Friday, January 20, 2012

Sample Definition Paper

Below appears an example of the definition paper, as discussed here, suited to the Spring 2012 term theme.  Be advised that it is of acceptable length for the assignment when formatted appropriately for submission as a paper, and that it is merely an example of how the definition paper is to be carried out.

It is a commonplace among educators in the United States that one of the major purposes of education is to suit students to become good citizens.  Often unexamined, however, is what it means to be a "good citizen," and there is markedly little consensus on that score.  A number of examples of good citizenry are able to be identified, however, and their common features offer a possible model for good citizenship as participation in the structures of public order coupled with the willingness and ability to question and resist those structures in the interest of improving them .  The model emerges from examination of such mainstream fictional characters as Captain America from The Ultimates and B.J. Hunnicutt from M*A*S*H.

The character Captain America is one embedded in the dominant popular culture of the United States through a movie released early in the second decade of the twenty-first century and a long term of appearance in comic books.  In one series of those comics, The Ultimates, he is portrayed as having volunteered to take part in the World War II Super Soldier program (Millar, Gods).  Having entered the United States military to fight against Nazi Germany marks him as having participated in the support of public structures in a significant way; it is not without cause that those who served in World War II are referred to as the "Greatest Generation," and in the comics, Captain America is touted as the foremost among them.  He is not, however, wholly and mindlessly obedient to the commands of the hierarchy in which he participates; he does at times take actions which his superiors condemn but which accord with his own personal code of ethics.  For example, he at one point falsifies reports of having permission to go off base and requisition military equipment to pursue a personal vendetta, not because someone has wronged him, personally, but because he takes exception to an action he learns has occurred (Millar, Homeland).  Although the action, an act of domestic abuse, is one that deserves execration, Captain America violates standard protocol and the rule of law to punish it on his own initiative.  The action, though, goes unpunished, tacitly approving it.  The approval suggests that it is a good thing for even so prominent a citizen as Captain America is in The Ultimates to, from time to time, act outside of the strictures to which good citizenship such as Captain America's normally adheres.

On the long-running television series M*A*S*H, B.J. Hunnicutt is a doctor from the San Francisco, California, area who is drafted into the United States Army during the Korean Conflict.  While in service, he is assigned as a surgeon at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, the MASH that gives the series its name.  There, he performs admirably, saving the lives of a number of American and United Nations servicemen, Korean civilians, and even at times in the series, enemy troops who have been captured or who have surrendered.  He does largely conform to the structures of the army into which he is drafted; he follows the orders of his commanding officer, accords that officer the displays of respect expected by the situation, wears appropriate uniform attire when on duty, and remains at his post at the assigned times.  Hunnicutt is presented as an everyman character; he is competent, even skillful, but not superlative in his abilities, and his concerns reflect the ideals often presented as those of the "mainstream" white middle class--a population regarded (problematically) as unmarked and therefore a standard from which to judge deviation.  His adherence to standards is therefore likened with model citizenship.  At the same time, he is willing to set aside the rules and regulations of the army when doing so will serve the greater good.  For example, in the episode "The Korean Surgeon," Hunnicutt joins his fellow doctor, Hawkeye Pierce, in aiding an enemy physician impersonate an allied doctor, an action which results in the saving of several lives before being uncovered and punished as an execution of several criminal acts.  That Hunnicutt undertakes such an action, one which flagrantly violates a number of the regular rules of the military specifically and society generally, placing the benefits above the potential penalties, suggests that such model citizens as Hunnicutt is likened to will do the same.  The suggestion is reinforced by the fact that Hunnicutt is not punished for his participation in the act; the very structures against which he rebels, structures which he normally adheres to, tacitly approve his violation of them for cause.  Citizenship is thus presented as a nuanced thing, one that allows for criticism of the structures it normally upholds.

There are certainly other examples that can be pointed out of fictional good citizens, and recourse to them will no doubt allow for an enhanced understanding of what good citizenship is.  Good citizenship is a cornerstone of civilization itself, and so anything that aids in understanding it works to the betterment of society.

Works Cited
"The Korean Surgeon." M*A*S*H. 20th Century Fox, 2006. DVD.
Millar, Mark. The Ultimates, Volume 2: Homeland Security. New York: Marvel, 2004. Print.
---. The Ultimates 2, Volume 1: Gods & Monsters. New York: Marvel, 2005. Print.

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