This is part of a series of blogs that focuses on the attitudes of mind, behaviours and actions that a person can use to be successful at an English course. It’s practical stuff that, if applied, will have a practical effect – success in English. The blogs can be found under the category ‘Passing Higher English’ or on Twitter at #passingEnglish.
There’s a big difference between the biggest action heroes of the Eighties and the most popular action heroes of the Twenty-First Century. Back in the 80s, the action heroes were based on brute force, whether that force was their own physical strength or the force that exploded out of handguns, machine guns, rocket launchers, helicopters…you get the idea. Power was prime, number one. And no one embodied this better than Arnold Schwarzenegger. The former Mister Universe had the physique to embody this popular conception concerning action heroes. Schwarzenegger’s characters were so similar and the plots so obviously just an excuse for massive violence, that I couldn’t tell you the name of a single character he played on screen. He was always just Arnold Schwarzenegger.
He didn’t really have to be anyone else, because his films weren’t character driven. What he did was get himself into a situation where he was opposed by, not just two or three but an army, an army of bad guys who had massive material resources – technology, weapons, intelligence – and he would then kill them all. His films would be a rolling body count in the hundreds and sometimes the thousands. His strategy was simple: kill everybody, but the odd good guy and the girl. His tactis: use anything, but it’ll be quick and violent.
Those were the days. Of course, in the fantasy world of Schwarzenegger films, brute force was always enough. Someone’s got a gun and he doesn’t? He just throws something at them which kills them, or he runs at them and they’re too slow to shoot him! Or something…The plan is one dimensional, but it always works…because it’s fantasy.
Our more recent action heroes have been a lot more nuanced. Jason Bourne, a character that’s raised the game in action films, is someone who takes more than one approach. He uses guns, knives, machine guns, but he can use rolled-up newspapers, bath towels and curtains. He uses violence, but he also uses intelligence. He tries to figure things out rather than just shooting everyone. He has a strategy and he uses different tactics to achieve that trategy. However, and this is important, in the Bourne films as Jason Bourne’s knowledge increases, he changes his tactics and his strategy based on that new knowledge. New information, new circumstances means a different approach. Bourne has two very important qualities – checking the approach is working and the flexibility to change his approach.
As someone sitting examinations, Standard Grade, Int 1/2 or Higher, you will have a goal: to pass your exams at a specific grade. You will, hopefully, have a strategy: to study each subject for 3 hours a week, as an example. Within that you have tactics: reading over notes, learning a certain topic, using past papers, writing an essay and having someone look over it (let’s say!) But vitally important aspects of strategy and tactics are checking to see the approach works and then changing it if is isn’t.
Let’s say you’re doing a particular Maths topic. This is going to be your 3 hours of Maths study this week. You study the topic. Great. How do you know you’ve learned anything? You do some questions. You check the answers…you still don’t know how to do it! Aaagh! It’s frustrating! Now, you’ve chosen to do this so giving up isn’t an option. So what do you do? You’ve done your 3 hours, so what now? Given that the aim is to get a specific grade in Maths, and you need to know that topic, then you have to show flexibility in your approach.
This flexibility of method may mean doing an hour extra; it may mean seeing someone at the school; it may mean that you need to spend tomorrow night studying Maths too. However, unless you can show a variety of tactics to make the strategy work then you’re not going to achieve your goal. This is what Jason Bourne does so well. He keeps the goal in mind and varies strategy and tactics endlessly to get closer to the goal. All the while checking to see if he’s getting closer or not. It’s a good approach. The best approach for success.
As for Arnold, Schwarzenegger’s approach is a little bit too rigid for anywhere but Arnie-world, especially if he faced an intelligent enemy, but if he went to the SQA personally, he’d probably come back with a Higher or two…
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