November 29, 2014

‘Game of Thrones’ reigns in SUNY class




Staff Reporter

This spring, SUNY Cortland professor Sam Avery hopes the growing popularity of HBO’s hit television show “Game of Thrones” will inspire students to read for fun with his new class, COM 329 — Thrones: Story and Character.
Now entering its fifth season, “Game of Thrones” is a television series set in the fictional world of Westeros where rich and powerful people use any means necessary in attempts to win control of the continent as an ancient threat from centuries past mobilizes, bringing with it death, destruction and perpetual winter.
Avery said he has spent most of his four-year career teaching film and documentary classes, but has always been into reading books like “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings.”
So when a friend introduced him to George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” the five-book medieval fantasy series the show is based from, Avery said he quickly became a fan.
This is not the first time a class has been based on literature or television shows. Similar classes have been taught at other colleges about the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” book series, “South Park,” and Avery said even his former colleague recently taught a class on the hit show, “Breaking Bad.”
But when he submitted class proposals to the college’s communications department earlier this year, Avery said he did not think his suggestion to teach a “Game of Thrones” class would be taken seriously, let alone get picked up.
“I thought, ‘I love the books. I love the show. Let’s throw that in here and see what happens,’ thinking this probably won’t make the cut,” Avery said. “Sure enough it came back around and the department said, ‘this could be something interesting — why don’t you develop it’?”
The class registration opened on Nov. 10 and by Nov. 11, all 50 spots were filled and Avery said his inbox quickly filled with mails from students who were excited about the class.
Given his film background and the fact this last season of the show had an average viewership of 18.4 million, claiming the title as HBO’s most watched show in the network’s history, one would think Avery teaching a class on the TV series would be inevitable.
However, Avery said while some clips from the show will be used in the class, its focus will be on the first three books of the series. His hope is Martin’sstorytelling will help students want to read and he is banking on the author’s writing style to inspire students, much like he was after he finished reading the books.
“What it did for me is got me back in love with reading again — not as an academic thing, but just reading in general,” Avery said. “Not only was I back in love with reading, but also I wanted to write, which I think is really beneficial.”
Avery said as a professor, he has found most students seem to only skim through reading assignments — if they even read the texts at all, which is disappointing given how important reading and writing is ingeneral.
“Those who read turn out to be better writers and those who write tend to be moresuccessful,” Avery said. “Think about writing an email to a potential employer, writing a paper for a class. Writing does not go away and if you don’t read, you’re going to struggle to write.”
Students already familiar with the books and the show can expect the class to amount to more than just a book club for credits. Avery said in addition to studying Martin’s writing style, he will be using the books to draw connections to real world ideas and theories.
Factors like geopolitics, race and gender relations, class, religion and economics are things characters throughout “A Song of Ice and Fire” have to deal with and students will be making comparisons and looking for similarities between Westeros and real world events pastand present.
“I’m trying to think of how you can integrate some of these larger theories into what is this fictional, fantasy landscape. Theories of control, discipline, power — these types of things,” he said. “What are some of the deeper issues in the text ... we can bring out and talk about?”
With the popularity of “Game of Thrones,” Avery said while he definitely feels the pressure to make COM 329 fun and exciting, he is confident “A Song of Ice and Fire” will entertain as well as spark a renewed interest in reading and writing.
“(As a student), you begin to forget that reading is something that should be enjoyable,” Avery said. “I think the first objective of the class is to get people back into reading again.”

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