December 27, 2007

Bringing the 1800’s and the Present Together

Kari Andersen ’08 compares contemporary filmmaker Michael Moore with 19th-century Spanish essayist in her honors thesis

Kari Andersen ’08 (Patchogue, N.Y.) is a Marquis Scholar with a double major in Spanish and psychology. She is currently working on a comparative analysis of 19th-century Spanish essayist Mariano Jose de Larra and contemporary U.S. filmmaker Michael Moore for her honors thesis. Andersen is working under the guidance of Michelle Geoffrion-Vinci, associate professor of foreign languages and literatures. The following is a firsthand account of Andersen’s experiences with her thesis.

My ability to multitask is superb. Whether it be shopping online while spellchecking, or food with Freud, this skill helps to balance my sanity with my schoolwork. When the work begins to pile too high, momentary distraction via Facebook or Instant Messenger can save me from a stress-induced meltdown. Yet my knack at teaming scholarly assignments with some less-than-educational diversions is not merely a service to my mental health. Rather, most recently, it provided me with an interesting comparison which, in turn, evolved into the muse for my honors thesis.

One typical afternoon, I was up to my usual juggling act, reading essays of the literary genius Mariano Jose de Larra while simultaneously watching Michael Moore’s documentary on the well-known tragic event in September, Fahrenheit 9/11. With Larra’s essays scattered across my lap and Moore’s film flashing on the television, striking similarities between the two manifested themselves before my eyes. After some preliminary research and encouragement on behalf of my adviser, Professor Geoffrion-Vinci, I made the proposition that Larra could be considered something of a proto-documentarian, with his avant-garde filmic tendencies mirroring those of Michael Moore in many ways.

Such a connection between a 19th-century Spanish writer and a 21st-century American filmmaker may seem like a considerable stretch. Nevertheless, as the end of the semester and my second chapter come to a close, the connections between the two only become more robust.

Whereas chapter one introduces the reader to the topic and the sociopolitical backgrounds of both Larra and Moore, chapter two defines the genre of the documentary, using Moore as an example. From this interpretation, I show how Larra’s famous articles adopt characteristics unique to this contemporary style in terms of theme, purpose, viewpoint, form, technique, and audience response, despite the difference of nearly 200 years.

Over winter break and the course of next semester, I intend to write chapters three to five. Following my exploration of Larra’s proto-filmic viewpoint, chapter three will aim to address the political and societal implications of his articles along with the documentaries of Moore. Because both of these figures wished to inform and perhaps persuade their audience to take some action in regard to the theme they are presenting, it is interesting to examine their intent and the actual outcome of these desires.

Stemming directly from this study is a necessary expose of the differences that distinguish Larra from Moore. Besides the obvious factors such as time period and place, it is necessary to recognize matters such as personal investment, the role of censorship and technology, and underlying motivations which separate these two individuals and have repercussions in their work.

Finally, as the conclusion of the work, chapter five will be polished off with a summary and an interesting analysis into how the link between Moore and Larra comes full circle with the tragedies of 9/11 in the United States and 3/11 terrorist attacks in Madrid, Spain.

Andersen is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Psi Chi (the National Honor Society in Psychology), Sigma Delta Pi (the National Collegiate Hispanic Honor Society), and serves as secretary of the Psych Club. She is also a writing assistant for Spanish. Last semester, Andersen studied abroad in Seville, Spain. She will be going on an interim trip to Scandinavia during the upcoming January interim.

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