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Pop Culture In The Classroom

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Classes with an academic focus on topics normally associated with leisure time are gaining popularity on college campuses across the country. This trend has cropped up in many departments, tackling a broad range of issues – from shopping and TV to sports and music.

Everyday culture is important in that it tells us a lot about ourselves. It can also be a jumping off point for further academic study. Pop culture classes are an attempt to engage a wider audience.

Despite what seems like light subject matter, these classes ask a lot from their students. They may be applying pop culture to social issues or realizing the economic impact of a music genre. These are serious classes that require serious work. Initial opposition from parents and administrators is dwindling as this becomes apparent.

“The Beatles: Their Music and Their Life” has been taught at USC by Professor Bill Biersach since the late ’80s. Biersach was teaching a recording class when he realized that a number of the innovative techniques that he was teaching his students about could be traced back to the Beatles. Biersach presented his idea for a class to the university’s curriculum committee and they ate it up.

Not all classes are developed this easily. “Beats, Rhyme, and Culture” is a course taught at George Mason University. The professor had to convince the administration that the classes he wanted to teach about hip-hop addressed history, socio-economic impact, and public policy. Detractors are no longer iffy about the course offerings. There are now four classes based on the study of hip-hop. Classes are always above capacity. Students that have taken the course rave about the content and academic rigor.

Frostburg University offers a class on “The Science of Harry Potter”. The class ponders the possibility of self-teleportation and the magic of Harry Potter from a physics viewpoint. Many people find the class to be a lot of work with quizzes, tests, and a paper.

Boston College began a course on TV criticism several years ago. The American household watches on average of seven hours of TV a day. If TV is so important to our culture, it’s important to look at the cultural meanings. Cultural theory is discussed and students say the class work is challenging.

“The History of Rock and Roll” is a popular class at Boston College. The class focus is on three things: teaching students to listen to music critically, the history of musical styles, and cultural messages in the music. The overall goal is to get students to think critically about popular culture, especially popular music.

Other types of pop-culture classes you may have the opportunity to take include:

Star Trek classes are more common than you think. You may find the “Philosophy of Star Trek” (Georgetown) and “Star Trek and Religion” (Indiana University).

“Learning from YouTube” (Pitzer College) consists of students watching YouTube videos and then discussing them. They also leave comments on the videos themselves.

“The Horror Film in Context” (Bowdoin) discusses why society is infatuated with horror movies and death in general.

“The Simpsons and Philosophy” (University of California) takes an in-depth look at social issues like racism and politics.

“Daytime Serials: Family and Social Rolls” (University of Wisconsin) analyzes the plots, themes, and characters of soap operas and their impact on modern life.

“They Killed Kenny! South Park as Social Critics” (Lebanon Valley College) is a course that examines the show’s criticisms of institutions and policies.


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