Mentor Text Wednesday: Ted Wilson Reviews The World

Mentor Text: Ted Wilson Reviews The World  by Ted Wilson (posted and collected at Electric Literature, The Rumpus.net and I Am Ted Wilson

Writing Techniques:

  • Writing Reviews
  • Humour
  • Satire

Background:
Perhaps the thing I love most about the Internet is the delightfully random nature of what it manages to put in front of me. This weeks mentor text set is an example of that.

Electric Literature has been a Twitter fave of mine for a while. It’s a great lit journal that regularly posts great pieces, from poetry to criticism, I’ve had a lot of wonderful reading roll across my feed. I’m not sure how I’ve only just now noticed “Ted Wilson Reviews The World.”

“In 2009 I began reviewing the world, one item per week. So far I’ve reviewed hundreds of things!” is what I saw when I first clicked the link in the tweet. And I began reading the review posted on June 9th, for Windex.

And I laughed.

I honestly have no idea if there is a real Ted Wilson writing these reviews. I feel like there isn’t, but have no proof. All I know is that Ted makes me laugh. Writing in the voice of an old man who has decided to review everything, these reviews play on the conventions of the review with such glee, and tone, you know you’re looking at something special.

How We Might Use These Texts:

Writing Reviews – In a world where we need to encourage critical thinking, I love the idea of giving students these somewhat unconventional reviews as a mentor text. The conventions of a review are there – a background of the subject, a commentary on the strengths and weaknesses of the subject, and an expression of opinion. Looking at these reviews alongside a more traditional review might highlight those conventions for some of our writers. These texts are clearly unique versions of a review, but how do they do the things reviews do?

As a fan of pop culture, I read a fair amount of reviews. They’re actually often kind of boring. Many of the mentor texts that we give students to look at when studying reviews reinforce this. When we have an established structure, such as a review, it can be easy to let that form become stagnant and predictable. This might help some of our writers shake up their writing a bit.

I also think that there’s some fun to be had in reviewing items other than pop culture. Also fun, working under the assumption that Ted Wilson is a nom de plume, identifying the core characteristics of these reviews, establishing the “rules” for writing as Ted Wilson, and reviewing some stuff.

Writing Humour – Ted Wilson is funny, don’t you think? Dry and tongue in cheek, these reviews could almost be taken seriously, though they clearly aren’t intended to be. I haven’t used these with students yet, but I can only imagine their incredulous reactions. “Seriously?! This guy is reviewing Windex? Look, Nickerson, he doesn’t actually drink the Windex does he? Why would he do that? I mean, I know he says he drinks everything he reviews, but, c’mon…” And then, the eye-rolling from the with-it kids in the room, who’ve grokked the humour already, and can’t believe their classmates’ ignorance. Ah, good times will roll.

These mentor texts give us a really nice humour to have students write though, don’t they? They call on them to play a role, to put forth some silliness in a very serious way. The jokes aren’t in your face, and don’t rely on shock value. The conceit that Ted Wilson has a mission to review everything is silly, but in our virally motivated world, it sounds like a real thing. It would be a fun way for them to play with humour – using a voice and a structured format they’ve likely got some familiarity with.

Even the choosing of items to review lends itself to some creative, and silly, writing. Look at the list of things being reviewed without chuckling, I dare you. You know that set loose on these sites, students would be able to find a review that made them chuckle, and therefore drew their interest. What an awesome brainstorming session we could have choosing items of our own to review. And, of course, as they chose, they’d be thinking ahead to why their choice would be funny…

Writing Satire –  Go read  Ted Wilson’s review of vaping or Pokemon Go! 

I know, right? These reviews, in Ted Wilson’s voice, allow for an opportunity to take a shot at some of the trends that we see in our society. In “reviewing” these popular fads, he quite delightfully pokes fun at them, and makes us question some of the logic behind a thing that so many people are part of. Using the voice of an old man who doesn’t understand these things fully allows for a critical eye to be applied. The conceit that Ted Wilson is an easygoing old timer with a quest, as opposed to an old grump yelling makes it seem as if he is open to these things, which makes the satire work a little bit better. A positive old man reviewing fads allows for satire, as opposed to a simple blasting of something we don’t like.

This application of satire might be one of the best uses for these as a mentor text. Satire should allow for a certain amount of criticism. Often, our writers overemphasize the negative in a critical review. Writing as Ted Wilson would encourage them to find a way to express their criticism in a different way, subtly, using humour instead of direct vitriol that borders on rant territory.

It’s June. I found this series at an unfortunate time to get into a deep dig. I do know that every one of these reviews I read made me laugh, and there was something in them that I wanted to share with my writers, and I wanted to share with you. These are fun pieces, and as we’ve hopefully all seen, working with fun pieces can be engaging, and allow our writers a special kind of engagement that helps them find their voices, and places as writers.

Obviously, I must ask what you’d review? What review calls to you? What other mentor texts do you use to play with humour, and/or satire?

As always, connect with me on Twitter, @doodlinmunkyboy, or feel free to comment below to connect.

-Jay

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