In 1983, Bob Clark (previously best known for a series of low-budget exploitation films) made the film for which he will doubtless be remembered long after offerings like 'Deathdream' or 'Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things' go by the wayside. That film was 'A Christmas Story', an instant holiday classic based on the humorous memoirs of Jean Shepherd, about growing up in northwest Indiana.
The story revolves around the scheming of the 9-year-old protagonist, Ralphie Parker, to obtain the most fabulous of Christmas presents: "an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time."
A major sub-plot though, is another obsession, that of Ralphie's father, with entering newspaper contests to win "a Major Award". Mr. Parker (referred to in the film simply as 'the old man') eventually wins a risque lamp in the shape of woman's leg. The mother objects to its prominent display in the living room window, and eventually the 'Major Award' is ('accidentally?')destroyed and 'the old man' humiliated. Pride goeth before a fall of a lamp!
Well, I am tickled to say that I have also won a 'Major Award' whose cash value is virtually nil, but like 'the old man', its symbolic value is high: Discover magazine sponsored a contest, many moons back, as to who could make a video that explains evolution in two minutes or less. The contest was judged by PZ Myers of Pharyngula fame, and you can listen to his explanation of why he chose my entry here.
You can also view my 'Major Award'-winning video here!
Having seen the other four runners-up, I have to say that I lucked out a bit. The other four films are pretty good, and they did a far better job of presenting some of the details of evolutionary theory than my offering. Interestingly enough, Discover magazine had sponsored a similar contest in the past on string theory, and my initial attempts to make a video was much more like these past entries and the four runner-ups in this year's contest. I had begun work assembling stills and making animations along with some kind of narration to present the important concepts: variation, heritability, the struggle for existence, differential reproductive survival, etc. As you can tell by that thumbnail sketch of my first idea, my original scheme was rich in content and vocabulary.
But I ran into a problem. I knew that I could just squeeze in everything if I wanted to present a 'just the facts' approach, but that it would lack a certain warmth and accessibility. On the other hand, if I added some user-friendly asides for the audience, I seemed to always end up either talking at a breakneck pace or being 6-8 seconds too long. Since it was a cardinal rule of the affair that it be no more than 2 minutes, and since I was determined to produce something that stood out, I began to rethink my approach. Finally, it occurred to me that since I am an amateur musician with some talent and a lot of recording equipment, perhaps the best thing to do would be to take advantage of a skill set that most of the other entrymakers probably didn't possess. I wrote an original song, the (self-referential) lyrics of which are below:
EVOLUTION (it'll change the world)
EVOLUTION (the changes go on and on and on...!)
On and on and on and on and on and on and on!
A FEW DISCLAIMERS:
While I conceived the song, created some of the animations and storyboarded the narrative, I had help in realizing the video. My former student, Brianna Christophersen, was a senior in the spring of 2009 and working at our school's Mac lab in a video production class. She shot the video of me lip-synching the tune and edited the whole thing together using Final Cut Pro and some other tools. I couldn't have done this without her, and I am happy that she now has a 'Major Award'-winning production to go in her student portfolio.
Also, I should point out that by submitting my video along with my song I agreed to give Discover magazine the right to post the material. The video itself is not my property, and for the purposes of the contest I agreed to grant Discover magazine the rights to present this content. I am reproducing the lyrics to make my amateur efforts more accessible. Since Discover magazine is providing this content free on-line, I think it is 'OK' to post the lyrics here as long as there is no attempt to repackage the content without the permission of Discover magazine.
For my next trick where teaching evolution is concerned, I'll be taking courses while visiting the Galapagos Islands in the summer of 2010. I plan on taking a video camera with me and documenting all my thoughts and impressions while there, then turning that content into an online web site that can be used for science education. More free content, I guess, but that will help me write off the expenses of the trip for professional purposes.