Book jacket of “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James.
A step away from conventional topics — it’s how professor Stef Woods likes to teach.
A pop culture phenomenon that spurred conversation, sparked controversy and broke records in online sales is what influenced the American University (AU) adjunct professor to develop the syllabus for her newest spring semester course, “The 50 Shades Trilogy.”
It’s no book club, Woods quipped.
“When it comes to a trilogy that inspired so many conversations and such discussion, whether related to PR, marketing, sexuality or health, the Fifty Shades trilogy has broken a lot of records and a lot of rules,” Woods said. “When I thought of discussion with that, it seemed perfect for an academic setting.”
With a curriculum set, guests speakers scheduled and course assignments totaling over 25 pages of written work, Woods will use the series and related readings as a case study to tackle issues of domestic violence and female sexuality, in addition to the influence of social media marketing in the promotion and success of novels published today.
“Naturally, [the Fifty Shades trilogy] falls under the academic gaze,” said Dr. Rebecca Housel, known online as the Pop Culture Professor. “It is the primary job of the scholar to not only observe social patterns as it relates to her subject, but to also create original contributions to knowledge surrounding those patterns.”
With more than 20 million copies sold within four months of the first book’s publication, the trilogy prompted an international reaction in respect to the novels’ explicit subject matter.
It’s this subject matter that will drive the focus of the Fifty Shades course, encouraging students to approach the contemporary issues posed through the perspective of an academic framework.
“There are so many layers to discover and discuss,” said Marianne Johnson, an AU senior enrolled in the spring course. “I am excited to get a different perspective from students from a wide range of majors and backgrounds.”
But some, Woods said, express skepticism regarding the application of a pop culture phenomenon within an academic setting, citing concerns as to how an employer might view the course on a transcript.
“I would say it’s a conversation piece,” Woods said. “It gives students who take the class this opportunity to turn anything into a learning experience of an academic caliber.”
Woods will task students with rewriting the first 150 pages of Fifty Shades of Grey — an opportunity to analyze the content and style of the book by reworking the presentation within the beginning of the trilogy’s first book.
“College is a time to grow and learn,” Woods said. “I want people to leave thinking. … I want students to be able to look at situations critically from a variety of perspectives and approach things without judgment.
“Those are skills that mean something out of the campus environment,” she said.
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