The other day, Dr. Crazy wrote a blog post about her class, and mentioned another class on books about a certain boy wizard, books a good many kids read by the age of 12. In short, Dr. C argues that the boy wizard books aren't the same as the major novels of the 20th century she cites, and that by extension, a class on boy wizard books isn't likely to be as intellectually challenging and rigorous as a class on, say, Ulysses, Virginia Woolf, and other influential works of the 20th century.
I was in a committee conversation where we were talking about curricular stuff, including some specific classes people have "put in" to teach. (We tend to use umbrellas, and people "put in" to teach specific stuff within that umbrella structure, especially for summer school and such.)
Several of the classes people put in for were sort of zombies and monsters of the late 20th century sorts of things, and boy wizardy sorts of things.
I have a gut reaction, and it's not a pretty one. I agree with Dr. C that these texts aren't the same, and that the classes I was looking at didn't look very rigorous or intellectually challenging.
I know that there are some people who do really smart, theoretically interesting work on zombies and boy wizards. But I suspect that a lot of the work on zombies and boy wizards really isn't, well, smart or theoretically interesting, and that the works themselves aren't so challenging and exciting that they'll prompt really good students to get think hard and critically about them.
That is, I have two problems:
1) The works aren't in themselves exciting, hard, challenging. (That's my reading, of the ones I've read.)
2) The work being done on those works (teaching and scholarly work) isn't (mostly) intellectually rigorous, theoretically interesting.
And yet, I suspect my reaction.* Isn't my response sort of the same as the people who said, twenty years ago or more, that the work of people of color wasn't the same quality as the works of, say, Shakespeare? And the same about the teaching and scholarly work on texts by people of color (and especially, of course, classes and scholarly work done by people of color)? (Or works by women, etc.)
Am I reacting to something that really has incredible potential in a "good old boy" sort of way?
Or is there something substantially different between my reaction to boy wizard classes and the reactions of some people 20 plus years ago to classes on the works of people of color?
I would like to think not, but I still suspect my reaction. In my defense, I will say that my reaction is to specific classes suggested by specific people, in a context where I know the preparation of those people and how they've described their classes.
I find it laughable, for example, that some of these specific people seem to think that monsters are the NEWEST thing! It's as if Beowulf doesn't exist. And sex was invented in 1967.
And as I look at these and think about them, and think about the job market, I have to say: were I to be on a search, I would need to see something really stellar about monsters or monstrosity in an application for it to make me want to interview that applicant.
* Dr. C, by the way, has also indicated an awareness far greater than mine of how challenging and interesting popular culture is.