Hugh Reilly: Brought to book over social media studies

Picture: Getty
Picture: Getty
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LAST WEEK, further evidence emerged that reading has become a minority activity for our young people.

According to the Scottish Qualifications Authority, the number of candidates writing essays and folio pieces on “media texts” continues to rise. Films popular with pupils afflicted by acute biblophobia include Braveheart, Jaws and Titanic. The rise in examinees whose road to academic success begins in the lower stalls of the local multiplex is one in the eye for book club, Kindle-carrying Fascists who persist in pushing The Big Lie that the novel is always better than the movie.

Due to time pressures that come with participating in the social media revolution, kids just don’t have the spare hours to read Blind Harry’s account of William Wallace’s fight to free Scotland from English tyranny. And even if they did, some would be confused that Wallace used nationalism as a clarion call to the masses, whereas SNP politicians employ promises of being £500 better off and the pro-Union lobby makes threats of being £500 worse off. Wallace did not get bogged down in details about what the political landscape would look like after he had skinned and made a rather fetching waterproof satchel out of the last Englishman in Scotland.

In the forthcoming independence referendum, youngsters will go to the ballot box unsure about Alba’s place at the European Union trough, although they will know that Scotland will remain a member of Nato (some dullards will believe Nato is the result of running over one’s foot with the lawnmower).

Candidates relying on Mel Gibson’s patriotic blockbuster for their knowledge of Wallace’s insurrection should be aware that there are one or two cinematic typos. First, the Battle of Stirling Bridge occurs in an Irish farmer’s field. Second, the decidedly idiosyncratic accent used by recovering alcoholic Mr Gibson suggests that he discovered this Scottish voice on a day when he had fallen off the wagon attached to bungee rope. Indeed, after listening to the soundtrack, there is a consensus among linguistic experts that Wallace was born and raised in a suburb of Katowice.

Jaws (and the imaginatively titled sequels, Jaws 2 and Jaws 3), is perhaps best remembered for its signature tune, a prelude to the shark’s snack times. (This musical embodiment of impending doom must swim through Johann Lamont’s head at noon on a Thursday when she sees Alex Salmond arriving for FMQs). Students critically analysing Jaws will doubtless point out that a Scottish audience experiences some difficulty in relating to a hot summer’s day with thousands of folk swimming in the sea. A Great White shark would have to grow legs and run up Portabella beach to bite shivering bathers. Indeed, the beast would itself be in much danger of being bottled by Buckfast-swigging drunken neds. On the plus side, it would be cinematic gold to gape at the gore-fest when twee Green Party types make the fatal mistake of endeavouring to refloat what they thought to be a stranded whale.

To be fair, Hollywood does have the ability to transform dull prose into celluloid masterpieces. The book The Bridge Over the River Kwai highlights the tremendous feat of British prisoners of war and local coolies to construct an engineering wonder in the face of horrendous treatment at the hands of their Japanese gaolers. US cinema moguls, however, decided that the bridge had to be blown up – with a train travelling across it, for good measure – by an American army hero, William Holden. As a young man, I watched this movie sucking my Kia-Ora juice through a soggy, rapidly disintegrating straw. It was only many years later that I chanced upon a documentary that showed the bridge still standing. I had been duped by fiendish studio producers.

Thankfully, the SQA report states that traditional texts such as Of Mice and Men, To Kill A Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies are still popular with teenagers. These books are essential cultural reference points. While it is right to encourage children to read a wide variety of writers, I think some teachers of English do those under their tutelage a disservice by ignoring novels that have stood the test of time.

Perhaps we should consider making reading a more pleasurable experience by allowing kids to munch on popcorn when skimming through the works of great authors.