Interior Chinatown: An Introduction

Today I tweeted at the start of the next unit / book in my English class.

Here’s the beginning of the “will share.” It’s how I framed the text, asynchronously, for my students. This post is probably just for my English teacher readers, but you might find something useful or fun in it regardless…

Dear Satirists,

Before you crack open Interior Chinatown, I’d like you to do some preliminary exploring and thinking.  

IC is written, in part, as a screenplay.  So you should spend a few minutes reviewing this website and learning some of the basics of the screenplay form.  It’s not a beautifully designed digital space, but it does a good job of labelling the key parts of a screenplay. Jot down a few notes about what you learn.

Next, think about the purpose of screenplays and movies at large.  Generally (and I’m not talking about art house / independent movies right now) screenplays, and the movies they lead to, tell us how to think and feel about ourselves, our families, our communities, etc.  (I’m not suggesting that they tell us the right things to think and feel.)

They convey their messages through stereotypes and earn money and praise by fulfilling expected character arcs.  Think about all of those PG-13 romantic comedies we all secretly love.  The couple meets, falls in love, has a small problem, falls back in love, has a really serious-looking breakup, and then one of them runs onto an airport runway, as one often does, stops the plane, and proposes while possibly saving a puppy from danger.  It’s the same arc — every time. Only the faces change.

More seriously, movies quite often exhibit what can be called a “normalizing force” on culture.  Movies in the past have normalized male dominance, heterosexuality, homosexuality, the Holocaust, racial stereotypes, etc. etc. etc. Think about a movie you have loved in the past.  Perhaps one you have seen more than once. What did it seem to be normalizing?  Did it make its point through stereotypes?  Why did the arc of the movie feel so satisfying for you?  Was Ryan Gosling in it?  Write down an actual paragraph in your actual notes.

Once you’ve reached this point, you’re ready to open the book.  Take a look at the cover* and the Table of Contents.  What do these elements tell us about what to expect from the novel? Jot down a few notes about what you learn.

[*Blog bonus: I created a slide below that contains two different versions of the cover that I found online.]

Read Act 1 (pages 3 – 30).  As you read, start to keep track of the kinds of parts that different characters get to play, the “world of Black and White,” the use of the word “Generic” and what it seems to mean, and the various storylines and their impact on your understanding of some of the work’s bigger points about identity, race, class, and the way our imaginations / fantasies affect what we allow ourselves, others, and our communities to become or not become.

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