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tudents filed into a classroom at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College last week bustling with conversation and insights.
One talked about a program she saw on the progression of Dracula in literature and film. Another talked about her extensive “Twilight” wardrobe. But the conversation went deeper. They started talking about theme, plot and character development.
They were entering a unique class at ECTC —Vampire Literature. The day's agenda: watch the first episode of the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” television show.
While that might not sound very academic, the discussion that followed was excited and deep. They discussed the concepts of irony, tone, class differences, gender roles in vampire lore, female sexuality in vampire literature, metaphors and other literary and dramatic concepts.
The class, English 230, will change each semester, using a different element of pop culture to teach literature.
The class grew out of the English department’s desire to offer 200 level classes that would draw more student interest than British Literature or other more standard literature class, assistant English professor Jacqueline Hawkins said.
“It allows us to expose more students to literature,” English instructor Maggie Brown said.
Brown hopes the classes will teach students to enjoy literature as well as learn critical thinking skills and analysis. The classes will cover the same things taught in any literature class discussing elements, schools of criticism and theory.
Topics used are trends students are already interested in and want to discuss. These classes give students the vocabulary and critical thinking skills to discuss it with a scholarly approach.
“They are already engaged in that topic, you don’t have to dig and dig to create that interest,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins’ Vampire Literature class starts with Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” the first book in this theme that was widely successful and adapted in many ways.
She thought she would trick students into reading a higher piece of literature such as “Dracula” by dangling the carrot of “Twilight” in front of them. The class is relevant for Hawkins because of the popularity of “Twilight” and the current vampire renaissance.
In teaching the class she’s also able to engage in cultural criticism about why the culture is so obsessed with vampires. Because of that Hawkins felt “Twilight” had to be on the list. She has critical issues with “Twilight” and wanted the students to not only know why they did or did not like the book but also see the problematic themes in it. Hawkins wanted students not just to say how much they want to marry Edward Cullen but look at it with critical approaches and ask if they should want to marry Edward Cullen.
The class also covered “Dead until Dark,” “Interview with a Vampire” and the television show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as a visual text.
Brown’s class in the fall will be rock 'n' roll as literature. She will look at the lyrics to songs in form, ballad and poetry.
Part of her argument is that rock 'n' roll has style. There is a distinction of high and low culture within rock 'n' roll but she’s finding in the scholarship there’s a distinction between rock and pop. Pop has been described as something that’s just popular and rock is more artistic.
She will use lyrics as the written text for the class, admitting that it’s somewhat problematic to take the lyrics away from the music but has found that most scholars said there is benefit of doing a content analysis of rock as poetry.
Brown has found studying rock ‘n’ roll is a lot like studying drama because there are often characters, drama and speakers.
Through her research she has discovered poet William Butler Yeats has inspired many rock artists and William Blake heavily influenced The Doors.
In the class they will discuss the literature that has influenced rock 'n' roll and the literary illusions referenced in the lyrics. They will also look at literary periods, talk about the post modern self and romanticism.
She’s found a growing body of literature inspired by rock 'n' roll and religious themes portraying a search for the sacred, which will allow her to include some ancient poets.
Brown knows there may be some criticism from her students about what artists should be included but since there is already a music class at ECTC on the history and sociology of rock 'n' roll, the literature class will look at it from a thematic approach.
The class will study lyrics from Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, the Velvet Underground and Nico albums, at least one Beetles album — because any rock class would not be complete without the Beetles — and some contemporary artist like Radiohead, TV on the Radio and Modest Mouse. The class will also take a look at Nirvana, Brown said.
She even might have her students make a mixed tape for an assignment.
Through these classes teachers hope students will become more engaged in studying literature and culture. The study of pop culture is a growing field in the academic community, Brown said, adding that it promotes life long learning as a person evaluates elements of their culture.
“You can read the culture as a text itself,” Brown said.
Possible future topics include graphic novels as literature, the theme of madness in literature and other topics found in pop culture.
Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or email@example.com.