – where no one has e-mail and everyone anticipates Professor Moriarty’s next attack.

Big house. Pervy sign. Asshole. 

Sentence: “The Trust started over 100 years ago.”
Analysis: OMG. This is totally the most boring thing I’ve read today.

Sentence: “Did many people join it then?”
Analysis: E tu, Mary? E tu with the rhetorical questions? This is Ken’s fault. You, Mary, never used to pollute your prose with rhetorical questions. You were taught formal, breviloquent, fountain-pen English. But Ken has been writing you so many letters filled with so many rhetorical questions for so long that it’s scrambled your naïve British brain. Don’t do it, Mary. Don’t answer your own question. Ken is not an icon and he has no authority. He is sanctimonious and manipulative and his speech pattern reflects that. Don’t copy him.

Sentence: “No, they did not.”
Analysis: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Slippery slope, Mary. Slippery. Slope.

Sentence: “Only three volunteers started it.”
Analysis: Bored. Bored. Bored. So bored.

Sentence: “Now it has over 3 million members.”
Analysis: Are you still going on about the National Trust?? Seriously, Mary? Is this how you talk to boys? You have zero game. Your game is anti-game. This précis has pretty much desiccated my sperm-tank. I think I fell asleep for a second. Are there 3 million British volunteer bunnies brandishing fountain-pens? Is that what’s happened so far? I never want to contemplate this again.

Sentence: “The Trust protects beautiful places and old houses.”
Analysis: Old houses. Perfect. One more joyless topic you were able to seamlessly incorporate into this communiqué. Well done, Mary. Well done, England. If I could start a second Revolutionary War, I would. But England would be too boring to fight back and it would be the lamest war ever. I denounce you, England. I hope you never get the internet.

Sentence: “Your friend,
Analysis: We get it. You know how to write a formal letter. You can have that, Mary/England. The rest of the world will take fun and happiness, thank you.

Conclusions: There are two deductions we can make here.

11)    Ken is a calculating, cagey dude. He appeals to Mary’s British identity – asking arbitrary questions about antiquated English literature. He mollifies her sense of technological inferiority – initiating a hand-written correspondence. He flatters her with lots of letters – so many that by now she’s adopted some of his repugnant grammatical tics. He even lets her gibber on and on about insipid, somnolent stuff like national organizations and bygone houses. Obviously he doesn’t care about any of that shit. He’s a kid. But all of his classmates despise him and he’s tired of being alone. He can't just change his personality because he's such a douche-bag. So instead Ken found a foil. Mary is his marionette. He’s going to make her answer dumb questions and he’s going to have her buy him a one-way ticket to England. He’s going to take Polaroids of her and who knows what he’ll do with them. At least if he posts anything on the internet, Mary’s parents will never know.

22)    Japan doesn’t actually want its children to learn English. Sorry, but there’s no other conclusion. This chapter is the stalest, least imaginative piece of writing I’ve read in a long time. Japanese kids have tons of anime characters with cool superpowers and slutty outfits; Peter Rabbit strikes them as puritanical and stodgy. The National Trust means nothing to them (or me, for that matter) and the fact that it has 3 million volunteers probably makes them never want to learn English because, as far as they know, English-speakers only talk about old houses. This chapter fails on so many levels. But maybe if more people read it, we can start getting England some help. 

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