In high schools all around the United States, a morbid performance is played out. Months of planning and preparation are put in by a variety of
professionals, from police to paramedics to funeral directors and school administrators, who take time and resources to construct the elaborate folk drama
known as "Every 15 Minutes."
Designed to demonstrate to high school students the consequences of drunken driving, this enactment of events surrounding a tragic automobile accident
commands the attention of the community and, not surprisingly, caught the eye of Dr. Montana Miller, now a BGSU professor of popular culture and
Miller has written a book on the phenomenon. "Playing Dead: Mock Trauma and Folk Drama in Staged High School Drunk Driving Tragedies" was recently
published by Utah State University Press, an imprint of The University of Colorado Press. Through the lenses of play theory, frame theory and theories of
folk drama, she explores the complicated set of explicit and unstated goals, unpredictable outcomes, truths and fictions surrounding "Every 15 Minutes."
As a graduate student at the University of California at Los Angeles 10 years ago, she began noticing news of these events and was immediately intrigued
and outraged - a reaction that signals a perfect topic for a folklorist, she says humorously.
"The event began in the Pacific Northwest and spread by word of mouth among firemen and first responders to southern California," she said. "Soon there was
state grant money available and they began springing up around L.A."
The two-day productions spread from state to state, and she began attending as many as she could, having chosen "Every 15 Minutes" as the topic of her
dissertation. She traveled the country, from New Mexico to Maryland, to either observe them firsthand or follow up through interviews.
As a folklorist, her interests in studying the programs were not to determine whether they actually had an effect on drunk driving, but to see "what was
really going on and what people were getting out of it," she said.
In "Every 15 Minutes" (a misleading name, Miller says, since the national numbers on drunk driving deaths are now closer to every 45 minutes), a Grim
Reaper figure prowls the halls of the school summoning about 20 preselected students to play the "Living Dead." Another four students portray the victims
of the crash, including the culprit drunk driver. Classroom loudspeakers often broadcast the sounds of a horrific crash and emergency vehicle sirens. The
"victims" - usually popular students - are given realistic and grisly makeup and the student body goes outside to see a terrible accident scene that often
includes use of the Jaws of Life and a Life Flight ride to a hospital. Parents of some of the students go to the hospital emergency room, where they see
their children's heart monitors "flat line."
Now the "Living Dead" are removed to a remote location where they spend the night and write letters to their parents as if from beyond the grave. At this
point, Miller observed, it is common for "contagious crying" to begin. Events proceed through a funeral and may include jail tours and mock trials.
When pressed about the effectiveness of the exercise, organizers inevitably could only say, "If it saves one life, it's worth it," Miller found.
"The goal described by the people putting it on and the effect they said it had was 'a life-changing experience' and a ritual that 'hits students hard' in
the same way," Miller said. "But what I observed was that while it was meant to be strictly controlled and run by adults whose aim was to control the
message, it often became almost accidental art. Students ranged from deeply affected to detached. There was a huge variety of responses. It's very complex
and the results are impossible to measure."
Although the outcomes did not appear to achieve what the producers professed as their goals, Miller's observations revealed a certain playfulness and
enjoyment of the activities, even by the adults, an extraordinary number of things going wrong, much deviation from the script as people step in and out of
the frames of make believe - but also much genuine emotion.
Miller said that like Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Joe found when observing their funerals after letting people believe they had drowned, there is much
beguiling satisfaction in the attention and adulation paid to the "dead."
Working with the relatively simple tools of drawing, Charles Kanwischer, School of Art, is having a big effect. This year has seen his work on display at
the Toledo Museum of Art in the Small Worlds exhibit, featured in Drawing magazine
and now in Art Miami, a major exhibition, where it appears alongside pieces by such preeminent figures as Roy Lichtenstein, Gerhard Richter and Ed Ruscha.
In addition, he has just learned that he has been awarded first prize in an international competition for inclusion in the INDA 7 exhibition-in-print
conducted by Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati. The exhibition/publication includes 126 works by 81
artists from 28 states and five countries including Canada, France, Germany, South Africa and the United States. Of the 1511 submissions from 572 artists
in 47 states and 37 countries, Kanwischer's work received the highest score from the jury.
Opening today (Dec. 4), Art Miami is a prominent contemporary art fair. Kanwischer's work will be shown by the Shaheen Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery
in Cleveland, which represents him.
The story about his work, "Recording Change," appears in the fall 2012 issue of Drawing. "Charles Kanwischer's graphite landscapes are contradictions,"
writes Naomi Ekperigin. "Although they are small in size, they are large in scope, commenting on such themes as security, community, and how we define
Although people are not present in his work, their traces are nearly always seen, and a favorite topic is areas in transition, as represented in his Small
Worlds drawings of a Toledo neighborhood.
Since coming to BGSU in 1997, Kanwischer has explored the region's landscape, learning to look more intently at its forms for what reveals meaning.
He teaches his students in drawing classes to sharpen their powers of observation and perception, "to show them possibilities."
Kanwischer's work is in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Smith College Museum of Art and the Akron Museum of Art, among others.
Help needed with commencement
A number of volunteers are still needed to assist with commencement ceremonies, at 7 p.m. Dec. 14 and at 10 a.m. Dec. 15. Find out more In Brief.