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Popular Culture 101?


December 1, 2010
by Alexis Mattera
No, there are still no classes entitled “The Anatomy of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show” or “The Hanukkah Snuggie’s Effect on Modern Judaism” but classes with roots in popular culture are popping up on college campuses everywhere. If you’ve yet to select your classes for next semester or have found a few empty blocks in your schedule, consider enrolling in one of these fun, weird and surprisingly informative courses. (Bonus: They could help you earn an equally unusual scholarship!)

No, there are still no classes entitled “The Anatomy of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show” or “The Hanukkah Snuggie’s Effect on Modern Judaism” but classes with roots in popular culture are popping up on college campuses everywhere. If you’ve yet to select your classes for next semester or have found a few empty blocks in your schedule, consider enrolling in one of these fun, weird and surprisingly informative courses. (Bonus: They could help you earn an equally unusual scholarship!)

  • Consumerism and Social Change in Mad Men America, 1960-1963: Northwestern University history professor Michael Allen teaches this freshman course, which examines the relationship between consumerism and the social and political changes of the 1950s and 1960s. Students attend lectures and read historical texts but are also required to watch several “Mad Men” episodes each week. We’d assume cigarette smoking, scotch swilling and infidelity do not earn extra credit points.
  • South Park and Contemporary Issues: This course at McDaniel College mixes sociology and philosophy while exploring the controversial contemporary social issues featured on the long-running Comedy Central cartoon. The official course description states, “Ultimately, students will gain…new knowledge of the benefits of applying an interdisciplinary approach to contemporary social issues.” No Kennys will be harmed but bring your own Cheesy Poofs.
  • Music, Video Games, and the Nature of Human Cognition: This NYU psychology class already has a waiting list and there’s a good reason for it: Professor Gary Marcus believes video games – specifically “Guitar Hero” – can be used to enhance human cognition. Some parents are upset that this is the type of class their tuition is going toward but Marcus stresses that delving into this understudied area will yield positive results. Rock on, Professor!
  • Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame: The University of South Carolina’s Mathieu Deflem has gone gaga for Gaga and he hopes his students will too with his sociological analysis of selected social issues related to the pop star’s work. Though the course is within the sociology department, the subjects of music, fashion, art, business, marketing, new media, religion and politics will be integrated to dissect Gaga’s rise to fame and impact on society. Unlike the infamous meat dress, this approach is well done.
  • Zombies in Popular Media: Vampires are so last year, people, and Columbia College Chicago has the latest undead trend – zombies – ready to take over your brain, not eat it. Literature, comics and film will “foster thoughtful connections between student disciplines and the figure of the zombie,” states the course description and the history, significance and representation of zombies will be discussed and implemented on a daily basis. Hopefully, this class doesn’t take place after dark.

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