Today was, as my friends and I have dubbed it, "the second first day of school." School started yesterday, but we still had new classes to go to today (which is also the reason I've been sparse online--sorry fellow campaigners. I'll get commenting soon.)
In my last class of the day, English 291, my professor went over the syllabus. We're starting off the year with Beowulf. And so my professor asks, "Why are we reading Beowulf?" We give him some decent answers, but none of them really fulfill his question. So he dives further. "Why read Beowulf? Why read Shakespeare? Why read Charles Dickens? Why read Twilight?"
Now, I don't know if you've ever been in a college English class when the title Twilight was dared uttered. But you get an explosion of groans at the mention of the word. I think the English classes I go to have extra contempt about it, because our university's name is on the back flap of all the books, so in order to compensate, students need to be ultra-hateful and superior toward it.
So, now you can imagine it, a room of 30 students verbally declaring their superior intellect through moaning while I stay silent since, yes, I once loved the books and I do admit I have a guilty pleasure in them.
Now of course I realize that my prof had set this all up. Hearing us, he asked, "What? What's so bad about Twilight?"
The rest of this really just has to be told in script form.
Twilight hater: It has no substance! Bella doesn't even do anything!
Prof: You realize that we'll be reading about guys sitting around, drinking mead, and boasting about how he swam against another guy for 13 days? How is that substance?
Twilight hater: Ugh, I just hate Bella, she's annoying!
Sensible student: Whether or not we like Twilight, it's had a huge cultural impact. Before Twilight, vampires were unpopular. Now authors are spitting out vampire books, and there's movies and TV shows about them.
[We have some more discussion about cultural impact]
Prof: A lot of you mentioned Harry Potter earlier and how much you like those books. What makes it better than Twilight?
Harry Potter fan: Harry Potter has a lot more depth to it and layers, like references to the Holocaust and WWII.
Prof: How do you know Twilight doesn't have a meaning between the vampires and werewolves as outcasts from society, but still can't work together?
[More of the Twilight hater. She was very vocal]
Prof: Okay, but you guys know that Pride and Prejudice has no depth or substance, either. The "novel" was considered to be trash when it was written.
[All of the girls (97% of the class) breaks out in protest. Prof quickly assures us he likes Pride and Prejudice, but he hates the 2005 Kiera Knightley movie, gains approval again, and discusses the awesome 6-hour version]
Twilight hater: Bella's annoying. She doesn't do anything. She can't even choose!
Prof: You know, in the 1950s thru the 1970s, Hamlet was seen as the man who couldn't decide--it's even a line in the Lawrence Olivier version. And that's Shakespeare. Besides, do you guys know why Shakespeare wrote? He wanted to make money. He wanted a coat of arms, to become a gentleman, and he made money off of his plays. Very few of them published in his time. He didn't care about writing [cue snooty English accent] literature. But now Shakespeare practically has his own religion. So what is substance in literature? Is it there already, or do we put it there?
Then class was over.
This was a really amazing experience for me. I mean, you take something that is now currently mocked by all of those in scholarship, and you argue that it could be as great as Shakespeare.
Now, I don't really believe that. As much as I can bring out the fan in me, I'm not going that far. But it still made me consider more possibilities, and why things are put into the canon we study as English majors. Maybe it doesn't need the symbolism and deeper meaning. Maybe it just needs to be culturally impacting, and that's what really makes it literature.