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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Colleges embrace pop-culture studies of stars like Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé

Interesting article about how pop culture relates to Sociology.

"Rutgers, Skidmore College offer courses on music idols, finding importance in areas like feminism, women's studies"

"Attention, students: You may now twerk hard and fall crazy in love in the classroom.
Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé will be icons of academe this summer, with two area colleges offering seminars on the pop princesses.
At Rutgers University, all the single ladies (and other students, really) can put their hands up in “Feminist Perspectives: Politicizing Beyoncé,” a women’s and gender studies course starting Wednesday.

The course covers the growth of Queen Bey’s media empire, with a special emphasis on how she manages her roles as a black icon and sex symbol with motherhood and marriage.
“She’s the most powerful black woman in entertainment and pop culture,” says Kevin Allred, the doctoral student who’s teaching the class. “She’s gotten more confrontational and more explicit when she’s talking about beauty and gender.”
Beyoncé is regarded by academics as a powerful symbol of motherhood and marriage, as well as sex appeal.

Beyoncé is regarded by academics as a powerful symbol of motherhood and marriage, as well as sex appeal.
Allred sees Beyoncé as perfect fodder for a women’s studies class because she is a modern ideal of feminism. Her commitment anthem, “Single Ladies,” and her collaboration with hubby Jay Z show she’s the rare star who advocates sexual magnetism as well as monogamy, Allred says.
“Her music has always had strong implications for what it means to be a beautiful and strong woman today,” he says.

But Beyoncé is not the only multiplatform star who can teach a thing or two to today’s youth. Starting Tuesday, Skidmore College in upstate New York will offer “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus” to give pupils a crash course in the history of someone the same age they are.
In a career of less than a decade, Miss Miley has already proved herself “a useful primary document” for discussions of sex and power in media, teacher Carolyn Chernoff says.
Miley Cyrus is a delivery device for themes of American life.

Cyrus went from squeaky clean Disney star to dirty-minded diva strutting her stuff in every concert. She sparked debates about slut shaming, overt sexuality and the privileges of white stars — as when she borrowed twerking from hip-hop culture and brought it to last year’s Video Music Awards.
“She’s a really interesting case study for how someone can represent sex and gender while maturing in the public eye,” says Chernoff, a visiting assistant professor at Skidmore. “Miley is a work in progress, but you can already see such a complex narrative of how people talk about her unbridled sexuality.”

That kind of analysis is what separates popular publications like Entertainment Weekly from ponderous ones such as American Quarterly, the Journal of the American Studies Association.
“Sociologists have long talked about peeling back the layers to see what’s behind our social phenomena,” says Rik Scarce, chair of Skidmore’s sociology department, who said he had “no hesitation” in approving the Cyrus course.

“Miley Cyrus is a delivery device for themes of American life,” he adds. “When you say, ‘Miley Cyrus? Who cares about her?’ you shut down the very purpose of sociology.”
Of course, it’s not the first time that residents of the Ivory Tower have deigned to study pop culture. In fact, it’s become as widespread on campuses as binge drinking and all-nighters.
Film and television became accepted as worthy of academic study in the 1960s, followed by music when Dartmouth College started teaching Bob Dylan as part of its poetry courses in the 1970s.
But these days, the course load is increasingly likely to include music and other pop culture. Georgetown University decoded Jay Z in a sociology class, the University of South Carolina did the same for Lady Gaga, and New York University brought in Questlove for a Classic Albums course in which he considered the works of the Beastie Boys and Prince in the manner of long-loved works of literature."