Monday, October 22, 2012
50 Shades of Pedagogy; or, "To Teach, or Not to Teach?"
I'm choosing books for my next course on popular romance--a lower-division undergraduate class, aimed at a "Gen Ed' student population--and a question has begun to bother me. Should I add Fifty Shades of Grey to my syllabus?
As of the last time I taught the course, it was organized around a series of topics: "What is a Romance (and a Romance Novel)?"; "Romance and the Problem of Patriarchy"; "Romance and / as Religion"; "Romance as Problem Fiction and 'Edutainment'"; and, everyone's favorite, "Romance Fiction as 'Porn for Women.'" Each topic got one or two novels and a bit of secondary reading, whether it was an essay or a book chapter or an interview, and for a final project, we looked at Jennifer Crusie's Welcome to Temptation through each of the lenses we'd used across the quarter.
Now, I'd already decided to add Laura's For Love and Money to my syllabus, since it does a great job of introducing students to a lot of the ideas about the genre that we use in the opening unit, as well as the close-reading techniques that we continue to deploy all term. Ordinarily, that would be enough novelty for one quarter--that, and maybe shifting out a novel that I've already taught a lot (like WTT) and replacing it with another one that's on my mind (say, Natural Born Charmer, which I've already taught several times).
The overwhelming media presence of Fifty Shades, though--and its natural fit in the section on "Romance as 'Porn for Women'"--makes me want to add it, too, to the syllabus, even though this violates my usual self-imposed commandment to teach only novels that I really enjoy reading.
And, of course, if I were really ambitious I could swap out J. R. Ward's Dark Lover--which comes up in the 'Patriarchy' section--and put in Twilight somewhere, so that we could talk about that book and the E. L. James together. Of course, I haven't read Twilight yet, so I don't know if this, too, would violate my usual rules about liking the texts that I teach.
I wouldn't have Fifty Shades be the only novel for that section of the class; in fact, part of the plan would be to play it off against a book that does some different, more self-consciously artful things with romance and the erotic (probably one of Victoria Dahl's books). Or I could go back to an older, more chronological course model, so that we'd be reading some other scandalous blockbusters for comparison, like The Sheik or The Flame and the Flower. (What other novels fit into that category, from other decades, I wonder?)
So, folks, what do you think?