Play #51: The Industrial Age

[Note: much of the language of the play is taken verbatim from student papers handed in at the end of the author’s final lecture, a few weeks ago, at a well-known Ontario university]  

The play takes place in a university lecture hall.  The lecturer—Sitwell Kern—has grown weary from years of teaching and is pleased that this is to be his very last class.

KERN (showing a reproduction of The Eiffel Tower on the screen):  Can anyone tell me what this is?

STUDENT A (laconically):  A PowerPoint projection?

KERN (irritated):  Obviously—but of what?

[There is a restless silence in the hall]

KERN (patiently):  It’s a photograph of the Eiffel Tower in the course of its construction.  Of what cultural importance has the Tower been been since it was finished in 1889?

STUDENT C:  It represents the beginning of the industrial age?

KERN:  No it doesn’t.  It’s too late for that.  When did the Industrial age actually begin?

STUDENT C:  Earlier than the Eiffel Tower?

KERN (irritably): Yes, we’ve established that.  Perhaps you’re unclear about what the Industrial Age really was?


STUDENT G (smarmy, self-assured):  The Industrial Age was when man began to dominate over physical barriers.

KERN:  “Dominate over physical barriers”?  Is “dominate” really the word you want?  And what do you mean, “physical barriers”?  What, like walls?  What are you saying?

STUDENT F (excited):  I mean we could make buildings taller and taller now because now we could move people through them faster and we needed the dense space that they provided!   

KERN (getting angry):  Who is we?

STUDENT F (joyous):  We are we!

KERN:  We are?  And what do you mean by “we could move people through them faster”?

STUDENT F:  Crowd control.

KERN (at the end of his patience):  That’s insane.

STUDENT X:  Careful, professor.  That’s harassment!

STUDENT J (confidently):  The car was soon to be mass-produced, and would be spreading people to every corner of the world imaginable!

KERN (unbelieving):  “Spreading people”?  Like jam on toast?

STUDENT K (undaunted and with great finality):  The Eiffel Tower would become a shift in world dynamics…

KERN:  The Eiffel Tower would become a shift….?

STUDENT K (persisting):  …would become a shift in world dynamics where materiality driven advancement would determine world dominance!

KERN: Materiality-driven?

STUDENT K:  Yeh, you know, money and all that….

KERN: That may sound like legitimate discourse to you people, but none of it means anything!  You can’t just use words in any way you want!


KERN: Because then you fatally abuse their meaning!

STUDENT H:  That’s just your opinion.