Huck Finn Teacher's Guide
Culture Shock About the Culture Shock Series

"Art gives form to our terrors as well as our desires."

The power of the arts to enthrall and disturb is at the heart of the Culture Shock series. In addition to exploring themes that are central to current debates about cultural values, freedom of expression, and the role of the arts in society, each program tells the story of now-classic work in literature, painting, music, and movies that has been controversial and explores its relevance today.

The series examines questions that our society has grappled with in recent years: Can the arts go too far? How do new forms of art and popular culture emerge, and should there be limits? What motivates artists to create and audiences to react? Do the arts cause or reflect social behavior? What do conflicts about the arts tell us about who we are as a society? Culture Shock is about creative inspiration, social history, how culture evolves, and the role of the arts in our lives.

Each film in the Culture Shock series, premiering in January/February 2000, shows viewers how the arts can reflect and influence society. By examining works of art that were once controversial but have since become icons, changing the way we see the world and ourselves, Culture Shock celebrates the arts and their complex, essential role in society.

The Films

Born to Trouble: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Set against a backdrop of American history before the Civil War, the film tells the story of a book that is a literary icon yet has been attacked by the public longer and more continuously than any other American novel. The complex connections between race, culture, politics, and morality are made vivid and powerful as the film chronicles Twain's literary genius; the culture that shaped the novel; the hundred-year-old conflicts surrounding it; and the book's importance in America and around the world. (90 minutes)

Shock of the Nude: Manet's Olympia
The famous French masterpiece, identified by scholars as the first truly modern painting, caused an uproar when it was first exhibited in Paris in 1865. In fact, the gallery was forced to hire police officers to protect the canvas from visitors who wanted to destroy it. What inspired Manet to paint it, and why were Parisian audiences and critics so outraged? Who was the real Olympia, and what became of her? This program poses the problem of the nude-visual art's most enduring, universal subject. (60 minutes)

Hollywood Censored: Movies, Morality & the Production Code
In the 1920s, moviemakers struggled with would-be censors over what could -- and couldn't -- be shown on the screen. Sexy sirens and shoot-'em-up violence were attacked by religious and government groups and other concerned citizens. In 1931 Hollywood responded by adopting a self-imposed Production Code to ensure that its movies were "safe" for family viewing. Three years later Will Hays, the head of the Motion Picture Association, hired Joe Breen to enforce the Code more strictly. The restrictions of the Production Code influenced the way movies were made for many years to come. (60 minutes)

The Devil's Music: 1920s Jazz
In its early years jazz faced resistance across America. Like rap today, jazz was considered a dangerous influence on young people and society. It featured improvisation and the liberating rhythms of the African American experience over classical music forms. As jazz's popularity grew, moralists fought to suppress the music before it finally won acceptance. This program looks at how a radically new artistic genre was opposed by audiences and critics alike. How did this much-reviled music become recognized as an American classic? (60 minutes)

Any or all of these films can be shown as part of a unit on Huck Finn and censorship, as each poses similar questions and explores many common themes. For a more in-depth look at the entire series, the Culture Shock Teacher's Guide provides discussion questions, curricular links, and activities. It also suggests links to literature already being taught in the English/Language Arts curriculum.

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