What do Lady Gaga, zombies and Judge Judy have in common? It only sounds like the premise of a promising new reality show. In fact, they are all are the subject of college courses. As students went back to campus this fall, many are taking classes in more than just English and history.
Such seemingly easy classes may seem like a waste of time, but Dr. Michele Ramsey says to think again. An associate professor at Penn State Berks, Ramsey argues pop culture is not only a legitimate subject for scholarly study but also an important one.
“There’s nothing much more difficult than examining ourselves and… admitting how incredibly impacted we are by popular culture,” said Ramsey.
In addition, just because a class includes discussion on Lady Gaga doesn’t mean the course will be a cakewalk. Dr. Shaun Treat teaches a philosophy class at the University of North Texas that revolves around superheroes. He says using popular culture can be a good way to make otherwise dry course material more accessible to students.
“Some eyes might glaze over when contrasting the philosophies of Nietzsche or Locke and Hobbes while interrogating the nature of civic virtue and social justice issues,” said Treat, “but dress those ideas in tights and capes to slug it out and students become excitedly engaged.”
Intrigued? Consider shaking up your schedule with one of these 10 college courses.
The Stand-Up Comic in Society: At John Hopkins University, budding comedians can channel their inner Jerry Seinfeld. Students watch video clips, visit a local open mic night and wrap up the class by performing an original routine during a final show.
“The course has deceptively easy subject matter,” said class instructor Adam Ruben, “but there’s nothing easy about preparing your first stand-up routine and performing it in front of hundreds of classmates.”
Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame: At the University of South Carolina, this class offers students the opportunity to unravel the societal elements that led to the rise of Lady Gaga’s popularity. Alas, students hoping for a multimedia experience may be sorely disappointed. The course is lecture based, and the class description states, “There will be no PowerPoint presentations in this class nor any music or videos.” Bummer.
Tree Climbing: If overprotective parents left you feeling like you lost a part of your childhood, Cornell University has you covered. Reclaim your youth with a course in tree climbing–also recommended for students planning careers in the rain forest.
Bowling 101: Prefer to keep your feet on the ground? Try Bowling 101. Don’t roll your eyes. Students need to get their phys ed credits somehow. Zach Davis took the class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“I would say that it was easy,” said Davis, “but I got a B.”
Rhetoric of Film: Ramsey’s class has students watching films such as “Shaft,” “The Lion King” and “Fatal Attraction.” If you envision a fluffy curriculum, Ramsey cautions that her classes are only for those ready for a serious look at how the movies reflect the social, political and economic context of American culture. She also teaches a version of the class based on horror films and an upcoming session will focus on the undead. But why would you want to enroll in those when you could watch “Shaft”?
Zombies in Popular Media: Looking for some brain food? Then check out Columbia College’s Zombies in Popular Media course. The class description promises an intense schedule that will let students explore the many (and most certainly misunderstood) incarnations of the zombie.
Mythic Rhetoric of Superheroes: If zombies are too dark, consider superheroes. At the University of North Texas, Treat leads his class on a fantastic voyage to explore the American psyche as portrayed by comic superheroes and the dastardly villains they face.
“Superheroes are a snapshot of the American psyche,” said Treat, “(reflecting our) aspirations and shortcomings.”
Game Shows, Pop Culture, and Numb3rs: Oh my!: At LaGrange College, the January interim courses tend to go off the beaten path. In 2012, students will watch, play and recreate game shows such as “The Price is Right,” “Deal or No Deal” and “Jeopardy.” After the fun stuff, they use math and probabilities to determine the odds of actually winning. Hint: don’t quit your day job.
Twilight: The Texts and the Fandom: A self-described “pop-culture junkie,” Dr. Natalie Wilson took her love the Twilight series of books to a new level by teaching a 2010 course on the subject at California State University-San Marcos. The class had students considering topics such as the sexualization of the vampire, the mythologies of the ideal man and the curse of the good girl. No word on whether students decided to join team Edward or team Jacob.
Arguing with Judge Judy: Popular “Logic” on TV Judge Shows: At the University of California-Berkeley, instructor Dan Melia couldn’t help but notice that people on shows such as Judge Judy say the darndest things. So he created a course based on analyzing the “utterly illogical” arguments of judge show guests.
In the course description, Melia writes, “I emphasize that it is NOT about the application of law or the operations of the court system in general.” Which is good considering the same could likely be said about the judge shows themselves.
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