Taking Pop Culture Seriously ; as Trend-Spotters and Media Analysts Become More in Demand,

By Shira J. Boss, | The Christian Science Monitor, December 21, 1999 | Go to article overview

Taking Pop Culture Seriously ; as Trend-Spotters and Media Analysts Become More in Demand,


Shira J. Boss,, The Christian Science Monitor


The idea of a seminar on Stephen King, or a doctoral thesis on Doc Martins has typically generated more than a few academic scoffs and well-publicized snickers.

But don't start chortling quite yet at the idea of hard-earned tuition dollars funding such academic inquiry. A quick scan of university course offerings sends a clear message: The study of popular culture is gaining some mainstream cachet.

Long-established schools with fine reputations to protect are turning a watchful eye to the culture of the masses, tucking in among the more predictable titles of the English or American Studies departments such topics such as "Youth Culture" or "The Body in the Movies." Young scholars can also examine the cultural impact of McDonald's or the meaning of "The Blair Witch Project."

The curriculum focuses on far more than just the latest Hollywood blockbuster - it tracks trends historically and sometimes goes back centuries.

As a result, people are starting to realize that pop culture isn't just the weird art or crazy music they loved as teens. And students, even once they realize more is required than watching favorite TV shows, find the studies worthwhile.

"It really is the old troglodyte that resents the study of popular culture now," says Ray Browne, author of the 1989 book "Against Academia," which is partly about pop culture's struggle to gain acceptance at universities.

Those doing the teaching point to the courses' benefits in an era when culture changes by the day and the Internet spreads fads and trends around the world at the click of a mouse. When something like the Columbine High School shooting happens, they point out, the public wants to turn to an authority on youth subcultures and what their music, books, and Internet sites mean. And anxious to spot the next trend, companies are seeking out graduates who have studied popular culture.

"It's extraordinary that the same joke being told 30 years ago is still going: 'A dissertation on the McNugget?!' " says Robert Thompson, a professor of film and television at Syracuse (N.Y.) University and president of the Popular Culture Association. "It's always, 'Can you believe these people are getting college credits for watching 'The Brady Bunch?' " he says.

Not just what's hot now

One of the most common misconceptions about the study of popular culture is that it is all about what's hot right now. In fact, most courses go back and look at daily life and media historically. Some survey courses begin with readings of Plato and Aristotle. Individual courses cover daily life in the Civil War era or even during Elizabethan times.

An introductory course at New York University starts with an essay by Matthew Arnold, a 19th-century British poet and critic, and eventually moves to books: "Hope in a Jar," about the rise of the cosmetics industry; "Inside the Mouse," about Disney's influence; and "Golden Arches East," about McDonald's reach into Asia. In between are film clips and musical excerpts.

"We've come to a belief that there are things worth studying that 30 years ago would have been considered beneath the attention of a serious academic," says Karen Hornick, who teaches the NYU course.

Professors teaching pop culture argue for the big picture, looking at everything from advertisements to humor of the day.

"A lot of our study of history has centered on leaders, rather than what the majority of the population was doing," says Nancy Ellen Talburt, an English professor at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. "So a lot is lost," she says.

In her course on detective fiction, Professor Talburt uses detective novels through the century to examine changes in the law, the criminal-justice system, and police procedures.

"There's no possible way you can fully understand the culture that made postwar America, that informed the Vietnam War and caused the downfall of the Johnson administration, unless you understand rock 'n' roll music during that time, the youth movement, and what was on TV," says Professor Thompson, who is founding director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Taking Pop Culture Seriously ; as Trend-Spotters and Media Analysts Become More in Demand,
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.