Sparkle in the culture club

It's unlikely the kids now sitting the HSC have had much time in recent weeks to watch Big Brother. But if they did, they'd have been excited to see the latest incarnation of a certified national icon, whom they would know as Tina Sparkle.

Sonia Kruger's debut performance, in Strictly Ballroom, is a prescribed text in the English course upon which students were examined last week. Tina Sparkle finds herself in such exalted company as Hamlet, Eliza Doolittle, Miss Havisham, Charles Foster Kane, Julius Caesar, Billy Elliot and Elizabeth Bennet. All are deemed by the Board of Studies to be essential elements of the heritage our teachers should imprint on young Australians so they'll emerge from high school as civilised human beings.

Any students who glanced at Channel Nine lately would have been delighted that Tina Sparkle is even more beautiful in 2012 than she was when their prescribed text was filmed, in 1992. Students who chose SeaChange as one of their texts would have been equally impressed that the Sigrid Thornton they see in commercials for a certain brand of vitamins is as fresh-complexioned as the glamorous Melbourne lawyer who transformed her life by moving to a coastal village in 1998.

Not that such superficial judgments would have been helpful in the essays the HSC students were scribbling last Monday and Wednesday. Deeper analysis is required.

The early work of Kruger falls in an area of study called ''Belonging'', where it illustrates this proposition from the board's notes for teachers: ''Students may consider aspects of belonging in terms of experiences and notions of identity, relationships, acceptance and understanding. Texts explore many aspects of belonging, including the potential of the individual to enrich or challenge a community or group. They may reflect the way attitudes to belonging are modified over time. Texts may also represent choices not to belong, or barriers which prevent belonging.''

In Strictly Ballroom, dancers Scott and Fran challenge the anal-retentive bureaucrats who run the Dance Federation, at the risk of not belonging to the dominant group, but end up enriching the world of dance by offering others (including Tina) new ways to display their talent.

It's an inspiring message for the leaders of tomorrow and it's typical of the care with which the professors on the Board of Studies have chosen the popular-culture options in the curriculum.

Other movies up for examination last week included Blade Runner (do androids belong to the human race?); The Castle (should one family be allowed to resist the elected authorities?); Lost in Translation (people are strange when you're a stranger); Wag the Dog (most politicians are liars, cheats and hypocrites); The Queen (a ruler should understand her subjects' feelings); Rabbit-Proof Fence (family is more important than ideology); and Ten Canoes (humans share a fundamental view about love, justice and what makes a good story).

The board is working on a new HSC English syllabus, to operate from 2014. They've done a good job so far in choosing movies and TV shows, so they may not need any help from the readers of this column. Lets give it to them anyway. What other visual texts contain ideas and messages that would encourage a child to become a confident, creative, reflective and happy adult?

Here's my short-list, which I'll send to the board as soon as I've added yours (not necessarily the greatest movies and TV series of all time, but the visual texts that should be on the HSC syllabus):

Apocalypse Now, Dr. Strangelove, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Fawlty Towers, Frontline, Gallipoli, The Godfather: Part II, Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Life of Brian, Muriel's Wedding, Newsfront, The Newsroom, Rome, They're a Weird Mob, To Kill a Mockingbird, West Side Story, The West Wing, The Wire.

Nominate the films and shows our children should study below.

David Dale also blogs at The Tribal Mind.

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