Ryan Biracree
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    • Ryan Biracree

      To add to the comments below –– much of the subscription cost goes not to the RR software and team, but to the licensing fees RR pays to the publishers of the children’s books it features (I saw someone describe the new RR the other day as a kind of Netflix for kids’ books, among other things). From what I understand about the business mechanics, it’s not that the Kickstarter backers are making Reading Rainbow just be nice and give away its product for free –– the licensing fee is still charged for that classroom, but the Kickstarter money allows RR to pay it (plus whatever bits go to RR’s operating costs, etc.) so the school doesn’t have to. I think we’re right to be wary of for-profit companies, but especially in this industry (nearly my whole family has worked in young children’s education for more than thirty years) no one’s getting rich; it seems obvious that this is a labor of love. RRKidz is about as altruistic a business as you’re going to get.

    • Ryan Biracree

      I teach Hamlet to college freshmen once a year, and I think it’s irresponsible to teach Shakespeare and not be aware of these issues –– the gender, sex, class politics of the late Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. And there’s nothing wrong with disliking his work –– not for an intellectual, not for a layperson, not for anyone.  But if it’s worth mentioning, I’ll say what I tell my students –– for one, this was someone who was deeply, deeply interested in people, and seemed to do his best to understand who they were; a person who could remain so absent from his work that people who are dumb sometimes don’t even believe he existed. The level of empathy is remarkable –– and often, we mistake a realized character for what must be an expression of his own prejudice, colored as we are by modern notions of authorship and agenda, but what is frequently just how that character would behave. There are times when he sucks at stuff (King John), and times when he seems sexist (Taming of the Shrew, as you point out), but also times in which his portrayal of women is desperately modern –– look at Rosalind in As You Like It, for instance. Or Ophelia –– how the constant disregard, manipulation, and sexualized bullying by virtually all the male characters in the play (after a badass mad scene in which she asserts her sexuality and then outsmarts everyone to call them assholes to their faces) lead irrevocably and directly to their violent deaths and leaving alive just Horatio, the only dude who wasn’t a dick to her. But more than that, if you don’t give two shits about the plots or characters, it’s impossible not to give two shits about the poetry (there is a total of four possible shits to give). It’s a stupid expectation that the academic world has that everyone should “love Shakespeare” in his entirety –– there’s things to like, things to hate, and things that we don’t get. You can like King Lear and hate Merry Wives of Windsor, just as I can like when my cat is adorable but hate when she farts on me. And one of the best things about him is this –– he was a regular dude. Not rich, not perfect, not especially memorable, (and certainly not the Earl of fucking Oxford). He never went to college and never learned a foreign language. He learned a lot of stuff, worked hard, cared about and understood people, and more than four hundred years after his death we talk about his poems on the Internet. Shakespeare is more recognizable, worldwide, than Adolf Hitler –– to me that alone says something worthwhile about humanity.