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Page 1

The Story of "Culture Bashing"
Recollections of a High School "Non-Western Literature" Course

by Jason Roth

The name "Culture Bashing" was not invented by me. However, I am eternally indebted to a very special woman for offering me such accurate and emotionally-wrought phraseology. It was the perfect name for this section of Save the Humans.

They say that everyone has a teacher that has permanently and substantially influenced their life, right?

In this case, it was an ex-hippy bitch who couldn't take the time to brush her hair, let alone put together a lesson plan. She was also someone who took all of my shit and still passed me with flying colors. Intellectually-inferior teachers, I mean teachers, have the habit of taking it up the proverbial tailpipe and still begging you, "Thank you sir, may I have another?"

A quick note to all current students: In my experience, any teacher that you intellectually blast out of the academic water will at least give you a "B" at the end of the semester. I think they're afraid it will be too much of a mental strain to try to justify anything less. Or, to offer an extremely generous benefit of the doubt, maybe some shred of honesty still exists within their souls that they have as yet failed to stifle.

But back to "Culture Bashing".

It was senior year at the preppy ahead-of-its-time politically-correct high school. (Meaning, it got ideologically primitive before everyone else.) It was the first year I was not granted the chance to join the goose-stepping idiots in honors English, but this was a good thing. No honors English meant the chance to take English with my best friend. And it just so happened that for senior year English, students could choose their own particular slant of indoctrination. I.e., we got to pick our English classes for first and second semester.

Having been screwed out of more interesting courses, my friend and I picked "Non-Western Literature" for first semester. Apparently, there were people outside of the Western Hemisphere who could string two words together.

One class discussion in Non-Western Literature that stands out in my mind is the one when we discussed Gandhi's vegetarianism. In the course of the discussion, the teacher mentioned that Gandhi didn't actually like the taste of meat.

Wait a second. He didn't like meat? What kind of fucking vegetarian is that?

I mentioned to the teacher that if Gandhi didn't like meat, but still deserved spiritual bonus points for being a vegetarian, then I should get some credit for being a vegetarian when it came to Brussels sprouts.

Now, the teacher didn't get visibly angry at that comment. But she did something even more perplexing. She didn't react at all. She treated my comment like any other student question. If there was a sense organ for registering sarcasm, she didn't have it.

I also got away with the following amusing caper. When a substitute teacher was filling in one day, we were assigned a paper to complete by the end of the class. (I.e., "busy work".) I started the paper, then wrote "continued on next page" at the bottom of the page. For some reason, the next page must have gotten detached from the first page. Interestingly, the first page was only half-filled with text.

Ok, I think I got an "F" on that assignment, but seeing the words "continued on next page" at the bottom of a paper that only contained a few lines of text got an "A" in my mind. (Especially funny was her "where is the other page?" notation.)

I also can't say Non-Western Literature was a complete practical failure. In fact, the course deserves partial credit for enabling me to attend a Debbie Harry concert in NYC.

My mom wasn't big on, well, allowing me to do stuff. When I found out that Debbie Harry was in concert on a school night in the city, I knew that asking for permission would be pushing my luck. (Yes, I'm talking about senior year of high school.) I didn't invest all that money to own every every Blondie album on tape for nothing, dammit.

So, what was academically worthy of attending on a school night? Enter "Non-Western Literature" class to save the day.

We had just read Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane, an autobiography about a boy living in and then trying to escape from apartheid-era South Africa. (And, by the way, a good book by one smart, strong-willed bastard.)

Anyway, it just so happened, that Mr. Mathabane was lecturing at Columbia University. Well, not in reality, but that's not important. So I proceeded to attend the fictional lecture on the very same evening as the Debbie Harry concert. Hey, if I could use one man's battle against apartheid to see Debbie Harry while she was still sexy as hell, why not?

And finally, the birth of "culture bashing".

Our class was assigned a version of The Ramayana, an ancient mythical story from India. We, of course, were assigned a paper on the book to express our "thoughts and feelings" about it.

Justly, I criticized the book as "primitive, unrealistic trash" and a second-rate "rip-off of the Odyssey". (The latter is most likely completely untrue, but it sounded good.)

For some reason, these comments didn't go over too well with the teacher. The teacher wasn't quite as angry as the school headmaster was when he threatened me with expulsion and referred to a story I wrote for an underground newspaper as a "masturbation fantasy". But she wasn't happy, either.

Evidently, criticizing a story beloved by most of an entire culture isn't in good taste. I engaged in, as my teacher so kindly pointed out to me, a form of "culture bashing".

And that, dear friends, is the story of "Culture Bashing".

I took the "B" and had a good story to boot. Thanks, Mrs. Meltzer.

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