The following is Piper Weiss’s racy reportage on these “studies:
Marilyn Manson and Oprah are visiting professors. Academic conferences ruminate on Morrissey and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The masculinity of Antonio Banderas is pored over in freshman seminars. Now that the highest tiers of academia are using low-brow pop culture to sex up their curriculum, is it any surprise that even the dullest departments are adopting wink-wink course titles like What is Mathematics and Why Won’t It Go Away? (Oberlin) and Drug Delivery (a Harvard course in—you guessed it!—chemical engineering)? We studied hundreds of college catalogs to uncover the 10 flimsiest classes offered by America’s best (and worst) universities. Don’t forget to conceal your glee when the prof. rolls in the TV.
1. Lessons from Lost: A Case Study
Can you churn anything through the academic meat-grinder and come out with a course about gender, race, and class? Professor John Sloop’s freshman seminar uses the plotlines, website, and clever multimedia clues of ABC’s abs-driven drama to teach students about “the function of television in everyday politics.” Sloop recently told the Vanderbilt Register that he hopes his course will help students “become more reflective about language, word uses, symbols, signs.” Perhaps in preparation for The World According to Jim: Religious Iconography and the Belushis.
2. The Textual Appeal of Tupac Shakur
University of Washington
Among younger academics, hip-hop studies is rapidly becoming the new It specialty. One pioneer, grad student Georgia Roberts, has taught a class for the past four years that combines 2Pac’s lyrics with examinations of texts like Machiavelli’s The Prince and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. For extra credit, students learn the Humpty Dance.
3. Pornography: The Writing of Prostitutes
Early in the new millennium, porn studies (or Pornology) became a fashionable discipline. Several colleges offered classes that incorporated the work of Annie Sprinkle and some dude with a mustache. But only Wesleyan associate professor Hope Weisman took the pedagogy one step further and, alongside assigning readings by Roland Barthes and Susan Sontag, required students to make their own pornography as a final project. One photographed herself and her boyfriend engaging in oral sex, while another taped his friend masturbating to the music of Ella Fitzgerald (and got an A). After two years, the class was canceled, but that didn’t stop Wesleyan’s workhorse students from exploring the topic through independent studies.