Bad Kids: Misfits and Mayhem in Literature and Film
Are minors presumed guilty, threatening, spoiled, presumed ready to rumble, already-sexualized, unpredictable, violent, lazy, wild, resistant to potty training? Are some kids inherently bad on some genetic or other level compared to their peers? What disciplinary methods and restrictions have been thought appropriate to shape a child, and what role is education imagined to play? When did the category of the kid, the child, emerge? To address these questions, this intimate class will provide a rich immersion in the history of childhood and the literature of child development and psychoanalysis, working our way through texts by Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud, Jean Piaget, D.W. Winnicott, and Adam Phillips. En route, we will meet a whole range of kids: from those who spy, to those with active imaginations, to the sexually precocious, to the bullies and the bullied, to those who befriend vampires, to those who use automatic weapons to kill fellow schoolmates, to the disabled, to those who lack language. We will consider the cultural presentation of childhood in recent films, novels, documentaries and news coverage. Particular works we will consider will be chosen from such films, television shows, and novels as Sesame Street, The 500 Blows, Heathers, Elephant, Kids, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Bully, My Own Private Idaho, The Bad Seed, Thirteen, Let the Right One In, Where the Wild Things Are, South Park, the BBC’s Skins, Menace II Society, Les Enfants Terrible, Sarah: A Novel, The Story of the Eye, A High Wind in Jamaica, Beloved, Cavedweller, Peter Pan, Harriet the Spy, The Exorcist, In Youth Is Pleasure, and Mary Poppins, among a number of others. Above all, this course will ask each student what is gained and what is lost when a child learns right from wrong, when independence and order are imagined to be obtained at childhood’s end. Students will be required to write weekly reading/viewing responses, complete two brief exams, and to design a final project involving research.