Michelle Smith + Jessica Davey-Quantick
Twilight of the Living Dead: Engaging students with Cannibalism and Glitter
Academia isn’t just restricted to the printed page or the academic cannon; it’s a living experience that incorporates multiplatform expressions. In other words, popular culture. But how do we extend academic gravitas to television, movies and comic books? How can this extension help us within our own academic work as well as help to introduce students to advanced and complex ideas and allow them to not just understand the theoretical cannon but apply it today?
In summer 2014, we instructed a course for the Enrichment Studies Unit at Queen’s geared towards students Grade 7-8 and 9-12 entitled Twilight of the Living Dead. By studying Zombies and Vampires, students received an overview of the history of two types of monsters, as well as the social and political themes that created the various genres. Topics discussed included feminism, gender identity, Marxism, Imperialism, decolonization, religious history, ethics, morality, media studies, bio politics and more. By using popular culture (in the form of movies, TV shows and internet memes) we were able to address complex themes as well as enable students to identify current manifestations of academic theories in their everyday lives. Students then applied this knowledge through the creation of an Apocalypse survival plan and by playing our live-action interactive Zombie Game.
Cultural Studies itself is about academic work on the fringes: the Cultural Studies program at Queen’s embraces students from a variety of fields, many of them artistic or non-traditional, and encourages academic work that perhaps doesn’t fit the standard format. Using our experience with the ESU course, this talk will establish how we can give credibility to non-traditional academic work and use popular culture as a tool to understand bigger issues.
How do we address darker concepts that are relevant using pop culture to make them age accessible? How can we also make sure to study pop culture in a serious manner, incorporating these ideas into our own academic work? And what can this tell us about the nature of Cultural Studies and how others perceive it? The feedback we received when we proposed our course and when receiving evaluation were surprised by the depth of the analysis of culture to be found within popular media. How can we change that?
This talk will address these questions by looking at this course, what worked and what didn’t, and workshopping scenario questions to the audience from our Interactive Game. The result will be a deeper understanding of how we can use popular culture to engage audiences, both as instructors and as academics.
Presently she is working on her PhD in Cultural studies, where she is working on animation and monster culture, as well as a TA in the Film Department. She taught at the high school level in World Religions as a student teacher at Loretto Abbey, in Toronto, Ontario as well as teaching in three ESU sessions (SEEDS and EMC) in summer 2014. She was also a cultural interpreter at the Royal Ontario Museum and Head of Programs and Outdoor Education at Crestwood Valley Day Camp and part of the Youth Coordination Team at the Military Family Resource Centre.
Presently she is working on her Masters in Cultural Studies. She designed and taught Film 310 at Queen’s University in the 2014 Winter term on writing world cinema reviews, as well as teaching in three ESU sessions (SEEDS and EMC) in summer 2014. Professionally she’s a journalist, and has worked at several publications across Canada. For the last five years she’s been the editor of two magazines in Doha, Qatar, first Qatar Happening and most recently Time Out Doha. She’s worked with numerous interns and student freelancers, as well as being a guest speaker for journalism classes at the University of King’s College and as part of the Queen’s Media and Journalism Conference.