re: Your Brains (APARTY Sample Song)

If you missed my most recent post about basic document analysis, you might want to check it out first - otherwise, I'm not sure this one will make much sense. 

I change songs from year to year just to keep myself interested, but here’s one from not so long ago which has worked well in various teacher workshops. It’s a song from Jonathan Coulton called “re: Your Brains.”

I don’t have any particular rights to use this one any more than I do anything else, but Coulton is that modern troubadour sort who’s generally pretty cool about his music being used as long as properly credited. If you decide to use this or any of his stuff (he has several that work) in class, you should cough up your 99 cents or whatever and buy your own copy. It’s the right thing to do.

I’ll use a YouTube link instead of the plain audio since it’s easier for lo-tech me and feels less copyright violation-y. The lyrics are below for your reference. I suppose I could make things REALLY easy and post my PowerPoint for this activity using this song… if anyone wants it, I mean. 

Left 4 Dead 2 Soundtrack Re Your Brains


re: Your Brains

Heya Tom, it's Bob from the office down the hall. Good to see you buddy, how've you been? Things have been OK for me, except that I'm a zombie now - I really wish you'd let us in.

I think I speak for all of us when I say I understand why you folks might hesitate to submit to our demands. But here's an FYI: you're all gonna die screaming...

All we want to do is eat your brains - we're not unreasonable, I mean, no one's gonna eat your eyes. All we want to do is eat your brains - we're at an impasse here, maybe we should compromise: if you open up the doors, we'll all come inside and eat your brains.

I don't want to nitpick, Tom, but is this really your plan? Spend your whole life locked inside a mall? Maybe that's OK for now, but someday you'll be out of food and guns... and then you'll have to make the call.

I'm not surprised to see you haven't thought it through enough; you never had the head for all that "bigger picture" stuff. But Tom, that's what I do, and I plan on eating you slowly...

All we want to do is eat your brains - we're not unreasonable, I mean, no one's gonna eat your eyes. All we want to do is eat your brains - we're at an impasse here, maybe we should compromise: if you open up the doors, we'll all come inside and eat your brains.

I'd like to help you Tom, in any way I can. I sure appreciate the way you're working with me. I'm not a monster, Tom - well, technically I am... I guess I am.

I've got another meeting Tom, maybe we could wrap it up. I know we'll get to common ground somehow. Meanwhile I'll report back to my colleagues who were chewing on the doors - I guess we'll table this for now.

I'm glad to see you take constructive criticism well. Thank you for your time I know we're all busy as hell. And we'll put this thing to bed when I bash your head open...

All we want to do is eat your brains - we're not unreasonable, I mean, no one's gonna eat your eyes. All we want to do is eat your brains - we're at an impasse here, maybe we should compromise: if you open up the doors, we'll all come inside and eat your brains.

There's no script for how this discussion unfolds, although I summarized the basic steps previously. The overall approach we're modeling is one of unpacking the whole by starting with the pieces.

I play the song once for general overview, then again while students identify words or phrases which might be important but which not everyone might know. When it ends the second time, I ask for word or phrase that might be important but unfamiliar, and we build from there.

Often someone mentions "impasse" as a term not everyone might know, so we discuss it - what is an 'impasse'? What's the impasse in this document? Maybe the next term brought up is "compromise", so we discuss.

This particular document has some interesting phrases usually thought of as cliches of the business world - "table this for now" and such. We discuss denotation as well as connotation, and at some point I transition to asking questions that will lead me into introducing APARTY or SOAPSTone, or whatever other document analysis acronym I want to use.  Here I'll use APARTY elements (Author, Place & Time, Audience, Reason, The Main Idea, Yeah - So What?)

"What can we tell about the Author based on this document?" Because we're treating this as a legit document, I don't mean Jonathan Coulton - I mean the 'narrator'.  If I'm not already recording information on the board, It's important to start doing so with this step. A common first response is that he's a zombie. "How do you know?" "Show me." Students will point out lines from the document in which he admits he's a zombie, and that he wants to eat brains, etc. I ask for other specifics from the document which support or refute this interpretation, and eventually ask how strong our inference is that the author is a zombie. In this case, it's pretty strong.

What else? (His name is Bob, he works with Tom, he likes brains, he's a bit condescending, he seems to be the spokesman or leader of the other zombies, etc.) The important pattern to be established here is the "show me" element - why do you think so?. Justify it. What evidence supports or refutes this inference? How strong is our inference here?

It's OK to have weaker inferences as long as we recognize them as such. A case can be made that Bob is a former underling of Tom's now parroting back snarky things Tom used to say or do, now that he's in a position of some power (as a monster and all). This is a plausible and reasonable inference, but without more information it's a much weaker inference than, say, the idea that Tom is the spokesmen for humans in a mall with locked doors, food, and guns. 

We work through the other elements in similar fashion - what can you tell me about the Audience for this document? How do you know? What clues are there as to Place & Time? What's the Reason this was written? (It's intended to persuade.)

You remember how crazy it used to make you when your math teacher would make you show your work? Part of why they do this, even when the problem being solved is relatively easy and you don't really need to, is they want you to become comfortable with the process. They know eventually the problems will grow much more difficult, and it's important you be comfortable with the steps most likely to help you solve them. That's all we're doing here - practicing an approach. Don't worry - the documents will get much more difficult very quickly.

This is also a chance in class to model and become more comfortable with productive, professional disagreement. One student may infer that Tom is clearly trapped in an office of some sort, and point to lines which seem to indicate that to be the case. Another student may then argue that while they know each other from the office, they're clearly in a mall of some sort, and point to evidence supporting this understanding instead. That's exactly what we want to happen, and for students to be comfortable being wrong, or disagreeing, without it ever becoming personal. 

NOTE: I find that both students and teachers have trouble with The Main Idea. This should be a one sentence summary of the what the document SAYS. Most students and teachers want to tell me what it's ABOUT - which is not the same thing. I respectfully suggest it's worth the extra time spent in small groups and as a class wrestling with and refining The Main Idea - this will pay off later. FWIW, my Main Idea for this particular document would be something along the lines of, "Tom, this is Bob and I'm a zombie now; I get why you want to resist this, but we're going to eat your brains and it would make things better for everyone if you'd just accept this and open up." There are probably better ones and shorter ones, but that's my sample. You don't like it, write your own. 

NOTE: The APARTY and SOAPSTone handouts on the Classroom Resources version of this post both use prompting questions with each segment in hopes of clarifying or sparking the sorts of things students should think about when explaining the Author, the Place & Time, etc. These clarifying questions are not prescriptive, and students should NOT simply go through and answer each one. What they SHOULD do is give a thoughtful explanation of what they know about each segment (Audience, Reason, etc.) that might matter to better understand the document, and - if necessary - how they know it.

A good APARTY or SOAPSTone should fill roughly one page, skipping a line between each segment for clarity. It's all about the right balance, but I'd rather students overdo than underdo it at first. Don't tell me "Publius" was the author and stop there! Tell me that really James Madison wrote it, and who he was, and why HIS opinions about the new Constitution might matter, etc.  The exception is The Main Idea segment, which should - as the term suggests - be simply the main idea, most likely a sentence or two at most.

I'd love to know how this works for you in class or what you do differently. The comments are open below, or of course there's that email thing some of us still do.

I'll leave you with several other songs I've used over the years to introduce basic document analysis. I sometimes use lyrics videos, but don't generally use actual music videos since a large part of the exercise is about pulling meaning from text. For purposes of sharing online, however, linking to YouTube is simply too convenient to pass up. Obviously if you use a song in class, you should legally purchase an actual download so you can sleep at night. 

Paul Revere's Horse - Lyrics

King of Spain Lyrics

Lily Allen - The Fear (Clean)

Hindu Rodeo - McLife

P!nk - Stupid Girls

Such a Saint

wives of the circle five


RELATED POST: Primary Sources w/ Mr. Miyagi (Introducing Basic Document Analysis using APARTY or SOAPSTone)

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