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560 Topics: Movies – The Jazz Singer; The Selective Service System; microaggressions, social justice warrior, and trigger warning; to insulate versus to isolate; pluralizing glass

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 560.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 560. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

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On this Café, we’re going to talk about a famous film, The Jazz Singer. We’re also going to talk about the Selective Service System in the United States. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

We begin this Café with a discussion of what some people think was one of the most important American movies ever made, The Jazz Singer. The Jazz Singer was made in 1927. When movies or films (the words mean the same thing) were first made, they were all what we now call “silent movies.” “Silent” means without sound or speech. When you watched the movie, you couldn’t hear the actors talking in the movie. There was no sound that was connected to the movie other than perhaps some music.

How did you understand what was going on in the movie? There were words that were put on the screen in between different sections or scenes of the movie, or as part of the scene in the movie. These sections, these screens, were basically “subtitles” – words that you could read that would give you basically the dialogue of the movie. A “dialogue” (dialogue) describes the words spoken during a conversation between two or more people. So, as you watched the movie, you would read the dialogue and watch the action of the movie.

Beginning in the 1920s, film studios started to use new technology to record the actors saying the dialogue in the movie at the same time that they were filming the movie itself. These film studios, or film companies, used certain machines and equipment that attempted to match the sound you heard with the actors talking in the movie. Most of these early films were very short, only a minute or two, and were basically experiments.

In 1927, however, one of the biggest film studios, one of the biggest movie companies here in Los Angeles, Warner Brothers, released what we would call the first “feature-length talking film.” “To release” means to make it available for people to see. “Feature-length” is a term we use to describe a movie that is, nowadays, usually an hour or two hours long, although technically I believe they use the time of 40 minutes to describe something as “feature-length.”

Today most feature-length films are between 90 and 120 minutes long. The first feature-length movie with sound was called The Jazz Singer, and it is thought of by many as the movie that ended the silent movie period in American film. “Jazz” (jazz) is a type of music that, you probably know, began in the African-American or black community in the United States using instruments such as the trumpet, the saxophone, the piano, and so forth.

The Jazz Singer tells the story of a young Jewish boy who loves to sing. His father is head of the synagogue that the family attends. A “synagogue” is a place of worship, a religious “house of worship,” we would call it, for those of the Jewish faith, similar to a church or a mosque for the Christian and Muslim religions, respectively. This young boy, however, doesn’t want to grow up being the head of a synagogue. He wants to sing jazz music and perform on a Broadway stage in New York City. Broadway is the main street in New York City where all of the big theaters are located.

That’s what the boy wants to do. He wants to be a singer. The movie follows the young boy as he grows up and tries to become a singer and shows the changes in his relationship with his father. The movie included a lot of songs, a lot of singing, as well as some dialogue. Only about a quarter, or 25 percent, of the dialogue was recorded, however. They did still use subtitles for most of the dialogue.

This was in part because Warner Brothers, the film studio, wasn’t sure how people watching the movie would like watching a talking movie. They were used to watching the silent movies, so Warner Brothers wanted to make sure that people would actually like this new form of entertainment – what some people called the “talkies.” The answer was, of course, that the audience loved the talking movies. The movie immediately became very popular and Warner Brothers and other studios realized that they needed to start making all of their films talking films.

The next year, in 1928, Warner Brothers released another talking film called Lights of New York, in which all of the dialogue was recorded. This, in fact, was the first feature-length film that was completely non-silent, completely a talking film. Warner Brothers studio was given an honorary Academy Award, an honorary Oscar, for The Jazz Singer. “Honorary” is a word we use to describe something given to someone who doesn’t have to meet the normal requirements.

For example, if you are invited to give a talk, a speech, to a university when the students are graduating – what we call a “commencement address” – the university will often give you an “honorary degree.” They’ll make you a doctor, a PhD, in something. Now of course, you didn’t have to study to get this PhD. It’s not a PhD that really means anything, but it’s an honorary PhD. It’s an honorary degree. It is given to you as an expression of thanks.

The Academy gave an honorary Oscar to Warner Brothers studio for creating this first talking movie. The award was to congratulate Warner Brothers for being a pioneer in movie technology. A “pioneer” (pioneer) is someone who is the first person to do something or to make something. The term in American history is usually applied to those who were the first to move out into the western parts of the United States. As America added more territory to the country, people moved to this new territory, and they were sometimes referred to as the “pioneers.”

Warner Brothers was a pioneer because it was the first movie studio to make a talking film. It made Warner Brothers rich in addition to famous. The movie was very popular and was considered one of the most successful films of its era. In fact, it was so successful that they made three more versions of The Jazz Singer in the twentieth century, including a version released when I was in high school in 1980 that starred the famous pop singer Neil Diamond. Some of the songs from that film actually became hits, including “Coming to America.”

They’re coming to America.
They’re coming to America today.

Remember that? No? Well I do. While the movie was popular both in its original version and in its later versions, the 1927 film was somewhat controversial. The main actor in the movie was a man by the name of Al Jolson. Now, Al Jolson, when he’s singing the jazz songs in the movie, used something called “blackface.” “Blackface” was the practice of putting black paint, basically, on your face to make you look like an African-American. This was a popular practice in certain singing performances during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Nowadays when we look back at that, it is considered to be something very offensive, but at the time it was much less so. Despite the use of blackface by Al Jolson, the movie is still considered one of the most important movies ever made because of its pioneering technology and because of its popularity. The Jazz Singer changed the film industry – the movie business – forever, although of course sometimes silent films are still made. The French film The Artist is a mostly silent film that won an Oscar Award for best picture in 2011. So, silent films aren’t quite dead yet.

Let’s turn now to the Selective Service System and why it’s so important to young American men, and perhaps someday to young American women. The word “selective” (selective) means careful choosing of someone or something. “Service” is a time in which you are working for a company or an organization. The Selective Service System is a system that is designed to help the U.S. government select young men who will serve in the United States military if the government needs to have people come and fight in a war.

To understand the modern Selective Service System, you have to know a little bit about the history of how Americans have formed their military forces in the past. Before 1914, the beginning of World War I in Europe, the United States had an all-volunteer army. The verb “To volunteer” (volunteer) means to do something because you want to do it, not because you have to do it. In 1914, The U.S. army had about 100,000 men in it. When the United States joined World War I a few years later on the side of the allies, it was clear that it would need many, many more soldiers.

After the U.S. entered World War I, it was immediately clear that not enough men were going to volunteer, so the U.S. government created the Selective Service System to get enough men to fight in the army and the military as part of the war effort. I should add that this wasn’t the first time that the U.S. government had created a system to force men into the U.S. military – there was also a similar system during the Civil War in the middle of the nineteenth century, but the modern Selective Service System began with President Wilson’s organization to help fight World War I.

The purpose of the system or organization was to find all the men in the country who were between the ages of 21 and 30 years old and who would be able to fight in a war if it was necessary to draft them. “To draft” (draft) means to require someone to serve in the military. There’s also a noun “draft” which refers to the process of making people become members of the military forces. There are, then, these two ways of getting people to become part of the military. One is to ask them to volunteer, another is to force them to become members, and that is what a “draft” is.

There’s another noun we use for this process, which is “conscription” (conscription). “Conscription” is the same as a draft. It’s when people are forced to become members of the army or another military service. As the needs of the U.S military increased during World War I, eventually that age range was expanded down to 18 years and up to 45 years old. The Selective Service System worked very quickly and efficiently in World War I. Within a year or so, there were close to three million men as part of the U.S. armed forces, many of them sent over to Europe to fight and die in World War I.

The Selective Service System was intended to be used only during a time of war. However, in 1940, it became clear to President Franklin Roosevelt that once again, the United States would probably end up going to war in Europe as well as Asia, and its military was not ready to fight. So he signed the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, which said that all men who are eligible for selective service must begin training for the military.

This was the first time that the U.S. government had instituted or begun a draft during peacetime, when the U.S. was not at war. But Roosevelt knew that the U.S. would need millions and millions of men as part of its armed forces and would need them probably sooner rather than later. The ages of 40 - . The 1940 act, or law, required anyone between the ages of 21 and 36 who was eligible to sign up with the government and to begin possible training to become part of the military. “To be eligible” means to meet the requirements that have been created.

After the United States entered World War II in December of 1941, many men did in fact volunteer. In fact, so many volunteered that some of the U.S. services denied or turned back applications from men. The army, however, didn’t say no to very many people, and soon millions of young American men were off again to Europe to fight. One of those young men was a man by the name of Patrick McQuillan. He was my father, who fought in North Africa, in Italy, in France, and in Germany as part of the U.S. army. My uncles also fought in World War II, several of them in the Pacific.

After World War II ended, some people wanted to get rid of the draft – to get rid of the Selective Service System – but then-president Truman said, “No, we should keep it because now we have a new enemy – the Soviet Union.” The Selective Service System was continued through the 1940s, and when the Korean War began in 1950, the U.S. government once again drafted more than a million men to come into the army and fight.

Of course, the number of people that were drafted, the number of young men that were drafted, after the end of the Korean War once again was much smaller than it had been during the war, but men were still drafted throughout the 1950s and 1960s. As the U.S. got more and more involved in the Vietnam War in the 1960s, many people began to criticize the Selective Service System, especially because it was seen as being not fair to some members of society.

In particular, a lot of rich parents – parents who had influence – had found ways to prevent their sons from going off into war. There were lots of ways of doing this, including sending your children to college. If you were in college, you got what was called a “deferment,” which meant that you didn’t have to go in to the U.S. military as long as you were a student, and many young men took that route to prevent getting drafted and sent over to fight in the Vietnam War, especially during the late 1960s.

The way the Selective Service System worked – especially in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when it was most controversial in the U.S. – was by means of a lottery, which means the government would select at random certain dates from the year, and it would tell those young men they had to come and join the military. So it was in part by luck whether you were going to fight in the Vietnam War, in particular, once that system was instituted.

Even though the government tried to change the system so that it was more fair to people from all different backgrounds, a large number of young men refused to participate in the draft. In fact, it became common for young men to burn their draft cards, which was basically a registration certificate that the U.S. government gave you after you registered for the draft. Some men refused to register for the draft because they didn’t want to be sent over to fight in the Vietnam War. Almost 500,000 young men dodged the draft one way or another during the 1960s and early 1970s.

“To dodge” (dodge) means to prevent yourself from getting involved in something, or in this case, not following the law. These young men did a variety of things to dodge the draft. Some of them left the United States and went to Canada. By 1973, President Nixon had decided to end the Selective Service draft, and in 1975, the Selective Service Act was officially ended. In 1977, the first thing that President Carter did was issue a pardon. He gave forgiveness legally to all of those who had dodged the draft during the Vietnam War.

It took only five years for the U.S. government to change its mind and to reinstitute the Selective Service System after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980. The government reinstated the Selective Service System. “To reinstate” (reinstate) means to make something active again, to start something up again. Young men between the ages of 18 and 25 were once again required to register with the U.S. government.

In one of the first groups of young men to register under this new Selective Service System was Jeffery McQuillan. I was a high school student. I turned 18 in 1981, the first full year of the new Selective Service System, and I had to go down to the post office and fill out a form, write my name on a piece of paper, officially registering for the draft even though there wasn’t a draft at the time.

The Selective Service Act, now called the Selective Training and Service Act, continues to this day. All young men between the ages of 18 and 25 must register for the Selective Service with the U.S. government. This is actually done automatically in some states. When a young man gets his driver’s license, he can’t get his license unless he automatically registers or agrees to register for the Selective Service.

In the U.S., you are punished by not registering for the Selective Service, mostly by being denied certain government aid, certain government programs. You can’t get a student grant or loan unless you are registered for the Selective Service. In some states, you can’t get a driver’s license, as I mentioned, without being registered for the Selective Service. I don’t know of any young man who’s actually gone to jail for not registering for the Selective Service. Almost everyone who is of that age does.

There’s now some discussion of whether young women should also register for the Selective Service. I want to remind you, however, that registering for the Selective Service is not the same as being part of the military. The United States has not had conscription, has not had a draft where it has forced young men into the military, since 1973. However, all young men must register in case the U.S. decides to have another draft.

We do not, like many countries, have a required one or two years of military service. That is not a requirement in the United States as it is in many countries around the world. The U.S military is 100 percent all volunteer and has been since 1973.

Now let’s answer some of the questions you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Dan (Dan) from Italy. Dan wants to know about a relatively new phenomenon, a relatively new occurrence, on U.S. college campuses involving three terms: “microaggressions,” “social justice warriors,” and “trigger warnings.”

Dan is correct to say that this is a fairly new phenomenon, a fairly new thing in the U.S., and it has become especially important on U.S. campuses – that is, in U.S. universities and colleges. I only became aware of some of these concepts three or four years ago, and today many Americans are just becoming aware of some of these terms.

Let’s start with “microaggressions” (microaggression). Something that is “micro” is very small. That’s what that prefix or that little word that comes at the beginning of the word means. An “aggression” is some attack on another person, something you do to hurt another person. “Microaggressions” are defined as things that you say or perhaps do that are considered by a member of a minority group to be offensive, to be disrespectful, to be negative, or perhaps simply to be unfriendly.

You may say something that you don’t think is rude or you don’t think would be considered offensive – that would hurt the feelings of another person – but the other person does think that they’re offensive, does in fact feel hurt by what you have said. We’re talking, however, about little things. That’s why they’re “microaggressions.” Little comments – a word here, a word there, the way you look at someone, the things you say to someone – all could be considered “microaggressions.”

Now you might be wondering, “Well, how do you know if it’s a microaggression since you may not even think, you may not even be trying, to offend the other person?” Well, I can’t answer that question for you, but I can say that there are many students, especially members of racial minority groups or other minority groups, who believe that other people saying certain things to them are hurting them and that they should therefore have a right to complain about these microaggressions.

Some universities have actually set up systems where you can go on a website or you can call on a telephone and you can say, “Hey, that student over there said something to me that made me mad or made me feel offended,” and that is a “microaggression” – a small act that hurts someone else even if it’s not intended to hurt another person.

The second term Dan asked about is “social justice warriors” (warriors). “Social justice” refers to the concept, rather loosely defined, of making the world a better place – a world where there is less discrimination, a world where things are fairer for everyone regardless of the person’s background or the way they look or the way they act. A “warrior” is someone who is a fighter. The term “social justice warrior” is used by people who are critical of, people who criticize, some of the members of the college communities who talk about and complain about microaggressions.

So it’s an insulting term that mostly conservative or those who are not in agreement with this notion of “microaggressions” use to criticize those who talk about microaggressions or who complain about microaggressions. People who are worried about microaggressions don’t call themselves “social justice warriors.” It’s a somewhat insulting term that people who criticize them use.

The third term is “trigger warnings.” “Trigger” (trigger) is something that starts something else. On a gun, for example, you have what’s called a “trigger.” You press the “trigger” – the verb we would use is “pull” the trigger – in order to start the gun working. Eventually, after you pull the trigger, a bullet will fly out of the gun. The trigger begins the process.

What’s a “trigger warning?” A “trigger warning” is a phrase that is used in, again, some U.S. colleges in particular to warn students, to say to students, “We’re going to talk about something,” or “We’re going to read something,” or “We’re going to listen or watch something that some of you might not like, that some of you might find offensive, that may bother some of you.”

Maybe it’s something about a racist action. Maybe we’re talking about blacks being killed during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. A “trigger warning” would tell students, “That’s something that you may find disturbing, that you might find it stressful, and so we’re telling you in advance that that’s going to happen.”

Do colleges actually use trigger warnings? Well, yes. Some professors, some colleges, do have these trigger warnings during their classes. Now, all of this is very, very new – and by “new,” again, I mean in the last probably five years or so. I haven’t taught at a university for more than ten years or almost ten years. This certainly wasn’t something that was being done when I was at the university as a professor and definitely not as a student in the 1980s and ’90s.

People who are in favor of talking about and complaining about “microaggressions” or using “trigger warnings” say that these are necessary to try to protect students at the university, but more than that, to try to encourage everyone to be more sensitive to those around them, to use language that doesn’t offend or hurt those around you.

Other people, critics of this movement, people who would call those in support of it “social justice warriors,” think this is a terrible development on U.S. campuses – that it in fact is meant to make these adult students more like children, that it is intended to prevent criticism – genuine, legitimate criticism – in the name of trying to stop someone from being offended. Some people would say that, “Well, if you’re offended, too bad. That’s the way life is. Sometimes there are ideas that are going to offend you,” especially in reference to this concept of trigger warnings.

Being an adult, especially at a university, means hearing and listening to things that you don’t like and that may be upsetting to you. The case of microaggressions is a little more difficult. No one wants to offend another person. Some people say, however, that the concept of microaggressions is being used to prevent people from criticizing things that they should be able to criticize or saying things that they should be able to say, even though they may be considered offensive by other people.

The U.S. has a long tradition of free speech. It’s part of our Constitution, and those who criticize the idea of microaggressions would probably talk about that more than about the hurt feelings of the students. So there are two sides to the argument. Which side am I on?

Let’s move to our next question by Alexander (Alexander) in Russia. Alexander wants to know the difference between “insulate” (insulate) and “isolate” (isolate). Let’s talk about “isolate” first. “To isolate” means to put someone or something in a place that is separate from everyone else. So, “I’m going to isolate you from the rest of the class.” I’m going to put you in a completely different room so you’re no longer near the other students – maybe you’ve been causing problems, maybe you’ve been “microaggressing,” and I want to punish you.

We also use the word “isolate” when we’re talking about identifying a problem that may be part of a larger situation and it’s difficult to really understand where the problem is. So, you have a problem with your car. It doesn’t seem to be running very well. You’re not sure what exactly the problem is, so you go through and you test different parts of your car “to isolate the problem” – to separate the problem from all the things that are not a problem.

“To insulate” is somewhat different. “To insulate” means to use or add some material to either prevent you from losing heat or to prevent your house from losing heat or losing cool air, or to perhaps prevent sound from escaping from a room. You insulate your house by putting certain material in the walls so that the heat doesn’t leave through the walls easily and you are able to heat your house more easily.

You can insulate a room so that you can do recording inside the room. You are insulating the sound from the outside from getting into the inside and the sound in the inside from going out to the outside of the room. That’s “insulate.”

Finally, Jonnie (Jonnie) from Mystery Country XYZ wants to know about how we use the word “glass” and “glasses.” The word “glass” refers to a couple of different things. “Glass,” first of all, can be a substance, something you make by heating up, for example, silica sand (a certain substance) to a very high temperature.

If you’re talking about “glass” as a physical substance, there is no change in the plural. The plural of “glass” is “glass.” I have a cup in front of me here that is made out of glass. If I drop it on the floor, it will break – all of the little pieces of glass will be on the floor, but I don’t refer to the little pieces as “glasses,” because I’m talking about “glass” as a substance, and therefore the plural would be expressed by using something like “pieces of glass” or “shards of glass.”

However, the word “glass” can also be used to mean something similar to the word “cup.” It’s something – a container, an object – that you use to drink out of. In that case, the plural of “glass” is “glasses.” “I have 17 glasses in my kitchen. Each of those “glasses” is made out of “glass.” Notice both uses there.

“Glasses” can also refer to the things that I wear on my face so I can see. We call these either “glasses” or “a pair of glasses,” though most people always have a pair. You don’t have a glass over just one eye, unless you only have a problem with one eye or you lost your other eye – that is, you only have one eye. So, the plural of “glass” is “glasses” when we’re talking about something you drink out of or something you see out of. However, “glass” as a substance is not made plural by adding an “s” sound at the end.

If you have a question or comment you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan, running very late. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on ESL Podcast.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. This podcast is copyright 2016 by the Center for Educational Development.

subtitle – words that appear at the bottom of a television or movie screen that show what the people in the show or movie are saying

* The movie was in French but the subtitles were in English so Tom was able to understand what was being said.

dialogue – the words spoken during a conversation between two or more people * The dialogue in the play was both funny and interesting.

jazz – a type of music that began in the African American community, using instruments such as the saxophone, trumpet, and piano, with a strong and regular rhythm

* Louis Armstrong, who played the trumpet and sang, was one of the most famous jazz musicians in the 20th century.

honorary – given specially without someone or something having to met requirements

* Many universities give honorary degrees to politicians or celebrities who did not graduate from their school but who had made significant contributions to society.

pioneer – the first person to do something or make something, usually making a major contribution to a field

* Charles Lindbergh was a pioneer in flight as the first person to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean.

blackface – the past practice used by white performers of painting their faces black to imitate African Americans

* Directors used actors in blackface before African Americans actors appeared in films.

selective – choosing carefully, determining the most suitable or best quality

* Our dance troupe is very selective, with only one in 200 applicants being accepted.

service – a period of employment with a company or organization

* During his time in service, he made a lot of enemies and few friends.

to volunteer – to offer to do something because one wants to, not because one is required to

* On Saturdays, Jean volunteers at a local homeless shelter to help serve dinner to the people who want a hot meal.

to draft – to require someone to serve in the military

* Several countries have a draft, which requires citizens to enter the military for one year when they reach the age of 18.

eligible – meeting the requirements; satisfying the conditions

* Friends and family members of employees are not eligible to win the prize.

to reinstate – to make someone or something active again

* Police officers who have been accused of wrongdoing are suspended and only reinstated if an investigation finds them innocent.

microaggressions – everyday spoken and unspoken rude actions and insults that may be intentional or unintentional and that sends unfriendly, disrespectful, or negative messages to someone because they are part of a minority group

* African American students report experiencing microaggressions not only from other students, but from professors as well.

social justice warrior – an insulting term used to refer to bloggers, activists, or people who participate in unfriendly online discussions against other people on issues relating to social injustice, politics, and political correctness

* The toy store stopped selling a board game that social justice warriors said was racist.

trigger warning – a phrase written at the beginning of blog posts or articles to warn people who are easily offended that they might find the content to be offensive, which may cause them to react very strongly

* You’d better put a trigger warning at the beginning of your blog post if you’re going to write about abortion.

to insulate – to use or add a material or substance to something to stop heat, electricity, or sound from going into or out of it

* A house that is well insulated will have lower heating and cooling bills.

to isolate – to put or keep someone or something in a place or situation so that they are separate from others; to find and deal with something by identifying the issue or problem and removing other possibilities

* If someone comes into the hospital with a serious communicable disease, they will be isolated until they can be treated.

What Insiders Know
Draft Dodgers and Deserters

The U.S. draft requires men to serve in the military during a war unless they meet particular requirements for an “exception” (a statement that one does not have to follow a particular law or rule). The U.S. does not normally have a draft, but it did during the Vietnam War. The war was very unpopular, and many young men did not want to fight in it. Many of them became “draft dodgers,” or people who illegally avoided their “obligation” (requirement) to serve in the military.

Most of the draft dodgers “fled” (ran away) to Canada. Initially, Canada refused to allow men to enter the country unless they could “prove” (demonstrate with evidence) that they had been “discharged” (officially released) from the military. But in 1969, Canada stopped asking about the men’s status, which allowed many more draft dodgers to move to Canada. Many of the draft dodgers were college-educated, middle-class Americans who “objected to” (disliked and opposed) the war, but there were others who simply didn’t want to fight.

Canada also became a “destination” (where one wants to go) for many military “deserters” (people who leave the military without permission before their period of service has ended). Some of the deserters had joined the military immediately after high school in the hopes of “expanding” (increasing) their career opportunities, but quickly became “disillusioned” (realized that something was not as good as it had seemed) by the “harsh” (uncomfortable and unpleasant) reality of war.

Nobody knows “for sure” (with certainty or precision) how many draft dodgers and deserters fled to Canada, but some estimates “range between” (are within) 30,000 and 40,000.