Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Vince Gilligan Carries a Candle for Michel Foucault

Here is a picture of Jeff Pettis delivering his talk to the 38th Annual meeting of the Southwest Popular/American Cultural Association (SWPACA) in 2014:

1023 Breaking Bad 2 - Wed, 02/19/2014 - 2:45pm - 4:15pm, Enchantment D. Panel Chair: Bridget Roussell Cowlishaw

Panopticism and Paranoia in “Breaking Bad” - Jeff Pettis, Independent Scholar

Nick Gerlich and Bridget Roussell Cowlishaw listen as Jeff Pettis presents "Panopticism and Paranoia in “Breaking Bad”.

The most interesting talk of the entire conference was Pettis' presentation regarding Michel Foucault's concept of Panopticism and its application to Breaking Bad, with Walt's efforts to reach a panoptic point, Lydia's efforts to remain hidden, and Gus Fring hiding in plain sight.

The Internet allows people from diverse backgrounds and places to get together and ponder common questions, like: "What are Vince Gilligan's influences?" Eabha Conal is an administrator at the UK Facebook Group "The Vince Gilligan Appreciation Society - Albuquerque and Beyond...", and we were discussing my presentation "Streamline Moderne and Jimmy McGill".

Eabha Conal: You know, in my recent research on Vince I found an interesting connection to him personally and Chicago. Vince attended a Laboratory School as a young kid. I don't know if you know about these kind of schools? I didn't. But they were founded by this guy John Dewey in Chicago. They were progressive and experimental - I thought that was interesting regarding your theory of "Better Call Saul":
John Dewey (October 20, 1859 – June 1, 1952) was an American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform. Dewey is one of the primary figures associated with the philosophy of pragmatism and is considered one of the fathers of functional psychology. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Dewey as the 93rd most cited psychologist of the 20th century. A well-known public intellectual, he was also a major voice of progressive education and liberalism. Although Dewey is known best for his publications about education, he also wrote about many other topics, including epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, art, logic, social theory, and ethics. He was a major educational reformer for the 20th century.

...Known for his advocacy of democracy, Dewey considered two fundamental elements—schools and civil society—to be major topics needing attention and reconstruction to encourage experimental intelligence and plurality. Dewey asserted that complete democracy was to be obtained not just by extending voting rights but also by ensuring that there exists a fully formed public opinion, accomplished by communication among citizens, experts, and politicians, with the latter being accountable for the policies they adopt.

...In 1894 Dewey joined the newly founded University of Chicago (1894–1904) where he developed his belief in Rational Empiricism, becoming associated with the newly emerging Pragmatic philosophy. His time at the University of Chicago resulted in four essays collectively entitled Thought and its Subject-Matter, which was published with collected works from his colleagues at Chicago under the collective title Studies in Logical Theory (1903). During that time Dewey also initiated the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where he was able to actualize the pedagogical beliefs that provided material for his first major work on education, The School and Society (1899).

And what is a Laboratory School?:
A laboratory school or demonstration school is an elementary or secondary school operated in association with a university, college, or other teacher education institution and used for the training of future teachers, educational experimentation, educational research, and professional development.

Many laboratory schools follow a model of experiential education based on the original Laboratory School run by John Dewey at the University of Chicago. Many laboratory schools are still in operation in the United States and around the globe. They are known by many names: laboratory schools, demonstration schools, campus schools, model schools, university affiliated schools, child development schools, etc., and most have a connection to a college or university. Each university affiliated school has a unique relationship with a college or university and a different grade configuration. Some lab schools are only for preschool or kindergarten children, some are preschool through fifth or sixth grade, and some continue through high school.

...Laboratory school classrooms may be observed by university professors to assess the student-teacher, but it is desired that the observation be done without the students or student-teachers aware of the observation, thereby avoiding creating a distraction or disruption of classroom activities.

Before the miniaturization and transistorization of electronic camera viewing systems, laboratory schools often included elaborate direct-view observation systems with special observation decks above classrooms or observation rooms alongside the classrooms. One-way mirrors and speaker/intercom systems allowed a professor to silently observe the classroom, but without being seen by the students or the student-teacher.

A modern laboratory school does not need to do anything special with building construction, and is able to use a standard-design school as a laboratory school. The standard rooms are instead outfitted with CCTV cameras hidden inside black plastic domes on the ceiling. Complex lens optics and multiple cameras allow a single stationary dome to view 360 degrees in all directions with no mechanical noises or moving parts, and high-speed Internet connections allow for a professor at a college to remotely view and interact with student-teachers in a distant laboratory school.

In either case there is no hiding from students or student-teachers that observation may occur, as it is plainly obvious there are special mirrors or cameras in the room. But they do not know when observation may or may not be occurring.

Marc Valdez: Wow! There is another fellow, Jeff Pettis, who wrote an essay in "Masculinity and Breaking Bad", about how who can see whom determines who controls whom in the TV series. Very sophisticated essay with much discussion of Michel Foucault's conception of the Panopticon. Vince would have loathed the observation, even as a kid. The connection to Chicago is very important too. Where did you learn Vince went to one of these schools? Pettis argues Walter White finds his freedom by no longer acting as a rational man (e.g., Gus) would have. I wonder if Vince found his freedom the same sort of way as a school kid?

Eabha Conal: I'd like to read that essay Marc. The exploration of masculinity in "Breaking Bad" I think is the underlying reason for its success - it strikes a deep chord with a lot of people. I wondered if Walt's emotional unavailability was what Vince was exploring about his own father. (I know very little about his Dad though! Except it was him who introduced Vince to westerns)

The schools - Chesterfield is where him and his mum moved after Farmville. It says the school was attached to Virginia University:
George Vincent Gilligan Jr., the elder of George Sr. and Gail Gilligan’s two sons, was born Feb. 10, 1967, in Richmond, but spent most of his childhood in Farmville.

From the beginning, it was apparent his brain operated on a different plane: He already was speaking in clear, complete sentences at age 2 and on his first day as a first-grade student at Cumberland Elementary, he asked his teacher, “Am I going to learn to read today?”

“We knew he was sharp – he had an IQ out of sight,” recalls Gary Lambert, Gail’s brother, who helped cultivate his nephew’s love for science fiction.

Gail Gilligan, who divorced George in 1974, stayed in Farmville and raised Vince and his younger brother, Patrick, while she worked as a teacher at Longwood University’s J.P. Winn Campus School.

“My sons were my most important students,” she says. “Most of the time we had away from school was spent exploring and learning about one thing or another. Vince took to it like a duck to water.”

Another teacher at the Campus School also had a significant influence on Gilligan’s future. Art teacher Jackie Wall, whose son Angus was one of Gilligan’s best friends, frequently gave the boys her Super 8 camera and encouraged them to make their own movies.

Gilligan was 12 years old when he completed his first film, “Space Wreck,” with his little brother in the starring role. A year later, he won first prize for his age group in a film competition at the University of Virginia.

Wall recognized Gilligan’s talent and creativity, and recommended to Gail that he pursue acceptance to the Interlochen Arts Academy, a prestigious boarding school in Michigan. Gilligan earned a full scholarship and he, Gail and Patrick made the long drive from Farmville to the banks of Lake Michigan about a week before he started eighth grade.

And, of course, Walter White teaches at J.P. Wynne High School in "Breaking Bad".

Marc Valdez: Yep, Vince Gilligan carries a candle for Michel Foucault.

Here is a documentary about Foucault.

I can imagine what it might have been like for Vince Gilligan. As a young child, Vince is horrified to learn that he is being spied upon by mysterious strangers. Over time, he learns these strangers are acolytes following the Pragmatic teachings of the now-dead Northerner, John Dewey, in distant Chicago. And as a shy Southern teenager on the shores of Lake Michigan, in the cold, foreign land of glass blocks and Art Deco, Vince learns more about John Dewey and the Pragmatists. To Vince's surprise, they aren't ashamed of their spying, but actually quite proud of it. It was all for Vince's benefit. Not just him, but for the benefit of all the Vinces of the future too. What a strange thing to contemplate!

And here is this:

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