Saturday, January 28, 2012

Teaching Mythology with Music Videos

In a nutshell: Might those modern goddesses of love, Pat Benatar and Bonnie Tyler, have a place alongside the Greek goddess Aphrodite in the classical mythology classroom?

In the mythology classroom, we have a number of objectives. We want our students to learn about gods and goddesses, heroes and maidens, and aspects of classical culture represented in myth. We also want our students to learn about the persistence of classical myth in contemporary culture. One approach we can take is to use lecture and discussion to get at the mythological text and its social, cultural, and historical context, while using film clips or videos to illustrate mythological figures, imagery, or themes in contemporary culture. In the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, Aphrodite's ability to compel gods and goddesses to fall in love with mortals is described in military terms like "subdue" and "master." Love, you might say, is a battlefield, and Aphrodite is strong.

Zeus, however, is pissed off by Aphrodite's shenanigans, and compels her to taste some of her own medicine, that is, to fall in love with a mortal, in particular Anchises, a venerable Trojan descendant of Zeus. Aphrodite gets a little bit nervous, a little bit terrified, a little bit helpless--you might even say she falls apart, experiences a total eclipse of the heart.

I'm sure my students were quite surprised when I projected not one but two classic 1980s music videos in the middle of a lecture on the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite. Frankly, I did this in a spirit of fun and experimentation. Much could be said about how the sex and gender dynamics dramatized in the Pat Benatar video correspond to those of classical mythology. Even richer, perhaps, are the bizarre action and imagery of the Bonnie Tyler video, with its candles, full moons, red curtains blowing in the wind, and schoolboys dancing around in a dark, cavernous hall clad only in satyric loin clothes. I touched on these points, asking my students to brainstorm images from the videos and words from the songs that resonated with the text we were studying; but I did not dwell on this kind of analysis during this particular class session. I mostly wanted to convince myself that it could be done, and shake up any complacency my students may have been feeling about what they could expect from me. Be that as it may, I think these power balladeers of the 1980s stood up pretty well alongside the Homeric hymnist, and I look forward to using music video in the classical mythology classroom again, perhaps next time with somewhat more sustained analysis of the videos as mythological texts in their own right.

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