50 Shades Mania

I’ve never been one to shy away from controversial topics or criticism. It thus seemed appropriate to acknowledge and respond to some comments that have appeared below the USA TODAY College, Daily Beast and Daily Mail UK articles about my upcoming class on The 50 Shades Trilogy.

Comment: The class isn't academic in nature because the book series is porn or fluff.

Response: If I only required the students to read the three books in the trilogy, then that statement would be valid. However, that's not the case. The students in the class will be required to read 60 additional sources. Those sources range from a law journal article regarding whether Internet fan fiction violates copyright laws to chapters of human sexuality textbooks to public relations reports. This is an upper-level class, and the assignments reflect that.

Comment: It is erroneous to claim that “no other contemporary text on sexuality has transformed American culture the way that this series has.”

Response: One commenter regards a "contemporary text" as all texts since World War II. While that's one valid interpretation, I view contemporary as the digital age. Would the resounding commercial success of EL James’ books have been possible before the advent of e-readers and social media marketing? I personally don’t think so, but that’s for the class to debate in light of our other readings on the topic.  

With respect to whether or not the trilogy “has transformed American culture,” 20 million copies of the book were sold in four months. The series’ popularity has inspired the publishing industry to alter marketing strategies and the types of books that are being promoted. The trilogy has led to a sexual resurgence, a myriad of perspectives on “mommy porn,” and a 50 Shades of Grey baby boom. The media speculates on a daily basis about which stars will be cast as Anastasia and Christian Grey in the movie version of the trilogy.  The writing in the books has also sparked discussion about what has literary or artistic value. There’s a subjective element as to how one defines “transformed,” but I maintain that there’s ample evidence to support the books’ significant influence on present-day American culture.

Comment: Stef Woods doesn’t belong in academia.

Response: You're obviously entitled to your opinion. Nonetheless, my student evaluations, receipt of AU's Teaching with Technology Award and involvement with campus organizations demonstrate that teaching is a good fit for my skill set. If you’ve attended one of my past classes, panels or presentations and have any suggestions for improvements, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Comment: As a parent, I would view this class as a waste of my tuition money.

Response: This class will have value for the students taking it, and that value will be evident to parents and potential employers alike. Learning outcomes for the class involve improving students' critical thinking, writing, editing, and public speaking skills. Students will also learn how to analyze and implement effective marketing and communications strategies. The lengthy reading and writing assignments will help to further these course objectives. 

Comment: Students enrolled in The 50 Shades Trilogy will be unable to find jobs after they graduate.

Response: My students have fared incredibly well in the job market. That’s a testament to their commitment to their schoolwork, extracurricular activities and internships. One-fifth of my Activism and Social Media students leveraged their final projects for my class to obtain paid positions in their desired field. 

I hope and expect the same for my students in The 50 Shades Trilogy. Over the course of the semester, students will be required to write a sexual genogram and three papers for a total of at least 25 pages. I crafted the paper questions to provide the students with strong writing samples regardless of their majors.

Have any questions or thoughts about my upcoming class? If so, feel free to comment.

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