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Month: November 2016

Miss Congeniality- Social Disasters from Secondary Discourses

James Paul Gee and Lisa Delpit both wrote about Discourses and the social risks that are associated with them, especially when trying to acquire a second discourse in which they are not yet fluent. In 1989, Gee introduced us to the ideas of “Big D Discourses” in explaining that they are “ways of being in the world… [that] integrate words, acts, values, beliefs, attitudes, and social identities as well as gestures, glances, body positions, and clothes” (7). Delpit, based on Gee’s theory that you cannot learn a second discourse, argues that a secondary discourse is something you can learn and become fluent with even though it was not your primary one. In her first read of Gee’s paper she agreed with much of what he wrote until being challenged by a colleague. She reread his work and came up with two problems regarding the acquiring of a second discourse. Along with acquiring a second discourse come social risks and costs. These can, and most often will, be caused by the lack of fluency in the secondary discourse, which Gee warns about. Delpit’s ideas about discourses are more accurate than Gee’s because Gee is short sided in his argument and only looks at people who failed at acquiring a second discourse. Delpit, on the other hand, looks at positive cases and explains that it is in fact possible to acquire another discourse with practice and apprenticeship with a master, like in the movie Miss Congeniality.

In the film, Miss Congeniality, the main character Gracie shows that one can get over these “risks” and become fluent in their second discourse. Miss Congeniality is a movie about an FBI agent who goes undercover to a pageant to stop terrorists from bombing it. It is suspected that the terrorist is one of the contestants at the Miss United States beauty pageant. Gracie, the mannish FBI agent, has to acquire a second discourse of being a pageant girl in order to stop this terror attack. Both Delpit and Gee would say there are social risks and costs associated to Gracie’s lack of fluency in this discourse. Gee says that “the lack of fluency [in a discourse] may very well mark you as a pretender to the social role instantiated in the Discourse” (10). Gracie can be considered a mushfake, or “pretender”, because she really isn’t a pageant girl, and doesn’t have the desire to be a pageant girl. She is only pretending to be this because of her job of being an FBI agent, which is her true discourse. Delpit would agree in saying that Gracie is a mushfake because of the “frequent ‘tests’ of fluency in the dominant discourses” (546). Gracie is being tested all throughout the film while being at the pageant and even after hours in the hotel with the other girls.

The opening scene of this movies is young Gracie at the school playground reading a book. A fight between two boys breaks out and she walks over to intervene. She first beats up the bully to help the other boy, but the other boy gets mad and yells at her because now everyone thinks he needs a girl to fight for him. After he says that to her, she ends up punching him too. This scene relates to Gee’s ideas of primary socialization and primary discourses. He says that “early in life in the home and peer group, [we] acquire one initial Discourse. This initial Discourse, which I call our primary Discourse, is the one we first use to make sense of the world and interact with others” (7).  Gee is saying that you acquire your first, primary, discourse when you are young and you learn it from people in your environment that you look up to. Your interactions in the world are influenced by the way you see others interact early in life. From the opening scene we see that Gracie’s primary discourse is being a tomboy because she is wearing jeans, sneakers, and a football jersey, and is beating up boys on the playground. From what we learned about primary discourses from Gee, we can assume that this was her home-based identity that she learned from her caregivers, siblings, and anyone else around her at this time. The opening scene also relates to Delpit’s ideas about choosing to maintain their sense of self identity. She says that “choosing to maintain their sense of identity in the face of what they perceive as a painful choice between ‘them’ and ‘us’” (page 553). Gracie doesn’t give up her primary discourse when trying to acquire the second one. She stays true to her tom boy ways and being an FBI agent, which is shown many times throughout the film. Because she tries so hard to stick with this discourse, instead of adapting to her new one, she creates problems for herself. People will start to realize she is a pretender and she will cause social disasters.

Gee’s idea that Discourses can be socially disastrous was displayed during the scene at the preliminaries when there was a gun mishap. Gee says “One can fall back on one’s primary Discourse, adjusting it in various ways to try to fit it to the needed functions; this response is very common, but almost always socially disastrous” (9). Gee is saying that people tend to rely on things they know when in times of stress, which in turn can cause bigger problems than not being fluent in the discourse. An example of this is when Gracie was on stage at the preliminary rounds of the pageant performing a talent. She was making music with wine glasses and water, when in the crowd she spotted a man with a gun on his waist. Gracie’s FBI instinct when she saw the man was to stop him from harming anyone. She first tries to tell her partner where he is so he could handle the situation, but in a panic she decides to jump off the stage and tackle the man. It turned out that he was just trying to light his cigarette. In an interview with pageant people later she tries to justify her decision without causing and more harm to her pageant career. She says that she was just trying to help the world and make him think twice about smoking again because it is detrimental to his health. This event proves Gee’s idea because she is not fluent in the pageant girl discourse and fell back to her primary discourse. This caused a social disaster that was broadcasted on the news. It is important for Gracie to not get caught being a mushfake because she is undercover trying to stop a terrorist attack. Being caught will cause a social disaster that could result in everyone being bombed and killed. Relating to Gee’s teachings, instead of falling back on her primary Discourses, Gracie could instead use another related secondary discourse to prevent social disasters such as the bombing, until she has mastered the secondary discourse.

Gee and Delpit’s ideas about acquiring a new discourse are a bit contrasting. Gee says “you can’t be let into the game after missing the apprenticeship and be expected to have a fair shot at playing it” (10). In the movie, Gracie wasn’t there for the pageant girl apprenticeship, or even being a girl in general since she has such tomboyish ways. Most girls have started pageants when they were toddlers but Gracie had a crash course on being a pageant girl weeks before the pageant. Her crash course, taught to her by the master Victor Melling, included the “saying-doing-being-valuing-believing combinations” (6) in the form of learning how to walk, dress, and behave like a pageant girl. On the other hand, Delpit argues that Gee is wrong. She says that “there are many individuals who have faced and overcome the problems that such a conflict might cause” (547). When Gracie was at the final talent round she decided to mix up her routine from the wine glass music to a self defense demonstration. During this scene the crowd is going crazy, they love her talent, and applaud her as though she owns this discourse as equally as the other girls. This scene suggests that Gee is wrong but supports Delpit’s ideas about acquiring a second discourse. Gee say that unless it is your primary discourse you learned when you were young, it will be near impossible to become a fluent user of this other discourse but the film supports Delpit’s ideas that you can learn another discourse with practice and guidance from a master.

In conclusion, acquiring a second discourse is a tricky thing, some even say it is impossible. Through the analyzing of Miss Congeniality, it was clear to see the social risks and costs were associated with the lack of fluency in this second discourse. Throughout the film, Gracie dealt with those risks so she could develop fluency in the discourse. Once she obtained this fluency she was able to make it to the final round of the Miss America Pageant and even win her own crown, the Miss Congeniality Award. The idea of acquiring a second discourse can lead to social disasters but as long as you try not to fall back on your primary discourse you can become fluent. The examples from the film can be applied to everyday life because people are constantly being something other than their primary discourse. For example, depending on what group of people you are with, your discourse changes. Being with your parents and family you would be very respectful and polite whereas being with your friends you might be more outgoing, loud, and even a little crazy at times. Most of us are not FBI agents or pageant girls, but looking at this example with your own discourses can show that with practice and guidance from a master, anyone can prove Gee wrong and support Delpit’s idea. When we challenge Gee’s ideas, as Delpit did in her paper, we can grow as an individual and become masters of many discourses.

Gee, James Paul. “LITERACY, DISCOURSE, AND LINGUISTICS: INTRODUCTION.” The Journal of Education, vol. 171, no. 1, 1989, pp. 7-10. www.jstor.org/stable/42743865.

Delpit, Lisa D. “31 The Politics of Teaching Literate Discourse.” Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. New York: New, 1995. 545-54. Print.

Miss Congeniality. Dir. Donald Petrie. Perf. Sandra Bullock. Castle Rock Entertainment, 2000. DVD.

Progress Report- Big D

For writing a recursive process, I graded myself just a little below average on the novice to master scale. There were seven points to hit for this criteria but I only fit about 3-4 of them. In my revision on my discourse paper I reorganized paragraphs to more efficiently develop the written project. I used the barclay and triac formula to make these paragraphs. I also used sources (Gee and Delpit’s writings)  as evidence to back up  and explain my ideas. On the local level, I improved signal phrases leading into and punctuations around quotations and paraphrases. Me and my writing coach looked at these and polished them last week.

For integrating ideas with those of others I rated myself half way between master and average. I fit 5 of the 7 criteria. The quotes I selected were interesting, revealing, complicated, and in need of discussion which I did when I paraphrased and explained them in my own words. I also worked to connect my ideas within and between paragraph which in turn connected the entire paper from intro to conclusion. Also I used Delpit’s ideas to extend my own and Gee’s to counter mine. I provided context for the specific quotes I used by giving an explanation that related to a movie scene as well as interpreting the quote in my own words to make the readers better understand Gee and Delpit’s ideas. Lastly I had an appropriate level of elaboration, analysis, interpretation, and explanation of the passages by paraphrasing.

For document work using appropriate conventions I scored myself pretty low. Of the 4 criteria I only fit one because while writing and revising the paper I didn’t pay much attention to conventions. I did however use in text citations that follow the MLA format.

For engagement I scored myself the same as ideas with others. I met 4 of the 5 criteria. I complete assigned activities even when they are hard, try different approaches to writing and reading and discussing, and also I review mistakes and explore ways to improve and grow. The last criteria is attending class, focusing on class tasks, and actively participating in small group ad class discussion. Sometimes I don’t make it to class and sometimes don’t really focus but I have been trying my best to participate in discussions with the class and small groups.  

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