Just because it’s time to go back to school doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to stop visiting the local multiplex or watching TV. Universities across the country are offering courses and seminars on all aspects of popular culture — which means that if you pick the right college, you could actually rack up credits for watching Friends (for the record, that would be in Old Dominion’s ”Television and Society” class). Here’s a sampling of what’s being taught at some of our centers of higher learning.
Class: ”The Films of Clint Eastwood” (Brown University) Description: An exploration of Eastwood as an American cinema sensation. Justification: ”Eastwood is a very important filmmaker,” says Professor Duncan Smith. ”We’re going to study the icon of masculinity that he portrays, constructs, and takes apart.” Required viewing: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Dirty Harry; Absolute Power.
Class: ”Music Video” (Northern Illinois University) Description: An examination of music video as an art form. Justification: ”MTV has changed the cultural landscape,” says Professor Gary Burns, who adds that students will examine ”the video as an important industrial product that sells commodities in the music industry.” Required viewing: Videos of Madonna’s ”Deeper and Deeper”; Tom Petty’s ”Don’t Come Around Here No More”; and Bryan Adams’ ”Heaven.”
Class: ”Specters of Legitimacy: Alan Smithee in 1997” (University of Pennsylvania) Description: A one-day seminar on Alan Smithee, the pseudonym directors use when they’re too embarrassed or angry to use their own name in a film’s credits. Justification: ”We clearly stand on the edge of an epistemological shift in auteurism,” reads the official conference description. The Smithee concept is ”a stark reminder of Hollywood’s economics: You can make a name for yourself, but it never belongs to you.” Required text: ”Movies on a Stick: Allen [sic] Smithee, Hollywood, and Films for Cannibalizing Cultures,” a paper to be presented by Laura Spagnoli, a graduate student of French.
Class: ”Situating the Comedy: Celebrating 50 Years of the American Situation Comedy, 1947-1997” (Bowling Green State University) Description: A two-day conference exploring television’s most pervasive format. Justification: ”The dominance of sitcoms in American society opened the door for a conference,” says seminar organizer Dr. Angela Nelson. Required texts: Participants will present papers ranging from ”Postmodern Power Plays: Analyzing the Mixed Signals on Home Improvement” to ”’Whaddya Say, Cosmo? Everything, My Man!’: A Freudo-Rousseauean Perspective on Seinfeld’s Kramer.”