1. Simpsons and Philosophy (University of California, Berkeley)
“The Simpsons,” believe it or not, now grace the syllabus of at least one course at Cal, one of the country’s most prestigious public universities, home to Nobel Prize winners and renowned scientists. You’ll need to know more than Simpsons trivia – the class takes an in-depth look at how the long-running cartoon depicts social issues such as racism and politics. Passing the class, which includes writing a 22-minute show for the final exam, earns students two credits.
2. Goldberg’s Canon: Makin Whoopi (Bates College, Maine)
Labeled “A Symposium on the Career of Whoopi Goldberg,” Bates College offers a series-like lecture on the significance of Ms. Goldberg. Topics include Whoopi in Africana Woman Tradition, Religion in the Color Purple, and Dreaded Whoopi. This course provides a fresh perspective for students studying rhetoric.
3. Getting Dressed (Princeton University)
Some days getting dressed takes a lot more effort than it should. Enter Princeton’s “Getting Dressed” class, a freshmen-only course that lets students discuss controversial topics such as jeans, baseball caps, tattoos, flip-flops and Chuck Taylors. It’s more complicated than just figuring out what to wear in the morning, though. The class discussed how people use fashion to do everything from study history to assess character. Although it doesn’t appear that the class is offered any longer, Princeton does offer other interesting-sounding freshmen seminars, including “Google and Ye Shall Find?” and “Good to be Shifty: American Swindlers.”
4. Sociology of Fame and Lady Gaga (University of South Carolina)
As the syllabus warns, “This is not a course in Lady Gaga but in sociology; and it is not a course about Lady Gaga as much as about the culture of the fame as exemplified by the career of Lady Gaga. There will be no PowerPoint presentations in this class nor any music or videos.”
5. Zombies in Popular Media (Columbia College, Chicago)
From Columbia College:
“This course explores the history, significance, and representation of the zombie as a figure in horror and fantasy texts. Instruction follows an intense schedule, using critical theory and source media (literature, comics, and films) to spur discussion and exploration of the figures many incarnations. Daily assignments focus on reflection and commentary, while final projects foster thoughtful connections between student disciplines and the figure of the zombie.”
6. How to Watch Television (Montclair State University)
A few of the 57 Montclair students who packed the class last semester were disappointed when they learned How to Watch Television involved more than sitting in a lecture hall watching “Friends”
“This course, open to both broadcasting majors and non-majors, is about analyzing television in the ways and to the extent to which it needs to be understood by its audience. The aim is for students to critically evaluate the role and impact of television in their lives as well as in the life of the culture. The means to achieve this aim is an approach that combines media theory and criticism with media education”
Students get to watch popular shows – ”CSI,” later in the semester – but never with the same pleasure once they’ve heard Professor Gencarelli’s thought-provoking lectures on the effect the medium has on the culture.
Do his students appreciate what he’s teaching them? Perhaps, he says. By the end of the semester, they give him his highest praise: ”You’ve ruined TV-watching for us.”
7. The Textual Appeal of Tupac Shakur (University of Washington)
Though Tupac has been gone for nearly 15 years, he lives on at the University of Washington. The course “explores the philosophical, historical and literary influences of the late rapper and activist, Tupac Shakur.”
8. Philosophy and Star Trek (Georgetown University)
Philosophy classes often use pop culture to start discussion, there are even plenty of books out there with similar themes as this college class, but still, when it comes down to it, this course and the philosophical under trappings are just being used as an excuse to talk a little Star Trek. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
9. The Joy of Garbage (Santa Clara University)
The Joy of Garbage is a Santa Clara University course that actually deals with real science through the lens of garbage. Students study decomposition, what makes soil rot, the chemicals that give garbage an unpleasant odor, and they also learn about sustainability when it comes to the things we throw away. In other words, it’s a real down-and-dirty version of the stuff you’d learn from online colleges for environmental science. Classes don’t just study household garbage either; there’s also a section on nuclear waste. And topping things off, there are even field trips, with students visiting local sanitation plants and landfills.
10. The Unbearable Whiteness of Barbie (Johns Hopkins University, Maryland)
A mandatory course for some freshmen at Occidental College, ‘The Unbearable Whiteness of Barbie-Race and Popular Culture in the United States” tries to explore ways in which “scientific racism has been put to use in the making of Barbie.” Elizabeth Chin, the instructor of this course warns students that the course itself is no child’s play. With assigned readings ranging from Sandra Kisneros to Karl Marx, the course incorporates some pretty hardcore academic content.
11. Arguing with Judge Judy: Popular ‘Logic’ on TV Judge Shows (University of California, Berkeley)
The professor of this course emphasizes repeatedly in the course listing that this class is “NOT a course about law or ‘legal reasoning’.” It is instead an exploration of logical fallacies that are often presented by defendants and plaintiffs on court television shows like Judge Judy and The People’s Court. Seems right up the alley of most college students, as they are squarely in the demographic of afternoon television programming (which also targets the elderly and unemployed)
12. The Art of Walking (Centre College, Kentucky)
This might sound like the epitome of college fluff, but it’s actually a class dealing with Immanuel Kant’s “Critique of Judgment”. The course offers a mixture of lectures and walks around the Danville, Kentucky area including strolls through “nature preserves, battlefields, cemeteries, the nearby Shaker Village, campuses and farms”. Students are also given freelance walking assignments in addition to more traditional college work like reading and term papers.