English Literature can seem very distant to the lives of many schoolchildren, and teachers recognise this. They spend a lot of their time trying to construe ways to engage the kids, and I think I just stumbled across one.
Finding important things in the supposedly ‘low-brow’ is really interesting to me. I spent most of my uni career doing it, and, oh, I miss it so.
Which brings me to Bring It On (2000), the teen comedy about a cheerleading compilation that cemented Kirsten Dunst as a Hollywood star, and was a breakthrough for Eliza Dushku too. It’s a film I saw when I was very, very young and probably one of the first DVDs I ever owned. Probably this has clouded my opinion of the film’s quality.
I think it’s great.
But here’s the thing I want to talk about.
At a point in the Kirsten Dunst’s character, Torrance, ascends to the role of team captain (after the current captain “Big Red” goes off to college). With this comes the responsibility for devising the routines for the team, and the knowledge that she is now the captain of the Toros – a team that has won the national cheerleading championships for the past five years.
Torrance, during opposition research on the other teams the Toros will face, discovers a poorly funded inner-city school team is rumoured to be fantastic. Torrance sits in one of the Clovers’ practice lessons and to her shock discovers that the routines her predecessor ‘Big Red’ was so feted for and won national championships, were clearly stolen from the Clovers.
In a lesson of morality too, but lets not get into that; Torrance very quickly decides this is wrong and tries to devise new original routines. Without enough training, or practice time the Toros are very clearly going to lose their national crown.
In a panic Torrance hires a professional choreographer to help her team win. He is very expensive, has a foreign accent and teaches the team very strange techniques and routines.
He teaches them the secret to success: jazz hands, and spirit fingers. The team are worried, but don’t see through the expense of the guy so assumes he’s legitimate and quality. They go to one of the events leading up to Nationals and perform his appalling bad routine including the robot, jazz hands and spirit fingers. It goes down like a lead balloon, and only then do they realise that the instructor was a charlatan.
The team, under Torrance’s leadership, reconcile with the Clovers, and perform an original routine in Nationals and achieve second place to the Clovers. They are very pleased to have achieved the runner up spot on their own merits (another lessons that’s great for kids).
My point being, Bring It On is a good entry point for discussing the theme (phrased like this by my English teachers during our exhaustive analysis of Macbeth) ‘Appearance and Reality’. The idea that things can seem one way, while in actuality being very different. It allows kids to see into ideas of change, and even (later on, maybe, when they’re more advanced) the idea of an unrealible narrator.
The instructor was bad. The team knew he was bad, but they didn’t trust their instincts – they couldn’t see through the clothes the man wore, or the size of the cheque he demanded, his demeanour, his accent, the way he walked. They couldn’t get back his appearance; while, in reality, he was a bad professional. It’s a good lesson for kids, no?