Seton Hill University (SHU)
invites popular culture into the classroom in numerous ways, specifically
during the approaching Spring semester when students will have the powerful
opportunity to dissect their society inch by inch through discussion based on
detailed observations and developed (or developing) thoughts in the course “Twilight: Feminist Readings” with
Associate English Professor Laura Patterson.
By Richelle Dodaro
Seton Hill University (SHU) invites popular culture into the classroom in numerous ways, specifically during the approaching Spring semester when students will have the powerful opportunity to dissect their society inch by inch through discussion based on detailed observations and developed (or developing) thoughts in the course “Twilight: Feminist Readings” with Associate English Professor Laura Patterson.
Signs promoting this course are posted throughout Admin and Maura hall. They sum up the major questions of the course, which include: “Is there a divide between ‘literature’ and ‘pop culture’?” “What do fans have to say about Bella and Edward’s relationship?” “What can Twilight teach us about our current culture?”
Patterson’s idea to analyze pop culture through a feminist lens developed after a conversation with Mary Ann Gawelek. “She had asked me if I read the books, I said no and then she told me I would find it interesting regarding my interest in gender. The next day she sent me her personal copies of the books.”
After reading the Twilight Saga, Patterson said she had a “mixed reaction” to the books. “I enjoyed the storyline and was drawn into the setting which was moody and atmospheric. At the same time I was thinking about gender messages and how complicated they were through Twilight.
I thought about the troubling relationship dynamic and wondered how other readers saw the books, especially younger readers. It was the most divided reading experience I’ve ever had.”
Students have both positive and negative views on this course. The fact that this course will have a focus on the current popularity of Twilight in our social culture may close certain students’ minds since not everyone is a fan of the books or films.
English major Michelle Decker takes on a contrasting view of the course: “I am not interested in taking a course that is likely to be filled with Twilight fangirls. There are probably only going to be a few people who are willing to hear different opinions about the books and the discussion does not promise to be intelligent.
I think that while it’s possible for this course to go beyond Twilight, it probably won’t because Twilight is too big a phenomenon.”
“Twilight: Feminist Readings” is not just for Twilight fans; both readers and non-readers of the books are welcome.
The course is meant to sharpen students’ minds in terms of analyzing pop culture in general and engaging in “sophisticated gender role analysis of major characters in the Twilight Saga, using a synthesis and evaluation of textual evidence and a feminist theoretical framework,” as the syllabus states.
“When I first heard about the course, I was really excited, not because I love Twilight, but because I think it’s important to analyze the series from a feminist perspective. I personally do not view Bella as a feminist model, but that’s the reason I want to take the course: to examine this cultural phenomenon and how it’s affecting society today, especially how it’s affecting the way younger girls view womanhood in general,” junior English major Karyssa Blair said.
“I have read all the books and seen the first two films. While I respect that they are popular and people love them, I think they are nothing more than glorified fanfiction. There is no real plot, no character development, the books are riddled with typos and errors and it teaches girls a bad lesson,” said Decker.
“The books say it is okay to have a stalker who is emotionally abusive, over protective, and super controlling, as well as it is okay to play with peoples hearts, as long as you get the outcome you want, and if you whine enough, you will get your way.”
Moments when the main character Bella expresses herself do occur and Patterson seeks to move beyond “easy dichotomies such as ‘good literature/bad literature’ and ‘strong female character/weak female character.” The class is more about what students can agree on in terms of what can be analyzed.
Understandably so, some students see Bella as weak and controlled. This course offers the chance to delve deep into why they see her that way and how the class can work with or against the book’s messages.
At a conference on Twilight and feminism at Edinboro University, professors presented draft syllabi and one professor had actually taught a women’s study course based on this topic.
“The conference got me even more excited for the course, especially hearing undergrad students’ responses to Twilight. They gave strong gender analysises of the books, and the films in some cases. I was impressed with the complexity of research,” Patterson said.
English-literature major Ethan Shepley said, “I think [the course is] a unique take on feminist literature.
Even though we live in less gender-biased society, popular culture seems to favor the interests of men. It’s a nice change of pace. However, I have my concerns about this course. The very essence of pop culture is temporal. Pop stars, viral videos, and popular fiction all have expiration dates.
Hence, the usage of such things is limited at best. Moreover, both male and female-oriented popular culture often operate on emotional responses. I fear the class discussions might boil down to who likes ‘flavor of the week’ pop star the best.”
Guy Miller, a creative writing student, has had little experience with Twilight outside of observing the fanatical obsessions. “I think a course like this takes advantage of society, offering a way for students to learn how to utilize pop culture. There is limitless subject matter to discuss and contemplate.”
Guy Miller, a creative writing student has had little experience with Twilight outside of observing the fanatical obsessions: “Some students will take the course simply because they see Twilight. This seems a very adept way to dupe students into being academic and intellectual without them being totally aware of it.
I bet we’ll hear things like, ‘We’re studying Twilight! How awesome is that!’ and there will be little regard to the analysis of pop culture. I think the public, unfortunately, is satisfied with juvenile literature. ”
Junior English-literature major Josie Rush said, “I would really love to take this course.
I am very interested in feminist criticism, and I think applying this criticism to popular literature will be extremely interesting. Also, I’ve taken a literature class with Dr. Patterson before and learned a lot. I feel that her teaching, along with the subject matter, will make the class very rewarding.”
When asked whether or not this course can go beyond Twilight, Rush continued, “Not only is analyzing pop culture in a literature course possible, it’s very important. No matter anyone’s opinion on the Twilight books, denying that the series is a literary phenomenon would be difficult.
The books have impacted culture, whether people enjoy the writing or not. Also, there’s a certain elitism sometimes when studying literature, where people create a hierarchy and cause others to feel guilty for their reading preferences, because these people are reading ‘pop culture’ books and not ‘real literature.’
Well, ask people to define those two categories for you, and I’m sure you’ll run into some hesitation. I certainly can’t give you a solid distinction.”
The contrasting perspectives on this upcoming course are important for a complex, diverse discussion on pop culture and the role it plays specifically through Twilight.
With such detailed thoughts, students can use them to improve their critical thinking skills on any subject matter. The reading material for the course, outside of the Twilight books, will also aid students in further engagement with their own opinions and the world around them concerning the media and pop culture.
The reading material other than the Twilight books includes the books Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future; Feminism: A Short History of a Big Idea; and Feminism and Pop Culture, which was written before Twilight.
An essay critiquing the films entitled “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” as well as various blog entries and film scenes will be included as well.
“We will also look at fan responses in the main demographic and how it’s related to pop culture,” Patterson said.
This course is open to all majors and counts as Women’s Studies elective. It will be offered Mondays and Wednesdays from 2:15 to 3:30pm.