Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"Realistic" Weapons After Virginia Tech

The VC has been blogging about a Yale University ban (now rescinded) on using "realistic" stage weapons at performances on campus. A sword-fight that used real-looking (i.e., metallic colored) swords, instead of wooden ones, would be proscribed.

The VCers have been collectively mocking the ban, and I agree that as applied its pretty stupid. But there are at least a few cases where I think it would make sense in a university or classroom setting.

A psychology professor here at Carleton has related to his students an old teaching method of his on how trauma effects memory. Specifically, he'd be in the middle of a lecture when an accomplice would break in the door, "shoot" him with a realistic looking gun, at which point the professor would trigger a blood packet under his shirt and then slump down over the desk. Then he'd pop back up and ask the class what they remembered of the incident.

The professor has since stopped using this demonstration (apparently, he did it in an adult education class and gave one of his students a heart attack), but surely we can agree that had he not already stopped, now would be a good time to discontinue it?

Similarly, I'm reminded of a story regarding the murder scene in the comedy murder-mystery "Sheer Madness." Early in the play, the "murder" happens, with the lights going out, a shot fired, and a person screaming. Apparently, one performance the Saudi ambassador was in attendance, and when the lights came back on, eight of his bodyguards were up surrounding him, handguns drawn. Should we ban the producing of "Sheer Madness" on college campuses? I don't think so, but a disclaimer at the start might be appropriate.

The difference between these cases and the one's being targeted at Yale are that, while nobody seeing an onstage sword fight will think it's real, the aforementioned cases (especially the first) are meant to (or at least have the potential to, in the second case) deceive the audience into thinking actual violence is happening. They are, in that sense, the real cases of "realistic" violence, and they constitute tougher cases after Virginia Tech than Yale's over-reaction.

The more interesting question, I think, is whether the psychology professor's experiment ever should make it back into the classroom. Certainly, it is effective if nothing else. How long should he have to wait before bringing it back to a college setting? Or should it be permanently banned?

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