In this post, I share my experiences integrating Tina Brenneisen's Die Hoodies (2014) in a fifth-semester German language/culture course titled "German Media Cultures." The post provides some background about the course itself, where the unit on Die Hoodies is positioned in the curriculum, and examines the potential of the text to position students to think, talk, and write about xenophobia and paranoia at the intermediate level.
The Text: "Die Hoodies"
Only later on do readers realize that the story is partially focalized though the experiences of a young child. The effect of this stylistic is a powerful production of discomfort for readers during the reading process, because the recognition that readers were positioned to share the timid xenophobic naiveté of a child creeps up to readers in quite drastic ways. That is, the text's transformative power lies in the evocation of xenophobic moments, which readers are supposed to recognize because they are tasked to participate in thinking patterns resembling xenophobia.
Moreover, the Hoodies are dichotomized from the village people in a number of scenes. Most striking is the discomfort the Hoodies cause for an elderly man, who is irritated by their presence although they seem in no way to interfere with his daily life. He complains to his neighbors about the large group of people loitering in the park and, in a quite drastic series of frames, finally decides to confront the Hoodies. On his way to the section of the park in which they are located, he schemes what he will say to them: "Ich sag's jetzt mal friedlich . . . wenn ihr Jungs und Mädchen bis morgen nicht verswunden seid . . . rückt hier die Polizei an! Und nimmt euch die Personalien auf!" However, as he approaches, he realizes the Hoodies were gone and his energies will have to be wasted. The book offers no explanation for this disappearance and leaves the child through whose perspective the story is focalized wondering what had happened to them, where they had gone, and what they had ever wanted.
The drastic disappearance of the Hoodies heightens the stylistic of the graphic novel, which focuses on rendering the fear of others and making it available for scrutiny. There is an incredible sense of non-closure at the end, because the expectation was that the dramatic preparation of the old man to berate the youths would end up in violence. That material violence had been denied to eager audiences. This denial is intentional because it serves a powerful didacticism keen on illustrating just how easy we succumb to the fear of the Other.
The author of Die Hoodies offers an afterword in which they outline a main thread of their text: "Ich wollte zeigen, wie wenig es braucht, um Menschen zu verunsichern: 1. ein Symbol (der Kapuzenpullover als gewissermaßen säkulare Variante der Burka), 2. dessen massenhafte Präsenz (Hunderte von Hoodieträgern tauchen in einem fast menschenleeren Landstrich auf) und 3. keiner weiß, warum" (85). These three, at times problematic, points offer an outline by which to structure a discussion about the sources of paranoia, effects on social well-being, and possible solutions to it.
At this point in the semester, students have worked with various generic and medial formats, including short stories, poems, journalistic articles, short films, etc. The focus of the class is to help students navigate through various generic and medial formats in the German-language context. This means that they have worked with both textual and visual material before and are well positioned to deal with a format which draws from both textual and visual material.
I began the text in class. This means that I did not have students read it at home alone but conduct the introduction to the text on the first day of the unit. Excerpting a couple of pages from the book and projecting them on the PPT helped me develop an entry point into the text particularly conducive to the stylistic of xenophobic paranoia. That is, we approach each page very slowly, examining individual components of the textual as well as the visual which contribute to the xenophobic paranoia. We began by answering simple questions and describing the frames of the graphic novel. The point of the simple questions is that they are deceptively simple to answer: the young people in the images are not doing anything particularly wrong in them but they will come to be seen as deviant for this agency in short time.
And I believe such discussions of pressing issues can be integrated as early as the first semester. Here I offer an example about the fifth semester, but there are great ideas being developed by our colleagues for earlier courses. For instance, Magda Tarnawska Senel (UCLA) and Kathryn Sederberg (Kalamazoo College) have developed a unit on migration cultures in Europe for the first semester based on Claude Dubois' graphic novel Akim rennt.
I wanted to discuss briefly the writing assignment at the end of the unit. The assignment began in class with the introduction of phrases useful for expressing opinions. For this exercise, I used material from Schreiben Lernen (2011) by Jennifer Redmann & Pennylyn Dykstra-Purium. The book is quite effective across the curriculum and my students were already familiar with it because I use it in previous semesters as well. The exercises in the book introduce phrases and then offer students a chance to practice deploying phrases in discussing common stereotypes about "Germans" and "Americans." Following this exercise, I offer a couple of statements about the Hoodies in our book and as students to complete a 1-minute writing exercise in which the articulate a stance based on the phrases provided. Following a recall, I introduce a problematic statement, which students are asked to evaluate in a longer writing assignment: "Die Hoodies sind ein Problem für die Gesellschaft." The statement is problematic, simplistic, irritating, etc. In short, it is perfect for a longer position paper in which students examine the statement. The instructions are to give examples from the text and deploy some of the phrases to articulate opinions. Currently I'm preparing for a peer editing session of the first drafts of the exercise and was quite impressed with what the students came up with.
If you have favorite resources that would speak to this topic, will you please send them to me or comment below?