The other stories

I watched Ridley Scott’s pseudo- true crime film All the Money in the World yesterday, after having had it sit by the TV for two weeks while I was too busy. It’s about the kidnapping and ransom of J Paul Getty’s grandson in the early 70s. Maybe I should have read Martin Weller’s review before I put it in my queue. Given that Scott made it, I expected it to be a well-made film, but to me the focus was on the wrong story. Weller mentions Getty’s “otherness,” the dehumanizing aspect of his massive wealth, which would have been worth exploring. The movie instead focuses on the family tensions. I’m sure people can relate to that, and it’s what studios want, but personally, I’m not really interested. I would be much more interested in the kidnappers’ story. Wikipedia tells me that they were ‘Ndrangheta, a mafia group I had not heard of. In the film, a motley group nabs young Getty out of the blue, has trouble negotiating the ransom, and basically sells the crime to a larger organization. That’s the story I want to know about. It reminds me of Jim’s take on The Iron Heel, where a story mentioned in passing seems more compelling than the story that’s primarily being told. While the elder Getty operates in a metaphorical cut-throat world, the ‘Ndrangheta inhabit a real one. I wonder about the inner workings of the business deals and decisions that go on there. How was that sale made? What goes in to it? Or the impending decision to cut their losses? What price does the original kidnapper pay when the job fails? Shifting the perspective might have made for a more interesting tale.

Broadband: Make it a Commodity like…uh…a Pork Belly


Click image for Simpson’s take on Enron scam

I just finished watching the 2005 documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and it reinforces David Simon’s theory of America as Horror Show. What’s more, it was just a small taste of things to come in 2008 with the global financial meltdown at the hands of the world’s most “trusted” financial institutions.

Anyway, I learned a bit about how Enron defrauded state’s like California out of tens of billions of dollars through loopholes in the legislation for the recently deregulated energy utility market. Through redirected energy and fabricated shortages, Enron could sell California back it’s own energy at an insane markup (kinda like academic publishers :) ). Enron moved from a company that dealt in natural gas to one which manufactured several high-profile gimmicks while hiding its losses in order to trump up its stock value. The Wall Street analysts had as muc h to with the Enron scam as anyone.  It was basically one big lie cashing in on capital running amok.

One of its scams that caught my attention was Enron’s foray into the bandwidth commodity market, in particular teaming up with Blockbuster to deliver on-demand video through their network provider Enron Broadband Services.  What’s funny about that is we were talking about the history of the web tonight in The Internet Course  looking at the emergenc eof the web,  Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. One of the details omitted from that history was the Dot-Com Bubble of the late 1990s. Enron was playing on just that market hype when they made the broadband announcement, and it suggests how their fraud was all about creating a compelling narrative regardless of what was possible (true of the dot-com boom more generally). In fact, broadband was just another utility to be deregulated and you could argue that was what the 30 second commerical is really arguing for. What if broadband was a pork belly?* What if broadband was a basic right, a public utility affordable to everyone so we could avoid the pillaging of the public that was Enron?

Paul Bond and I had talked about including this documentary in the True Crime course if we teach it again, and after watching it I would say absolutely. It frames one of the most heinous premeditated crimes committed against the citizens of the U.S. and beyond in the past thirty years: corporate crime kills!

* Turns out pork bellies are no longer a commodity anyway.

Lifetime’s New Lizzie Borden TV Movie

Looks like the Lifetime Network is doing a True Crime makeover with their forthcoming Lizzie Borden TV movie starring Christina Ricci. (via OUT and H/T Ryan Brazell.)

Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother forty whacks

After years of books, nursery rhymes, operas and movies, Lizzie Borden is finally getting the Lifetime treatment! The new made-for-TV flick stars Christina Ricci as a young woman who was tried, and later acquitted, for the 1892 murders of her father and stepmother.

Why the network waited until now to make this film is beyond us, but we’re terribly excited.

Final Post

The thing I liked best about this class was the fact that there were no tests or quizzes. So I could enjoy learning about the subject and not have to worry about cramming everything in in order to pass. I didn’t really mind that blogging made up most of the work, the most difficult thing about that was actually remembering to blog. What I didn’t like however was how unclear some of the guidelines were so I never felt like I was doing the right thing. When I did feel like I was doing the right thing, it turned out to not be what was wanted. Another thing that slightly annoyed me was that I did not know how I was doing in the class grade wise but that I could live with because if I was doing really poorly I would have been told. Although the video projects could be a lot of work and some of the readings were a bit too long, I really enjoyed the work. I didn’t enjoy having to lead the class at all though. I’m really not good in front of an audience so I had a hard time trying to say what I wanted too and usually ended up rushing through everything so I didn’t have to talk anymore. Class time itself was usually a lot of fun and I enjoyed joking and talking with everyone. Despite the work I’m really going to miss all of the True Crimers.

Curtains for crime time

curtains for crime time

Our True Crime class has come to an end. As all of the students have been saying, it was a lot of work, but it was worth it. And it was worth it because of the students – the truecrimers – they rose to every challenge we gave them. Jim tells all about it with his usual eloquence and enthusiasm.

I approached this course from my librarian’s perspective. I’m interested in information literacy as a necessary component of lifelong learning. I’m also interested in information literacy as something beyond bibliographic instruction in how to use the library. It starts with creativity and curiosity, which we in the profession define down to “identifying an information need” and culminates in communication, the creation and presentation of information outputs. We had curiosity built-in from the start. All the truecrimers shared our fascination with these stories. We pushed them to exercise creativity, and what they came up with in their videos was remarkable. But there was also creativity in their wiki work, where they made decisions on how to break down the readings, what extra information to bring in, and what they came up with for discussions questions. The wiki, the videos, the discussions and the blogging were all forms of communications and presentation. We dispensed with the traditional research papers, yet achieved the same thing, or perhaps achieved something more, and everyone had a great time doing it.

We could have gone further into evaluating some of the information sources. I would have liked to see the class use more library resources and less Google. But we did get at some of those conversations. I think the class started to think twice about taking things at face value, and they had the experience of drawing on primary sources.

It was a lot of fun working with Jim and the group. I take something away from it professionally as well as personally though. It gives me a success story of a different way to run a class, and a different way to work with faculty. I don’t know if my own institution would give me the freedom to experiment like that, but I can tell the tale and maybe spark some ideas and start some new things.

Oh, and I got the term “crimer” from the Crimer Show on Twitter:


Image credits:
Crime scene part one cc2006 paral_lax
stage curtains from Sherane’s Closet


Reflection on the Course

This freshman seminar was truly a pleasure to be a part of. I originally just signed up for this because I love crime shows and true crime narratives and thought it would be an easy fun course, so when I realized how much reading we had to do I was a little concerned that I made the wrong choice signing up for the class. Although at times I thought we had too much blogging to do, I now realize it was key that we did have to blog because we learned so much by doing so. Having groups run the class week to week was also a brilliant idea because sometimes it is really boring just listening to a professor, but when you have a peer running it, you want to speak up more. I found tracing what true crime is from the beginning with Cotton Mather and public executions to the end with serial killers and gangsters was really fun. I liked the way it was set up too; having Groom there and Paul come in via Skype was really effective. I really feel that having both of them and their input made the class a success. I would recommend for the next time that maybe there be a rubric or something for the videos so that there would have been a clearer picture as to what was expected. It was a blast being in this class and I hope you continue to teach it because it is really a great course led by great professors!!

Peace Out True Crime

This was one of my favourite classes because I loved how close knit we all became. The videos were really fun to do, but I think someone different should be assigned to edit every time because it was a lot of work to do every time. Also…some of those beginning readings were extremely dry. I think next time more time should be spent on organized crime – also I was upset we didn’t have time for Monster (ps you should watch Snow on Tha Bluff) because I love that kind of stuff. The student led discussions were really interesting and helpful but I think there should be more prep time to be able to do that – there was a lot going on all at once and it’s hard for group members to find a time that works for all of them.

One Final Post

I think the group presentations were a great idea because it helped to establish leadership, teamwork, and accountability. But I think it was very hard, or at least in my group, to coordinate the times for the meetings to prepare for the presentation. I dont want to make excuses for these instances, but it is a lot of work to do all of the readings, then have to find time to do background research on a wide umbrella of topics that have to deal with what you are presenting on and then make a wiki page. I think there needs to be a system where somehow the members need to sign an agreement that they will meet at a place and time and have to work done so it is a productive meeting and then they can grade each other on how they believe they and the members worked together and participated in the presentation effort. I think the videos were a great idea because they were really fun to make and we got to be creative and work as a group which i think is an important skill to conquer because as my teacher from high school repeatedly told us that to be successful you need to be able to work with other people. And teamwork is something that i feel is not instilled in us enough in school, whether grade school or college, so I think the presentations and videos allow us to get introduced to working with other people, especially when it is a huge part of our grade. In the end I think it was a great class, that was really fun and laid back, but it was all discussion led instead of note taking which I loved. Finally, even though most of the readings were a real pain in the ass and took forever to read and were really hard to read, but because of them I have become a better reader and I can sit down now and read for long periods at a time, so I would not change that at all.

True Crime: Some Final Thoughts and Videos

I’m sad to say the True Crime Freshman Seminar Paul Bond and I taught this semester has come to an end. We watched the final vidoes last night, and they’re working on posting their final reflections to the course blog so this semester can quickly become a memory. But before it vanishes entirely, I want to get a few final thoughts down about the experience as well as share out the final three videos the students did for the course.

Below are somesome thoughts about the process.

Two-HeadedGiantSharing the teaching responsibilities for this course with Paul Bond was awesome. I think Paul and I have developed a good groove between this course and Hard Boiled.  The bestthing about co-teaching the course was that it forced me to do a few things I might not otherwise. First, we spent more time than I might alone shaping and re-shaping the syllabus by throwing ideas off one another. Second, we spent more time conceptualizing the structure of the class. We made the experience a true seminar that put the students in charge of the readings and discussion each week, which forced them to actively particpate, discus, and create. This was crucial for me because given an option, and if I was solo, I would have talked and talked and talked. Finally, Pual taught me how to teach this stuff by doing it, his weekly blog posts on the readings were awesome, and as trucrimer Shelby pointed out in her final reflection “Enjoy Paul….he has the best Posts of the class.” I couldn’t agree with that more.

Video Production

Image Credit: Paul Bond

Image Credit: Paul Bond

The video production element of this class was intense, and this was a trial run to see the idea of a seminar or content class like this can simultaneously become a video production shop—turns out it can. But it’s a hell of a lot of work, just ask any of the students :) The student groups produced eleven  videos over the course of the semester, and they consistently got better as they went on. I really enjoy trial by fire when it comes to teaching, and the video production process really got them working together as a course community quickly. Rapid prototyping of video premises, scripts, costumes, settings, etc. was the magic of this class. We didn’t give them much time, we pushed them to be creative, and eventually it started to pay off. Not all the videos were great, mind you, but with little or no direction they eventually starting making some really compelling and creative commentaries on the works we read. I also wanted an alternative to the research paper/essay—I figure they’ll see enough of that over their four years—I wanted them to have fun creating and they did. You’ll see some evidence of this  below.

Group Presentations and Wiki

il_fullxfull.156688661The last thing I’ll say is that I couldn’t have been happier with the structure of the group presentations and wiki. Students compalined it was a lot of work and we read too much and made too many videos—but isn’t that the point? They should feel the pain, this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no folling around! There were five groups, and each group was tasked with uiding a discussion for two separate weeks and framing the context for dicussion on the course wiki. I was amazed how well they did with this for the most part. We spent the semester pushing the groups to move from simply summarizing the works we discussed to actually enagaging the historical context, themes, how they relate to other works we’ve read, and some broader signifiance cultually. It wasn’t always easy or successful, but by having them run the discussion we had a much cleaer understanding of where they stood in relationship to the texts. What’s more, it was a major boon for discussion, interaction, and a general sense fo community for the class. This course had, by far, the strongest sense of community and shared experience of any course I ever taught—and for me that is the real point of a Freshman Seminar. Mission accomplsihed, Bond!

In short, the truecrimers ruled!

Final Videos

Now, the final thing I want to share are the final videos the students created for the course. Is I mentioned earlier there were 11 videos in all created, and you can see them all here (along with a few clips from movies we watched). The following videos were by three separate groups of students. They were charged with trying to integrate various characters, readings, and situatiosn from the entire semester into a 5-7 minute video—while at the same time examining some of the themes in the class.

The first video is dating gameshow called “Baggage” in which various criminals we read about this semester share their baggage with the lucky contestant. It is a testament to how funny and entertaining these students could make the situations, characters, and themes.

Dinner with the Killers
This video was fascinating to me because it actually had the scholar Steven Pinker, whose Ted Talk we watched at the beggining of the semester, having dinner with various criminals we read abut over the semester. Turns out Charles Manson and Nat Turner get into a brawl over Manson’s theory of Helter Skelter.

Wax Museum
The final video was a bit disjuncted and their could have been a bit clearer narration around the bits, but the ideas was excellent. Created a wax museum of murder scenes that a curator takes you through and explains the details and their signifiance. I would love to rework this for another version of this course—the ideas is so cool—execution a bit rough give the time limitations. That said, there are some awesome moments.

Talkign with Paul alst night after the class, the thing that struck me with this setup is that I would now feel comfortable re-imagining this as an online, open course now with the video production, wiki work, and distributed possibilities for building these beyond the class—it could bea blast. I hope we get to teach this again soon so we can start experimenting with the next stage of this class. Until then.