Doctor Jaime Hovey teaches literature through pop culture (1/6/2023)
Dr. Jaime Hovey has been teaching part-time at Loyola for ten years, but last year was their first as a full-time faculty member for the Writing Program. Dr. Hovey focuses on teaching popular culture and writing to help students recognize that they are surrounded by debates and issues present in everyday media.
“There’s politics even to what we watch on TV,” they say. It’s fun, being able to talk about current things, but also to build those critical thinking skills about the kind of messaging that we're getting from the debates that are being played out even in things we don't think of as political. There are shows that we think are pleasurable, but which are actually highly politicized, and [are] being produced by an entertainment industry that's interested in us accepting the status quo and feeling certain ways about class. I think cultural studies can really empower students to think more critically about all the messaging.”
One of the topics Dr. Hovey has explored in their courses is zombies, analyzing them as elements of social critique. Reading novels like Frankenstein and I Am Legend, watching George Romero’s films, looking at The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman’s comics, and examining other pieces of literary and video media, Dr. Hovey uses zombies to talk about working conditions, race, class, gender, and society.
“The zombie is a figure that comes from slavery and it was used as a scare tactic in the Caribbean and elsewhere,” Dr. Hovey says. “The zombie has evolved to be a figure that is about social justice, about work, class, gender, and stolen labor… about all kinds of things that are really relevant today. It’s interesting that the zombie crops up again in popular culture at the turn of the century, when we have increasing attention to issues of globalization and labor.”
This semester, in one of their literature courses, Dr. Hovey is focusing on the legend of King Arthur through the ages. Students study the Gawain poet, Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, and are ending the course by analyzing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the new young adult series Legendborn. By going through works published in different eras, the latest one published just last year, Dr. Hovey shows a shifting and evolving of myth and legend in popular culture.
“It’s important to sort of shift and get back to a place where racial, cultural, and gender diversity in the world is represented in a better way, one that's not ahistorical, but actually historically accurate. The medieval world, the Victorian world, the American South—these are culturally rich and diverse places. And I feel like that's kind of what Tracy Deonn [author of Legendborn] is doing. She’s pointing out that racialized myths of bloodline and inheritance, and gendered myths of talent and excellence, are always destructive and always about power at the expense of truth, and that mutual respect and a willingness to uncover real history and deep common values is far more magical and beneficial. She's doing this in a young adult novel, and it's popular culture, but it's really important for the students to see that the debates here are real.”
Before Loyola, Dr. Hovey worked at DePaul and the University of Mississippi, and before that, as a Cook County Child Protection Staff Attorney. While they found their social justice work important, they really missed being in a classroom teaching writing and literature to young adults.
“I love how intellectually engaging it is,” they say. “Ultimately, much of this is about where you feel like you can make the most difference, right? And teaching writing makes a big difference in people's lives. I feel like students often come to college and they don't have a lot of confidence in their own ability to think critically and to write. There are students from all kinds of backgrounds. I really feel like it makes a difference for them to be able to present themselves in the best possible way, and to be a person who has some power in the culture.”