A day in the life
Jason Haslam, associate professor
Art, literature, popular culture doesn’t just reflect what’s going on around us. It thinks about it and it transforms it into something new. It’s that newness that always attracts someone to English.
Figuring out what makes popular culture tick
Jason Haslam, associate professor of English, firmly believes that if novels, televisions programs or films become popular, it's because they have something to say to us.
"I'm a big fan of the phrase 50 million Elvis fans can't be wrong," he says. "To actually hold the attention of just one person, let alone a hundred or ten thousand or ten million, something has to be happening in that moment, in that text and that's what we are interested in."
Students often haven't thought about this stuff as anything but simple entertainment before they enter his pop culture class. At first, they resist analyzing it. In fact, he encounters many first year students who don't like discussing a favourite novel for fear it might break an emotional connection to it.
From his point of view, simple entertainment is never just simple. Examining artworks
from social, historical and literary angles is what English students do.
"Art, literature, popular culture doesn't just reflect what's going on around us. It thinks about it and it transforms it into something new. It's that newness that always attracts someone to English."
For instance, his Beat Generation class attracts an automatic audience of students who identify with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and the images of youthful rebelliousness of the Beats in pop culture.
"What we do in that class is talk about the way in which the literature fits in with its larger social context. The way the figures rebel, but also repeat some of their society's failings," he says.
Close examination of these works and their contexts reveal many layers of meaning. That catches students' imagination, he says. They get excited by complexity because it gives them a deeper understanding of what they love. This holds true for both popular culture and his courses on 19th-century American literature and prison writing.
It's that ability to understand complexity that makes a life well-examined. Learning to read well, Dr. Haslam says, "gives you something often contradictory about life that allows you to examine the folds and contradictions of our own lives."