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

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NY Daily News: 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.

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“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.”

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.

What it takes to be a beautiful and strong woman...

What it takes to be a beautiful and strong woman…

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.

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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.

Maturity...

Maturity…

“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.”

Miley Cyrus

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.

But there’s a reason for all this genre bending: The mainstream material gives students an easy way into topics such as identity and social change that they otherwise might gloss over.

“Those classes use popular culture as the Trojan horse to sneak in education on other topics,” says Syracuse University media professor Robert Thompson, who taught “The Love Boat” in the ’80s as an example of how TV viewers love shows that don’t demand their full attention.

“If an academic were to responsibly look at Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé, he or she could scratch the surface of all kinds of really important things with who we are as a culture,” he says.

Students in these classes won’t just be tuning in for long lectures. Allred and Chernoff say they’ll show clips of the scholarly songstresses’ music videos and interviews, while citing less sexy theoretical writings. The classes will center on group discussions that bring it all together.

Beyoncé’s work will be accompanied by texts from black feminist writers, including activist bell hooks and abolitionist author Sojourner Truth. Miley will share the intellectual stage with sociologists like Laura Grindstaff and Joshua Gamson. (Who? Exactly!)

So pop scholars, check on it — these will be a true wrecking ball of critical theory. “This will be an intensive experience,” Chernoff says. “It’s just a different way of teaching sociology.”

I’m sure these classes will help many students obtain a high-paying job. /sarc

DCG

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Mike
Guest

Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Bob Dylan: can anyone tell me what they all have in common, besides being entertainers? They’re all Satanists.

Auntie Lulu
Guest
Auntie Lulu

Oh! Just gag me, already! What is there that is beautiful, or feminine, or lovely about these two?? How many of us normal woman can honestly say that the world has been “treated” to such blatant “crotch shots?” Nor, would we wish it to be so. Sometimes less is really more!!!

Gingercake
Guest
Gingercake

Just say no to liberal arts colleges. We didn’t send our boys at all, and they are doing quite well. After my college days (UCSB) I knew I didn’t want to send my kids to one. All they do is party and skip class on Dad’s dime. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do after 4 years of college. I graduated, but I don’t think it was money well spent. I don’t make spelling errors, usually. There is that…

Dr. Eowyn
Admin

Disgusting.

TrailDust
Admin
TrailDust

Somebody at Disney should face charges for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. A disproportionally large number of Disney child stars have gone off the deep end in recent years, and it couldn’t have been accidental. Somebody must be getting in their faces, and telling them that the only way to avoid going off the radar in the entertainment world as an adult is to get really dirty and become “sensational.”

Tim Shey
Guest

This is from seven visions that William Branham had in 1933: Vision Five: The fifth scene that appeared involved the womanhood of the world. In this scene there appeared the fast moral decay of women. Starting back when she received her so-called liberty to enter into worldly affairs by means of the vote, she soon began to wear clothes that were too revealing. She bobbed her hair and adopted the clothing of men. Finally, the vision showed her all but stripped naked and she merely covered herself with a tiny apron about the size and shape of a fig leaf.… Read more »