Imagine you are sitting in front of a computer looking at a university website or perhaps in a coffee shop flipping through a course catalog. You might see something like this:
Introduction to Composition
Principles of Chemistry
Wait, what? Yes, you read that right. In May of this year Aurora University English Professor Donovon Gwinner taught the class “Got Blood? Vampires in Literature, Film and Pop Culture” and since then he’s gained a bit of immortality himself. The media instantly latched onto the idea of a course about vampires and sought out his expertise for various publications across the country including Newsweek.
I was asked recently by OBS to cover one such article which can be found here. But I decided why use a blood bag when I can tap the vein? So I contacted Professor Gwinner and asked him if I could do a sort of follow-up interview with him and he was kind enough to grant me my request.
OBS: What initially inspired you to consider teaching a class on vampires in popular culture?
I had heard some of my students rhapsodizing about Twilight a few years ago, and I continued to hear about the series from students, friends, and acquaintances, so I thought it might be the kind of “special topic” to inspire some students to sign up for an accelerated 3-week May Term course. I essentially tried to address apparent student interest in the topic.
OBS: Has all of the media exposure changed your life at all and if so, how?
My jokey answer would be this: it has positioned me well for world domination. It has felt like a Warholian 15 seconds of fame kind of situation. Average, everyday academic suddenly gets some press, go figure. It has been fun, funny, slightly surreal. It has not changed my life, though. One funny anecdote: I experienced one of the slightly surreal moments yesterday, when I could not seem to talk a telephone salesperson out of sending me a commemorative plaque of the article that originally appeared in Aurora, IL, but got picked up in another state (online). I kept telling her I did not want the thing sent, even for a free trial examination, and she kept asking me what color wood finish I wanted and where to send it. She seemed unable to comprehend that someone would not want a plaque of an article sent out. In a nutshell, I think of this experience as “a funny thing happened on the way to professional obscurity.”
OBS: If you could go back and do it again would you? And what, if anything, would you do differently?
I would. I don’t think I would do it much differently. It was a fairly basic format, but it worked for us. I would certainly try to mix things up a bit, but the basic framework was successful.
OBS: Would you consider teaching this class again or one like it?
Yes. It has been accepted again as an offering for May 2010. If enough students sign up, the second installment will run in ’10.
OBS: I gather from your University profile that you are a fan of both literature and film. Have you written or are you working on any original fiction?
I have not. When I was in high school, like a lot of bookish youths, I dabbled with creative writing, but I am not a fiction writer. I might give it a try someday. I would not write a vampire text, I don’t think. I’m squeamish about blood, one of the many ironies of the class and of the quasi-authoritative position I have found myself in.
OBS: When you taught the vampire class what, if anything, did you learn from your students?
There are some serious investments into these texts. I knew that, but it was palpably reinforced then. Another impression that was borne out was that even intelligent readers consume these narratives fairly uncritically. That was my academic interest in the subject, to delve a little deeper, examine the texts through some critical and cultural lenses. The students did a good job of taking a fresh look at some of what is going on in the films and books. I learned that there is a real range of interest, but the serious fans are really smitten (or bitten?) by this genre.
So Twilight strikes again, huh? And speaking of Twilight keep an eye out for my upcoming article on why people hate Twilight.
Special thanks to Professor Gwinner for taking the time to answer our questions.