Would You Take a Class on Fifty Shades of Grey?
Pretty much everyone has read E.L. James' "Fifty Shades of Grey" by now, but even those who enjoyed the book probably didn't share the more graphic passages in public. Still, students at American University in Washington, D.C., will be doing just that this month, when they study all three of the "Fifty Shades" books -- terrible prose, awkward "apex" references, and all.
The course is being taught by sex educator and adjunct professor Stef Woods, who came up with the idea after a summer spent talking about "mommy porn."
"As I began talking and writing more about the trilogy, I started thinking about how to frame the books in an academic light," Woods wrote on her blog, City Girl. "Could the issues that the trilogy raises be examined in a critical and intellectual way?"
American University agreed that they could, and "Contemporary American Culture: The 50 Shades Trilogy" was added to the course schedule as a three-credit undergraduate anthropology class for the Spring 2013 semester.
"We're looking at overall themes. We're not doing dramatic readings, we're not discussing personal preferences -- mine or theirs," Woods told The Daily Beast. "This is not a sex-shop book club. We're not looking at how these characters can inspire us to expand our sexual boundaries. The sexual themes are there and I'm not going to ignore them or only read chapters that deal with character development. Much like a journal article, they might not like every page, but it's necessary to have the full perspective."
In addition to the three books by E.L. James, Woods' students will also rely on historical texts, journal articles, health textbooks, and marketing studies.
The "Fifty Shades" class isn't about shock value or BDSM, Woods said; according to the course description posted on the University's website, her students will be touching on topics ranging from feminism and sexual expression vs. sexual repression to marketing, publishing, and social media.
"The 'Fifty Shades of Grey' trilogy is a publishing phenomenon that has dramatically impacted American culture and sexual health," the university's description reads. Students will also have to re-write one of E.L. James' early (non-X-rated) chapters.
"That's a useful skill in almost any job," Woods explained. "Someone who has just graduated will be tasked with editing and proofreading and reviewing over and over again for their superiors in the office."
The class already has a wait list; Woods told The Daily Beast that most of the 25 students who are taking the course are women who are communications majors or studying sexuality.
It's not the first time that American University has had a pop-culture heavy course.
"They teach a class on 'The Wire,' they teach a class looking at vampires in history and literature incorporating the 'Twilight' series," Woods said. "American Studies recognizes what's driving American culture and how to study that critically."