Futurama and March of the Penguins in the classroom

July 30, 2008

Who are they for? Middle School English teachers of SOSE, Science and English

What are they about? Futurama is the comic creation of Matt Groening of The Simpsons fame. This classic ‘fish out of water’ story is about a twentieth century delivery boy, Fry, who wakes up in the year 3000AD after an unfortunate accident in which he is cryogenically frozen. The particular episode of interest here is the black comedy satire of ‘The birdbot of Ice-catraz’ from Disc 1 of the Third Season. Fry (with other characters) visits a distant planet which has been established as a sanctuary for the last, living penguins. The sanctuary is magical and the penguins cute – until, through a mistake by one of the humans, the penguins obtain guns and turn them on each other…

March of the penguins is the spectacular, Academy Award winning documentary about the lives of the Emperor penguin in Antarctica. This ‘serious’ and ‘scientific’ documentary follows the penguins from arrival at their nests through to the birth and raising of the chicks. Through the narration spoken by Morgan Freeman, the viewer is told what penguins can teach us about family values, love and monogamy (more on that later).

How can they be used? Along with George Miller’s Happy Feet which is reportedly based on research and science, these two films are engaging and fun resources for introducing students to the way language choices shape and are shaped by the social world. Furthermore, there is the opportunity to explore a range of important issues, including the effects of anthropomorphism and the use of the penguins’ stories as vehicles for promoting particular moral and political points of view. Michael Adams in his Empire magazine (April 2006) review of March of the penguins stated: ‘God forbid-literally-that the film should talk about the birds’ extraordinary evolution or the immediate threat to their environment from rising sea levels caused by fossil-fuel based economies. No wonder this is a hit in family-values, pro-Life, Creation-centric, wilderness drilling, SUV-driving America. What’s most galling is that the French filmmakers…have conceded that they believe in evolution and global warming but wanted the broadest audience possible for their movie…’. So, have some fun with your students while at the same time exploring issues with implications for the portrayal of the world in every subject area.

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