SPARE THE ROD AND SPOIL THE CHILD
(Το ξύλο βγήκε από τον Παράδεισο) /to `ksιlo `vgιkə apo ton pa`radιso/
The presence of Aliki Vougiouklali coincided with the change of the first two post war decades, the passage of the Greek society in a season which is characterized by the fast growth, and simultaneously the passage of the cinematographic production in a period that is characterized for the standardization of patterns (industrial period). New models make their appearance in the cinematographic cloth and among them, that of the “kitty”, the shrewd and smart woman, a type without precedent in the sector of the theatrical or cinematographic tradition.
Spare the rod and spoil the child is one of the characteristic films that correspond in the above mentioned features of the time. The cinematographic themes are removed little by little from the “net” of theatrical traditions, while are shaped "heroes" that are based on the personalities of the actors that incarnate themselves and accordingly place the bases for the type of this relation with the public. The actors become henceforth objects of adoration from the public that streamed into the cinematographic theatres in order to admire the new idols of season, the “protagonist stars”.
Finos Films productions (the biggest Greek film company) comedy, Spare the rod and spoil the child is about the love of a poor professor and a rich twelfth grade student in an all girls private school. In 1960 it was awarded at the Thessaloniki Film Festival as one of the best Greek films of the 1955 – 1959 period, while it was also presented at the festival of Edinburgh with the title Maiden's Cheek.
Quite a cute film, amusing and engaging. Good social comment on the times in
The plot is original, although it follows the known pattern of love between two different worlds: the rich and the poor. It is modernized by the scenario writer and director Alekos Sakellarios, resulting to an unprecedented appeal to the public, which made the film a “classic”. When in the all girls private school makes his appearance the young professor Dimitris Floras (the role interprets Dimitris Papamichail) rule indiscipline and lack of punishment of the young students, daughters of rich Athenian families, who are very spoilt making his and the other teachers work difficult. When he starts implementing discipline in his class, the girls use every means to get rid of him. The “impertinent” and “cheeky” Liza Papastavrou (interpreted by Aliki Vougiouklaki) pays the conflict with him with a slap that makes her “see” "green, red, and yellow butterflies". What follows is unexpected as the up to now feeble to impose the order professors (Dionisis Papagianopoulos, Orestis Makris) and the flexible high school principal (Xristos Tsaganeas) follow the example with the condescension of parents of the girls, and it rains … smacks and slaps !
The "kitty" Liza, however, with the snugly and coy tone of her voice, her innocence and lifemanship, the mischief, and her insistence and sensitivity, will achieve her goal. Bring closer the one that she loves, professor Floras, and the happy ending of the film.
Through these roles we can spot the conflict between tradition and modernism. Floras (who teaches Ancient Greek) and recites Homer, the school principal talks handling the puristic Greek (he is the conjunctive ring with the past), the physical education instructor gives orders archaizing, according to the mainstream and tradition of the time. On the other hand Liza talks about contemporary, international stars like Marlon Brando, she dresses in a modern and bold for the time way, sings modern songs and dances cha-cha . Undeniably, the film also refers to the fact that the suburban upper class, having assembled power, and allocated economic comfort, lacks the corresponding education and culture (an example is Liza’s mother). Floras’s monologue and the situations created after the first slap, (a turning point for the history of the Greek cinema), become classics and scenario writers and directors use the “slap recipe” in the films that follow Spare the rod and spoil the child.
Intense characters even if in secondary roles: Dionisis Papagianopoulos (teaching science here, Ancient Greek in Heartache on the desk), Orestis Makris (physical education instructor) and Marika Krevata (Liza’s mother).
The climate of happy-go-lucky attitude and care free life that prevails in the school years is presented through the excursion of the students but also through the cool and cheerful music of Manos Hatzidakis. His songs along with old melodies and Western European modern music lend a new style in the film and complete the narration.
Despite the fact, that music, songs and wardrobe tend to be modern, the sovereign ideas of the film about education (traditional pedagogic perceptions) and the father centered family, in a society made to serve the male, and ruled by men perceptions not only are not disputed, but become ideas of admiration through the comical elements of the film. The ship owner Papastavros (Liza’s father) asks professor Floras tutor his daughter, and eventually (as a possible future groom) set the house in order. The older man consigns the family to the younger man’s care.
Image : The good teacher, student, and school
Spare the rod and spoil the child presents a certain perspective on the good teacher, the good student, the good principal, and the good school.
Floras, represents the good teacher, who disciplines the rich, spoilt and impertinent female students, and becomes the example to follow for the other teachers. He comes from a poor background, and he previously taught at the “evening high schools” of the time, schools that were followed by students who worked during the day and went to school from to . These students used to be of low socioeconomic backgrounds. In the film it is not clearly mentioned if Floras as a student attended such a school, but he clearly admires the evening high school students.
He is positioned in opposition to the principal of the all girls private high school, but only at the beginning, when he was accused of slapping his student. When the student’s father calls the principal to congratulate Floras and asks (we could say “orders”) the principal not to fire him, things change dramatically. Floras is not only permitted to use force on his students, but he becomes the “hero” of the other teachers, and the best teacher according to the principal, who previously stated that he respects only experienced teachers, and young teachers can not be as good as white haired colleagues.
Still good teacher in the film does not mean anti-traditionalism, creativity, trying new things, fighting conformity, and forming caring relationships with his female students. He uses discipline, in fact he is the first who slaps Liza, he implements the established and proven curriculum, homework, memorization, rule-following, and conformity.
He does not change his mind about his students. For him they are ignorant rich girls who are not interested in learning, because their future is known. After they finish high school, they enter the high society, and their fathers find a good (and rich) husband for them. As he says: “Their fathers wealth, and this business (the private high school) will buy for them and sell them a high school diploma, but this transaction will mean nothing to the real world where people can not afford to buy one. But these girls are lucky, because they will never have to do with that world as they are prisoners of the suburban society they were born in and in which they will deliver sons like their fathers and husbands and daughters like their mothers and themselves”.
There is no student that could represent the good student in Spare the rod and spoil the child. Floras has not changed the girls, they are not open to new ideas of self expression, because they were not given new ideas, they do not become independent or seek freedom, because they will be “slapped”. They are a “flock”, and there is no girl that has benefited from the new young male teacher, who in reality is more traditional than his older colleagues.
We could see that Liza is the only character who has changed. She studies harder, she becomes almost a good student who passes the final exams. Still this happens not because she found interest in knowledge, but because she is in love with her teacher and wants to impress him. Liza might change as her father asks Floras to tutor her to sit the university entrance exams. But she is another girl that follows the rules of her class, she will probably marry Floras who proved that he can become part of the high society as this class needs some educated people (who respect tradition and do not bring new and dangerous ideas), to survive and respond the challenges of the new era.
The principal is a weak-spirited businessman and teacher. The students do not respect him, because they know that they will not be punished as he is “bought” with their rich parents money. They attach on his back notes like: “The present monument is to be demolished because of old age. We sell old things, prices reasonable”. He knows that he runs the school only because the rich upper class needs one for their daughters, and that they are the ones who make the school policy as they pay high tuition fees. He “bends” on the parents wishes and pleases them even when they are wrong and insulting to the teachers.
The all girls private high school represents the ideal school. It is located in Kifisia, a highly upper class suburb of the time (and nowadays). Students come and go, nothing changes, tradition and discipline rule. Students are expected to study as much as to pass the final exams, and behave. They sit in rows and columns, memorizing and copying Ancient Greek for punishment. Liza is called at the principal’s office after she threw a pen against the blackboard while the science teacher was writing some rules on it. She explains that she did not throw it against the blackboard but fell out of her hand. When the principal says that this is impossible because according to the universal law of gravity what falls goes down and not against walls, she says that is not her fault that she does not understand science, but the teachers, that make her confuse science with religion. One of them, the science teacher, says “that according to Laplace and Darwin’s theory there was a cloud that evolved and the Earth was born and after that life in different forms”, and the religions teacher “contradicts by saying that the man was made of mud and God cut his rib to make the woman and servant”. In another moment she wonders why she must learn Ancient Greek. She will never have the chance to talk with Homer, but if she learnt some English she could have a decent conversation with Marlon Brando if she ever visited
Race / Ethnicity / Class / Gender / Language
There are not race and ethnicity problems in Spare the rod and spoil the child. Issues of race and ethnicity are a later phenomenon as
The film “plays” with the love of two people who belong to different classes, although it is not clear if Floras has grown feelings for Liza. He seems to be the “chosen” by an upper class family, rather than being conscious of what is happening. Floras will probably be “assimilated” either because he is not really strong in his convictions and lured by their love for tradition, or by his own willingness to detect rules and obtain power.
This is an elite school, so there are no students of lower socioeconomic classes in the film. All of them are rich girls, living in a rich environment, in a rich country. (Note that the country is after World War II, when poverty was widespread, and private high schools were very exclusive.)
Gender is certainly an issue. In the film all the teachers are male. The girls are “caricatures” of high school girls, and they depict how a man’s world would like them to behave after graduation. They are considered illiterate, stupid, spoilt, impertinent, cheeky, and not good enough to seek more education. Their role is to get married and give birth to children. That was the ruling sexist idea of the time. Of course there were women that entered the university, or the “teachers academies”, to become teachers. It resembles the American “during and after war” pattern according to which women were assigned teaching jobs. Still, headmasters, principals and higher rank positions in education were occupied by males.
Language issues are handled under a humorous view. Language has been the battlefield for over seventy years in
In the film there are not depicted social unrest and political persecutions that happen at the time. After World War II governments were right winged and left and communist parties were excluded from the Parliament and communists were persecuted and sent to trials as “enemies of the country”.
Surveillance, spectacle, and image
The film shows the girls in the classroom, running in the corridors, having lunch at school, plotting against the teachers during the breaks. It gives us moments of the everyday life of the school environment. It shows the way the authoritarian principal interacts with the teachers, the decisions taken by the teaching stuff (in reality the principal detects the decisions). Last but not least the relation between the obsequious principal towards the parents, who does not hesitate to fire Floras to please Liza’s mother and hire him back to please her father.
For the principal, the school is seen as a first rate institution, but for the teachers the students are illiterate, uninterested, and “lost cases”.
The three ways of viewing the school and the students, demonstrate the dedication of the film to the importance and power of image. The principal’s positioning of the students who are “wonderful, of good and rich families, but just a little more playful that they should be” (and the ones who keep the school open with the high tuition fees their parents pay, and contribute to the school needs as benefactors). The teachers positioning who believe that the students are illiterate and disrespectful and that more discipline is needed. Floras’s viewing them as they are (or how he believes they are), disrespectful, unwilling to learn, having no goals because they are rich and their future already proscribed.
Everyday life and technology, globalization, and standardization
The school purpose, the efforts of the principal and the teachers are to keep and reproduce society as it exists.
The film demonstrates the differential between strategies and tactics with strategies being the tools of the relatively powerful (the students being disrespectful because they have the power over the teachers and the principal through their rich fathers) and tools of the relatively powerless (the teachers, victims of the students’ practical jokes, and victims of the authoritarian principal). In the second part of the film the power-balance changes. The students become powerless, as they are slapped for anything the teachers believe they did wrong, and the teachers become powerful, chastising and inflicting punishment.
The everyday of schooling is disconnected from the interests and desires of the out of school lives of the students. The whole school setting seems to be not aware or interested to explore the out of school world, class, gender, and socioeconomic issues.
The visual-critical frameworks
The study of visual culture proposes that Spare the rod and spoil the child and any other popular film be interpreted as “contested terrain,” that popular images reflect the competitive viewpoints of specifically interested individuals. Interpreting Spare the rod and spoil the child critically means considering how the viewer and the viewed are connected. What is the film trying to say to and / or about us? Why?
As praxis, visual studies speak to the possibility of incorporating popular pedagogical images into the curriculum and as tools of classroom instruction. (Vinson K. and Ross W., 2003, p. 170). Students could watch the film in class and discuss it. More specifically to this film, however, such a discussion, from the perspective of visual culture, might revolve around questions such as: If one were to make a movie of our classroom, what it would look like? Would it be similar to Spare the rod and spoil the child? Why and / or why not? Who would you want to produce the movie? Who would you want to see it? Would, or could, it really represent what our classroom is like? Why do some people like particular films and others dislike them? Why do we blindly say that we like Spare the rod and spoil the child especially if we don’t agree with what is happening in the film? Is it because it is considered a “classic”, or because it is shown on different television channels almost every eight months?
Cultural studies and the study of popular culture suggest several themes for critical understanding and critical classroom action. Its concerns, principally, are those of inclusion, hierarchy, everyday life, dominance, voice, and transformation / reproduction. (Vinson K. and Ross W., 2003, p. 171).In approaching Spare the rod and spoil the child both interpretively and more directly pedagogically, tough questions must be addressed. Why are all the teachers male? Why are all of them rich and good looking? Of all of the film’s characters, whose opinions seem to be most important? Why? Is this film “realistic”? How are the rest of the schools of the time (public urban high schools)? Can we (students and / or teachers) relate to the school of the film? Is Floras a good teacher? Why and / or why not? Would he be successful here and now? Why and / or why not? Does he bring new and innovating methods of teaching? Should he be fired? Why and / or why not?
Media studies insists first that we be clear that no representation can truly depict any instance of reality accurately The media always mediate between the image and the viewer. (Vinson K. and Ross W., 2003, p. 171). Critically understanding Spare the rod and spoil the child and incorporating it into the classroom requires asking questions such as who produced the movie and why? What relations exist between Spare the rod and spoil the child and our society? Between Spare the rod and spoil the child and Greek society in 1960? Who most likely watched Spare the rod and spoil the child when it was first released, and what do you think different viewers thought of it? Why?
Lastly, film studies encourages viewing a film relative both to its aesthetic dimensions and to its socio-ideological contexts. (Vinson K. and Ross W., 2003, p. 171). We must ask, therefore, questions about the film’s accuracy and quality and about its messages and their meanings. Such questions might include: Did the story make sense? Was it authentic or credible? Was the acting good? Would you like to have attended such a school? Would you have even been allowed to? What would you think of such a school if one like the one depicted in Spare the rod and spoil the child existed here today?
In the end, we must as viewers and as educators ask why we feel the way we do about particular pedagogical representations. If we initially liked Spare the rod and spoil the child, do we still? And, how might we (re)consider what it means?
Theories of image
Bakhtin’s chronotope asks viewers to consider the relationships between space and time implicit in any given image, as well as how, and to what extend, space and time merge and exist as an explicit character. (Vinson K. and Ross W., 2003, p. 172). How do the time and place within Spare the rod and spoil the child is set influence our understanding of the film? How do we and our students perceive the Greek society of late ’50s – early ’60s and this location interact with how they are presented in the film?
Barthes’s rhetoric of the image suggests seeing a film in terms of its linguistic or textual and its symbolic or iconic messages. On the linguistic / textual level, Barthes asks that viewers attend to things like what is shown versus what is not shown (for example the out of school relationships of the students), and how the audio text and the visual text work together. On the symbolic / iconic level, the viewers should compare and contrast what is directly stated (the intended and explicit plot), with the film’s indirect or even hidden ideology. What is said versus what is meant or implied? Are there any unintended meanings?
The notion of simulacrum implies that Spare the rod and spoil the child while aiming to reflect a particular time, place and set of events and circumstances, instead reflects a mere legend of some time, space, and set of events and circumstances. The film, might reflect a reflection, and / or image an image. Our tendency to idolize it such that we believe its re-creation is possible, even though it itself never existed. During the ’60s and surprisingly the late ’90s up to today (with the repeatedly broadcasting of the film), elementary school and high school girls sing “the grey cat” sang by “Liza” miming the voice and the saucy moves of the actress.
For McLuhan, what is important about a film is not what it says directly, its particular contents, its plot and themes, but instead the medium and technology of film itself and what it enables. The film acts as an extension of our senses, and obliterates time and space. Spare the rod and spoil the child enables us to be somewhere else, in a different space and time, and to peer into it so that we might somehow “know” it. The film allows us to associate with a previous generation, and influences how we interact with one another today. It changes the level of human inter involvement so that we all might have a common, though ideologically constructed, frame of experiential reference.
Spare the rod and spoil the child demonstrates examples of anti-democracy, disciplinarity, inauthenticity, oppression, sexism, and classism. Decisions are top-down and authoritarian. The students are threatened, into following the norm, into conforming and behaving “properly”. They are not encouraged to chose what to be and become, but what their class expects them to. Relations are hierarchical, there is no indication of any classroom democracy, anti-oppression, or the collective good.
Resistance is presented mainly in the first part of the film. Liza throws a pen against the blackboard while the teacher writes mathematical rules and asking them to copy and memorize, without explaining what they mean. A student attaches papers torn from the Ancient Greek course book on the back of a teacher and puts them on fire. Students attach notes on their teachers backs (remember the note attached on the principal’s back).
After the infliction of punishment, resistance is weaker. A student cuts the ropes of the swing expecting Floras to sit on it and be ridiculed and / or have an accident.
Resistance is punished, and the film points out the relationship between resistance and punishment at the school environment with the hidden message that this happens in the out of school world as well.
Resistance involves only individual acts. Nowhere in the film is authority openly challenged, or are statements made against sexism (of the teachers against the students).
The students use La perruque as a kind of resistance using “school time” for their purposes. During class instead of solving algebra problems they write a letter to Marlon Brando.
… so what? …
Spare the rod and spoil the child can be viewed by teachers and students aiming at learning to “read” what roles the media play in terms of creating and perpetuating identities and situations and how to counteract the manipulative and depowering tendencies of the media in contemporary society.