Social Experiments

I know I promised to blog more about Taipei, but I was tired when I got back the window just sort of flew by. Life has gone on. I may go back at some point and write about it, when I’m feeling up to it, but right now I want to talk about something entirely different: social experiments.

When I was in college, my East Asian Literature teacher duped all of us into participating in a classroom experiment that fundamentally changed the way I thought about myself and other people. It was an amazing experience; one which took me entirely out of my comfort zone.

The title of the course was “Dynamics of Romantic Core Values in East Asian Premodern Literature and Contemporary Film.” What a mouthful! All of us more commonly referred to it as EA1-oh-5. If you’re curious, here’s a description of the course:

This course explores the representation of romantic love in East Asian cultures in both premodern and post-modern contexts. Students develop a better understanding of the similarities and differences in traditional values in three East Asian cultures by comparing how canonical texts of premodern China, Japan and Korea represent romantic relationship. They explore how these values might provide a narrative framework or, contrarily, the definition of transgressive acts. This analysis is followed by the study of several contemporary East Asian films, giving the student the opportunity to explore how traditional values persist, change, or become nexus points of resistance in the complicated modern and post-modern milieu of East Asian cultures maintaining a national identity while exercising an international presence.

On the first day of class, my teacher handed out a survey. He began by stating that the class’s syllabus was still flexible–we had limited time, he said, to fully explore three different cultures through novels and film, so he wanted to see which countries we were interested in learning about. We were told to rank the countries in the order of interest. I put Japan first, as it was my country of study, then Korea (because I knew next to nothing about their traditional culture) and China last, because I had preconceived notions that it wouldn’t interest me at all (and a bias from their recent political and cultural moves that I didn’t altogether agree with.)

The next class, he came back to us and said he hadn’t been altogether honest. In truth, the class’s largest project would be a team-written essay between pairs of two students. We weren’t allowed to pick our partner. He, in fact, partnered us with people who had the exact opposite ranking from our own survey. The essay would be worth more than half of our overall grade. I cringed. My partner doesn’t care about Japan and wants to learn about China? No way this was going to be productive.

It became one of my most cherished experiences in college, and my favorite class of all time. My partner was one of the coolest people I’d ever worked with, and she showed me things about her culture (she was Chinese-American) that I’d never known and could appreciate. It pulled away all of my biases and gave me a fresh sense of the world around me. I want to keep that feeling with me always.

Recently, I’ve been wondering if I could reproduce the experiment in my writing.

I’ve made the following outline, and plan to follow through with it eventually. If you want to have your hand at it, go right ahead! Maybe you’ll find out something new that you really love!

1) What is your favorite genre? Pick one, as narrowed down as you like.
1.a) What is your least favorite trope/theme of the genre you selected?
2) What is your least favorite genre? Pick one, as narrowed down as you like.
2.a) What is the best trope/theme you can think of from that genre?

Now, write summaries, stories or a simple outline/pitch using your answer from 1.a and 2.a. You can write separate stories, or one that uses both elements together. Use the skills you know to challenge yourself into making something that is your least favorite style or genre something you LIKE.

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