This is what I imagined college would be like. When I checked out different schools’ Apply sites, looking at their idyllic autumnal campuses, I imagined transposing myself into their classrooms. I heard the discussions that would take place, I felt the tweed of the professor’s jacket, I smelled the old books in the corner, I saw the perfectly-crafted Powerpoint with key terms. I could taste my college experience.
My favorite class right now, Theorizing Popular Culture, is everything I ever imagined college would be like. It took that little dreaming pre-frosh, eager to read and to learn, and patted her on the head and took her by the hand and lead her to Gilman 186.
Theorizing Popular Culture is a 300-level Film class, so it satisfies one of seven upper level Film courses I need for my major. But it also satisfies every kind of academic craving I’ve ever had. It’s so Humanities-y, drawing from Film, Sociology, History, and other areas, commenting on and documenting the changing role of culture. It’s opened my eyes to theories and thoughts I never new existed, forced me to realize the motivations and themes in my everyday life. I’ve learned about such highbrow, pure academia schools of thought… and I’ve viewed a Taylor Swift music video in an academic, critical setting.
Theorizing Popular Culture is the perfect merge of education with interest. My professor uses real-world, concrete, familiar examples to illustrate schools of different thought in Cultural Theory. I didn’t know that scholars on television existed, but they do—and it’s endlessly fascinating.
This course has been such a whirlwind look into the media that permeates our everyday lives. It takes this media, things that we hold near and dear and consume passionately, and approaches it through the lenses of different thoughts and theorists. I’ve completely changed the way I view the media that I consume. For a moment, it was the kind of thing that prompts an existential crisis and made me feel so cynical about the society we live in, but now it’s just fascinating to dissect a certain text and find the different meanings in it.
The class is challenging, no doubt; some of our readings are long and exhausting and at times, impossible to understand. The class does force you to take a certain new perspective when consuming media and viewing culture. Sometimes it’s hard to hammer down how I really feel, since I am myself part of the popular culture.
But—the class is fun. It’s the happiest I’ve ever been within a classroom. We discuss everything from popular music to television to subcultures to taste culture. We spend whole classes watching music videos and analyzing them. We argue what taste is. We talk about our own personal experiences with subcultures. The class encourages anecdotes and participation and discussion, and there’s always a wealth of things to talk about.
That’s the beauty of this course. It takes media and popular culture, things that really do dictate our everyday lives, things that we should and do feel passionately about, and encourages us to view it in an academic and critical light.
I mean… what other department allows you to have a scholarly discussion on hispters and the taste theory behind them? What other department allows you to watch music video after music video and find the hegemonic subtexts within them? Also, it’s taught by my favorite professor, Meredith Ward, who is an incredible lecturer and has a knack for making hard-to-digest readings fun and understandable.
Spoiler: RaeLynn here seems to be subscribing to some very hegemonic conceptions of femininity, masculinity, and sexuality.
For this class, so far, I’ve written two papers. The first topic was music, and I selected to analyze Run DMC’s album Raising Hell through the perspective of Matthew Arnold, a theorist who believes culture should be the best that has been thought and said, and should lead humanity towards sweetness and light. It was challenging to take such an archaic, conservative viewpoint and justify the 1980s hip-hop group’s work, but I worked through their lyrics, messages, and motives, and reigned successful! My second paper was supposed to focus on hegemony (the force through which dominant powers stay in power) in the media. I chose Victoria’s Secret as my subject, and analyzed how they perpetuate traditional, dominant, patriarchal notions of beauty and femininity. I haven’t gotten my grade back yet, but it’s my favorite paper I’ve ever written. I sifted through about fifteen sources and crafted my argument and couldn’t stop writing!
I also completed a presentation on one of our readings, which centered on postmodernism and its applications to fashion. It was such a fun presentation to give! I wasn’t nervous; I genuinely
enjoyed my time spent at the front of the classroom talking about my topic. I was able to use concrete examples of real designs and trace back their references and derivatives. It was definitely unlike any academic presentation I’ve given before—which seems to be a theme of this class.
Theorizing Popular Culture is such an unusual class in that many other subjects don’t afford you the opportunity to discuss Orange is the New Black or viral videos or cronuts in a scholarly way. But this is the kind of class where I’m excited to enter the room every Tuesday because I know that I’m going to be enlightened and entertained… and to me, that’s what a good education is.