We all need a laugh. Discussing Parody

Creating comic versions of popular (or unpopular) content is an old practice. For example, the first film parodies were created shortly after the first movies, with The Little Train Robbery (1905)–after The Great Train Robbery (1903).

So what makes for good parody? Comedy is personal. What is funny to one person may be groan-worthy to another. That said, we can still identify shared characteristics of well-received parody.

1. Parody should draw on a familiar song, TV show, movie, or other text. It can also be broader, playing off common themes or cultural phenomena, like with the Austin Powers movies. The original reference needs to be immediately recognizable. Assuming you know The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song, it’s easy to recognize it here.

2. Good parody incorporates elements of the original throughout, but in a new fun way. Check out the trailer for Spaceballs (1987).

3. Some parodies are relatively timeless, like the Naked Gun series or Airplane. Most parodies, though, work because they relate to the moment. Like this one on social distancing:


Find your own examples of parodies. What makes you laugh? What doesn’t? How does familiarity with the original make the parody funnier? You can also try creating your own parody, taking an original and putting your own spin on it.

Parody Recommendations (not divided by age)

What parodies do you enjoy? Share your recommendations or links.

Documenting the Moment: Daily Journal Entries

Even without Facebook or other social media, we know what many people in the past were thinking and feeling because they kept daily journals. We are in a strange time right now, with a lot of uncertainty. You may not remember how your thoughts changed from day to day unless you write them down.

Start a journal of your time at home. Before bed, reflect on each day.
1. What did you do?
2. How did you feel? What made you happy? Frustrated? Impatient? Angry? 3. What parts of the the day would you like to repeat tomorrow?
4. How can you avoid repeating the tough moments?

Media Activity: Technology Scavenger Hunt!

Our technology has changed so much over each decade. It really wasn’t that long ago that you had to stay home to receive a phone call or that distance-learning meant by mail. Of course, not everyone buys a new device when it first comes on the market. Bringing home a TV, computer, or phone used to be a big deal. So big, that it was memorable!

Most older generations can remember when and why they first got television sets, VCRs, and computers and love to share their stories. For this scavenger hunt, interview different people about their experiences to complete the activity. Here’s a printable link.

Media Activity: Cereal Marketing

Have you ever thought about cereal marketing?
First, let’s watch two (delightfully vintage) ads for cereal. View the Rice Krispies ad above.
Now watch this 1950s Heart of Oats ad:

1. Who is the target audience? Why?
2. How do we know these commercials are not from 2020? Why do they feel “old?”

Let’s move on to contemporary cereal advertising.

Look at the Rice Krispies on the left.
1. What does this box say about who Kellogg’s wants to attract?
2. How about the purple Cheerios box? What is the main draw here?
3. Why are kids’ cereals placed on the lower shelves at grocery stores?

Media Activity: Comparing Books to their On-screen Adaptations

How many of us have said, “The book was better,” after finishing its movie version. This is the perfect time to explore how stories change when they are adapted across media platforms.

  1. Have your child choose a book with a film/movie adaptation (suggestions below) to read in print or digital format. Discuss the plan: when the book is finished, you will watch the adaptation together.
  2. Watch the book’s adaptation as a film or show together.
  3. Ask questions. Here are some ideas:
    –What did you think of the show/movie? (start broad)
    –Did you like the story? Why or why not?
    –What did they keep from the book? (You can get more specific, asking about characters, themes, settings, dialogue, ending).
    –What was changed? (ask about details). Do you agree with the changes? How did they impact the story?
    –What did you enjoy more–the book or its adaptation?
    –How would you have adapted the story?
    BONUS: Have your child compare and contrast the adaptation in an essay or present their own adaptation in a book cover, movie trailer, or diorama. You can also analyze the story over multiple adaptations (i.e. looking at Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory).

Book & Adaptation Suggestions
Younger kids/new readers: Dr. Seuss (The Cat in the Hat, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Lorax, Horton Hears a Who), Madeline, The Polar Express

Lower-Elementary: The Magic Treehouse series, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books, Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, The American Girl books, How to Train Your Dragon, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Mid/Upper-Elementary: The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter (choose a book/movie), Little House on the Prairie (On the Banks of Plum Creek), Peter Pan, Pollyanna, Bridge to Terabithia, Because of Winn-Dixie, The Hobbit (cartoon adaptation), How to Eat Fried Worms, Roald Dahl books (Matilda, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The B.F.G., Witches), Holes, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Nancy Drew books, A Wrinkle in Time, The Wizard of Oz.

Middle/High school/College: Dracula, The Counte of Monte Cristo, Silence of the Lambs, Stephen King’s books (The Shining, Pet Semetary, The Green Mile, Misery, etc.), Catch Me If You Can, Forrest Gump, The Lord of the Rings series, The Hunger Games, Tuck Everlasting, The Divergent series, The Fault in Our Stars, The Notebook and other books by Nicholas Sparks, The Diary of Anne Frank.

Here’s a more comprehensive list. You could also compare comic books or graphic novels with their on-screen adaptations. Or compare traditional books with their graphic novel interpretations.

6 Epidemic-themed TV Episodes for Those Who Can’t Get Enough

The virus-themed films Outbreak and Contagion are now more popular than they ever were during their initial releases. But once you’ve watched Dr. McDreamy as Jimbo or Gwyneth Paltrow play Patient Zero, what’s next on your viewing list?
Across genres, many TV shows have done an “outbreak” episode (or an “almost outbreak” episode). Here are a few of my favorites:

6. Bones “The Pathos in the Pathogens” 8.23 (2013). A journalist is murdered by a human-made mutated virus. It becomes personal after one of the team members becomes infected. Unfortunately, the episode is more focused on the love story than the threat of the outbreak, but it’s still an interesting deviation from the usual Bones formula.

5. Little House on the Prairie “Plague” 1.18 (1975). Cheap cornmeal leads to a typhus outbreak in Walnut Grove. Charles Ingalls and others rush to find the source of the epidemic. This episode has all the elements of a great epidemic storyline. There’s tension, drama, and mystery as the death toll rises, while we, as the audience learn early on of the scourge’s source. My favorite of the numerous “outbreak” Little House episodes.

4. Criminal Minds “Amplification” 4.24 (2009). A serial killer releases anthrax spores to test the hypothesis of his master’s thesis. The BAU must work with CDC and U.S. Army to stop the unsub before he kills with disease. It’s high stakes, especially after one of the team becomes infected.

3. ER “Lockdown” 8.22 (2002). Several members of the ER are quarantined after two children are brought in with a smallpox-like virus. These episodes give a nice balance of drama with humor, as the quarantined health professionals struggle to pass the time.

2. The Walking Dead “Infected” 4.2 (2013). Rick and the other survivors battle a strange virus that spreads throughout the prison. This episode is a nice break from the usual threats in TWD.

1. Star Trek “The Way to Eden” 3.20 (1969). Space hippies bring a bacterium aboard the Enterprise. Besides the outbreak threat, it’s a delightful and interesting demonstration of mainstream fears of counterculture.

These are just the highlights. Sure, I could have included more medical dramas or westerns, but I especially enjoy these storylines when they appear in genres you wouldn’t expect.
For more recommendations, see this IMDB list.

We might get sick. Seriously. Flexible Teaching in the Pandemic

So far, our discussions on how to move online have focused on pedagogical questions and conferencing tools. I enjoyed reading one of the few essays to go against the grain–“Please do a bad job of putting your courses online.” Dr. Barrett-Fox’s reassuring narrative really gets at what most of us are feeling.

The other key point we need to center on is that many people will get sick. We are moving online because of disease. I’m not saying this to fuel the fire. It is a fact. We as faculty should prepare our courses in such a way that if (or when) we are too ill to teach, or too busy providing care, classes can still continue.

If we prep and release several weeks of material (video lectures, prepped assignments, quizzes, exams, discussion submission boxes), we also extend the same flexibility to our students, some of whom will also get sick. Even for the healthy ones, we don’t know their situations. They may not have computer access at home. Or slow internet. Or an older device that can’t download new apps.

Our students are across time zones right now and facing many unusual burdens that take away from learning. If we can create some material in advance, then we grant students the flexibility to work around their additional challenges. We can still connect by offering real-time conferencing, but only as a bonus, not for regular course delivery.

I know that many instructors are panicking about producing any materials and this task seems daunting. You will not be able to replicate your normal class or even its ideal online version. Boil down your regular lectures into short videos. Use technology that auto-grades quizzes and exams. Use the textbook’s additional resources and the free technology, provided that learning it doesn’t suck all of your time. Find Youtube videos that cover some of your course topics.

We as faculty also need to use each other as resources. If you create a video lecture with wider appeal, offer it to others. Senior faculty should reach out to junior faculty that teach the same course. Don’t let pride or fear hinder opportunities to make it through, especially as childcare options are falling through, forcing instructors and students to parent at the same time.

This is a weird time. We need to prep for the worst and hope for the best.

Timeline of an Epidemic on a University Campus

Right now, we’re all asking ourselves similar questions. What will happen? For how long? To what extent?
While no one really knows, we can look to the past for some guidance.

As we all know, from 1918-19, the duo of influenza and pneumonia hit nearly every region of the world. But how did it travel? And what was the timeline for one university campus?

Early March 1918: First evidence of the “Spanish flu” (influenza/pneumonia) at Camp Funston, Kansas.

Pneumonia at Camp Funston

Late March/Early April: Cases develop at the Haskell Institute, a boarding school for Native Americans and at the University of Kansas, located in Lawrence.
June-August: Influenza/pneumonia cases dwindle in the U.S. and appear across China and Europe, picking up the name “Spanish Flu.”
September: Outbreaks begin to spread across the U.S., especially in military camps. On the 27th, the Sigma Chi fraternity house is quarantined, then released the next day.
October 7th: A few cases in town.
October 8th: 98 men in the Student Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C.) had become ill. The state has 11,750 recorded cases.
Chancellor Frank Strong cancels classes and quarantines the campus, prohibiting students from leaving (expected to resume on October 15th). City schools and theaters close. Ban implemented on crowds of more than 20 people. Some businesses voluntarily close.
October 10th: Governor Arthur Capper officially closes all churches, theaters, schools, and “public places of assembly.” Organizations suspend their meetings. Children banned from “loafing on the streets.”
Rest of October-early November: Cases mount. Football games are canceled. The local Red Cross does a pajama drive and collects supplies. Boy Scouts distribute educational pamphlets as the local grocery store markets its onions as remedies. Vicks VapoRub is in high demand.
On campus, at least 18 female faculty across disciplines cared for patients, cleaned, and provided food. Their efforts were not recognized in newspapers or the KU yearbook, only in a single article.

From “Influenza,” The Graduate Magazine, University of Kansas, October 1918, 17(2), 45.
Faculty that helped (2)
November 2nd: Governor Capper lifts the ban. Regular activities begin to occur.
November 9th: The first regular season football game is played.
November 11th: KU is scheduled to reopen. Instead, World War I ends and everyone celebrates.
November 12th: Classes finally resume.
More than 1,000 people at KU became ill in the epidemic, with 24 deaths.

Keep in mind, this was before cellphones and computers. Before people had their own phones on campus.What did they do to pass the time? How did they suppress their concern for family members far away? The 1919 yearbook provides no clues.

As universities are moving classes online, we should be grateful that we are not confined to campus and that we can connect with students, family, and friends.