Clarksville, TN – The last few years have been rough for Spain. The unemployment rate is close to 30 percent, which has led to daily protests and civil unrest in that European nation. For some scholars, this turmoil helps explain the sudden popularity of vampire and zombie literature in that country.
“Spain is in shambles,” Dr. Osvaldo Di Paolo, Austin Peay State University associate professor of Spanish, said. “From 2008, the world crisis has hit them hard. When you read a novel from Spain about a zombie apocalypse, it makes you feel like this is happening. You feel the same destruction of society in every aspect.”The idea of using genre fiction as a window into another culture intrigued Di Paolo, prompting him to create a new special topics Spanish literature class this semester that focuses on vampires, zombies and hard-boiled detectives.
“I want these students to look at these cultural products and ask, ‘what does it mean? Why does it exist?’” Di Paolo said. “Basically, young students like this sort of stuff, but they don’t read it in the depth it can be read.”
The students in Di Paolo’s SPAN 4100 class are reading Spanish language genre works from Spain, Costa Rica and Argentina this semester, giving them an understanding of modern life in those countries that they wouldn’t necessarily get from reading classic’s such as Cervantes’ masterpiece, “Don Quixote.”
“I like horror films and zombie films; I’m a fan of horror and comic books,” APSU student Carlos Chavez said. “I thought I’d like to see what they’re doing with it in Hispanic culture, and it kind of opened my mind.”
“This is the first Spanish book I’ve read,” APSU student Amber Bowens said. “It’s the first time I’ve seen a Hispanic take on supernatural creatures. The humans in this book are more monsters than the monsters are.”
“There seemed to be a clear-cut, black and white good and bad in the older literature,” APSU student Nathaniel Fox said. “Here it’s kind of blurred. It’s a gray area, which is what life is all about.”
Several major universities across the country also are using elements of pop culture as a means of engaging students. Recently, Michigan State University offered a summer course titled “Surviving the Coming Zombie Apocalypse: Catastrophes and Human Behavior.” National Public Radio reported that St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, required its freshmen to read Max Brook’s zombie novel “World War Z” to “facilitate conversations about globalization, ethics and mortality.”
The idea of mingling pop culture with academia also isn’t that new at APSU. Di Paolo recently co-wrote a book, “Negrótico,” with Dr. Nadina Olmedo, assistant professor at the University of San Francisco, that deals with the fusion of gothic and detective fiction through the images of vampires, zombies and monsters in Hispanic literature and film. The book will be published this fall.
For Di Paolo, these genre books provide a better way to demonstrate how factors such as globalization are affecting Hispanic countries. One aspect, as reflected in this new literature, is the increase in violence.
“It portrays what’s going on in society,” he said. “What we can see now is this type of literature shows a more violent society. The increasing violence is all due to the flaw of globalization. It has separated the rich and the poor more than ever.”