Though it themes

We’ve been using various themes in ds106 for a few years now. It’s served as a good way to focus the class and provide a basis for collaboration. What I look for in a theme is the potential for fun and flexibility – something loose enough so that people can make of it what they want. There are always people who don’t like the theme, or are uninterested in it. They’re always welcome to use it as a critique, or to put a different spin on it, or to do anything they need to do to find a way to have fun with it. Most people tend to take a rather narrow interpretation, which makes me sad and disappointed, but it’s not about me.

The idea to use a secret agent theme came from a longtime friend of ds106 on Twitter, playing off my name. Bond stories are known for action and adventure, unusual characters and exotic locales, all things the class could have fun with. They’re easy to parody as well. They’re also known for chauvinism, sexism and racism, so they’re very much open to critique. The recent Bond graphic novels have done this a little. There’s also the idea of identity, which fits in well with the course. That’s part of the secret in secret agent. So we can be who we want to be when interacting with the class. And we can be double agents, opening the possibility of plot twists in the course.

by Ellis, Masters, Major and Bowland, from James Bond VARGR

Personally I’m interested in the idea of the secret agency, an organization that is able to operate outside of the law and above the level of the nation-state. MI6 and CIA don’t quite fit that bill, but SPECTRE and Hydra do, as well as the mercenary organizations in Kingsman and Archer. I wonder how they work, internally and externally, beyond the expendable agents in the field.

But there’s more to it than Bond or Bourne. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind put an interesting twist on it – interesting at least to those of us who remember The Gong Show. Another graphic novel, Velvet, puts a gender twist in the typical Cold War secret agent, which I found interesting, but then it’s also written by men so one could critique it from that perspective. The podcast series Limetown is about a reporter investigating a mass disappearance, but behind it all is a kind of secret agency, one or two nameless corporations with the finances and influence to set up an entire town, and to make its inhabitants vanish, without any meaningful official inquiry.

So there are many ways to play this theme. And that’s good, because we can have a bit of mystery between what it is and what it seems.

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