This site will work and look better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

Whedonesque - a community weblog about Joss Whedon
"You're at war with the human race. Oh. Kay."
11943 members | you are not logged in | 19 April 2014












August 04 2006

Colleges' open minds close door on sense. An opinion piece bemoaning college courses about Buffy and other non-traditional interests.

*snerk* It's time to play Conservative Intellectualism Snobbery Bingo! Lesbians, porn, bondage, transvestites, Michael Moore, abortion, slash, oh no! Not to mention, the dreaded mind killer... graphic novels. (Never mind that the Anita Blake books are regular ol' non-picture having books.)
Her article finishes,

Imagine these instructions from a college professor and you will understand what we "conservative activists" object to:

"OK, class, let's look at our worldviews. What do you think of Britney Spears kissing Madonna? What does that act say about gender roles? Write a three-page paper and remember: Papers that do not display an open-mindedness will fail."


I've noticed this brand of paranoia from self-described "conservatives" before (liberals, conservatives--useless labels when I doubt all of most people's views align perfectly on every subject within those two imagined groups). I don't think college professors are so vindictive that they fail students for expressing opinions, however contrary to their own or seemingly prudish if we're talking about the above example, when said students are asked to provide that opinion with the instructions, "What do you think...?"
Here's how I feel:

Hard to Swallow: Reading Pornography on Screen: Now, that's legitimately weird.

Brokeback essays? Not so much. It's both literature and film, so whatever.

The bottom line is if people don't want to take the courses...then don't take them...huh, I may be on to something.
Did this really need to be posted? It's flamebait, even if it is Buffyverse related. I'd rather not see where this leads.
Good point, jclemens. Neb, maybe you should move this to our Flickr page?
Flamebate? Sure, like any other article that makes light of Buffy or other Jossverse topics. The only difference is that this one tosses in political reference points.

I was amazed at that column though. That's on the Atlanta Journal Constitution website - isn't it a major market newspaper? So I'm assuming that this was an opinion piece. If so, the author has a right to her opinion, but I would have expected not only a more developed and thought out discussion, but also a little bit of discussion of the general topic area so that readers might understand that some college courses delve into pretty obscure minutae. Sure not every Freshman should have to take "The Art of the Western: Wagontrain to Firefly", but a film major might take it at a higher level, and the course would be used to examine not only ideas in those specific stories they'd be used to explore broader issues or ideas.

I'd give the professor an F overall - F for not adequately supporting her thesis, along with a D for failing to even mention its counterarguments.
Its funny, I gave those directions in the Beginning Philosophy course I taught. I had an entire section of the class deal with pop culture and philosophy where I had them study the epistemology of The Matrix and the morality of BTVS. The reason that you do that is because beginning philosophy students usually know nothing about philosophy (well duh) and if you can relate such in depth topics as epistemology or morality to something they already know, it helps to teach them about the basics of philosophy. So when I had them write a paper, I basically gave them these instructions "I dont care what side you take, but you must take that side with an open mind and an argument that makes your point substantiated". Why? Those are the two most important parts of philosophy, having an open mind and the ability to argue your point, and really, it matters a great deal if you fail in one of those areas.

Im not going to get into the political aspects of this article, but I will say that her assumption relies on the idea that her "sense" is correct. That we shouldnt have to study some things because they are just absolutely wrong and need no such study, is not a completely new viewpoint. I believe the author is incorrect to assert that we shouldnt study even the "scourages" of our society because if nothing else, it will help others to understand, prevent, or change that which we need. Either that or the misconceptions one has about certain aspects of our society can be brought to light and views can be changed in accordance with what is correct. And hey, through study, you might discover that your "sense" isnt quite as common as you would believe.

[ edited by jerryst3161 on 2006-08-04 04:35 ]
Wow. She'd hate Foucault.
And Zizek, whom I would strongly recommend.

I really enjoyed jerrys3161's comments. I try to do the same thing in my lit classes, and usually the students produce good, thoughtful work.
No surprise to find an opinion column like this one in a major market newspaper. For one thing, it's a response to an earlier opinion piece that was, apparently, favorable towards "non-traditional" subject-matter and approaches in university courses. For another, the general public always gets a kick out of bashing wacky academics--every year there's at least one article about the Modern Language Association (MLA) conference that cherrypicks the most bizarre paper and session titles, especially those concerned with sex and extreme political/social views, to "prove" how out-of-hand the "intellectuals" are. It was ever thus.

BtVS-related courses are increasing in number and respectability, though. And "literature as social protest" has a long and respectable history, so not much new there.
I was pretty puzzled by the article itself -- I understood her point, I understood her reasoning, but the presentation was lacking.

Also, I can see how some things may seem to lack merit -- a class about pornography, for instance. Some things may just seem to lack real merit to many people. But a class that may incorporate discussion of pornography as a discussion of gender roles or any other legitimate subject, that is different. I see some things as plain excessive -- one does not NEED to see pornography in order to examine the social ramifications of it.

And if I were a student at a university and wanted to take a class that discussed gender roles, but I knew there would be lengthy viewing of porn, I wouldn't take the class. Call me a prude, but I kind of see how she was trying to make a similar point? but she was going on a whole different level that I don't agree with -- I see the merit in relating pop culture to gender roles. Arguably our TV shows and movies are a whole lot more relevant to our lives than philosophers from long ago. Their principles and teachings have translated throughout the years to be put into our TV and movies, why not take advantage and show students how philosophy can be an important part of their lives and not just "a lot of dead old guys who thought a lot."
If the English professor who wrote this holds her students to the standard she enunciates in her opening paragraph:

One needs to back up points with evidence and support

then she would have to take points off her own essay, which climaxes by implying, without evidence or support, that professors give failing grades to students whose work doesn't reflect the professors' definition of open-mindedness.
Anyone else hate that ajc.com now wants me to register to view the article? I wanted to read it again, but I'm not willing to register.
I had a Classical Lit professor who worked in the other direction. We had just read about Gilgamesh, and she pointed out that it was just on ST:tNG ("Darmok"). A week later, she pointed out that Gilgamesh was defeated in his quest to raise Enkidu not by force, but by fatigue and sleep. And then brought up "The Best of Both Worlds" with the Borg.
I don't think posting the article, or the article itself, should be considered flame-bait (and it merits a front-page position, I feel). Nevertheless, while we're here there's no harm in emphasizing the site rules regarding respectful discussion.

Personally, and as others have mentioned, I think there's really very little argument in the piece, just a series of assertions, which unfortunately makes for a poorer debate.
You will be assimilated. Resistence is futile.
I posted this because there are people who don't see the academic value of popular culture, or anything that hasn't been taught traditionally. THAT is the debate I see as being more central than the conservative-liberal thing. That she used Buffy as the exclamation to make her point seemed noteworthy. We've all marveled at the courses offered on the work of Joss Whedon and the seminars and conferences talking about the hidden meaning in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Here is a POV that sees it as academic farce or folly. (I can't believe I actually used the word "folly.")

I don't think college professors are so vindictive that they fail students for expressing opinions, however contrary to their own or seemingly prudish if we're talking about the above example, when said students are asked to provide that opinion with the instructions, "What do you think...?"


I can't speak for all professors, but I always ask my students to express their opinions, with the objective of getting them to back them up well. I don't ever grade people on the opinion itself.

I'm also one of the academics who does use "Buffy" in at least one of my classes to illustrate certain points. I also use Star Trek and Office Space and Newsies and a host of other movies and videos made post Civil War. Sometimes you need to use modern pop culture to make connections between the experiences of students and works they are less familiar with. Sometimes you use it to get them thinking outside the box when so much of their educational experiences have been confined to the box.

Does that make what I teach trivial or devoid of depth? As any fan of Joss Whedon knows, it's not really about a high school cheerleader doing ditzy things.

It's about power....

[ edited by Nebula1400 on 2006-08-04 07:11 ]
Let's look at the American Literature Association conference, which I attended in May. I sat in on such panels: "La Reconquista: The Application of Latina/o Studies to U.S. Literature(s) & Criticism" (where an up-and-coming young Latina professor gave instructions and sample syllabi on how to make a survey class on American literature into a class devoted to Latina/o literature and issues), "Teaching the Arts of American Protest" on social protest literature (yes, a how-to on teaching literature as a form of social protest), and a film and literature panel, where the intellectually challenging paper "Female Sexualities Revised in 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and Anita Blake Series" was delivered. (The Anita Blake Series is a series of graphic novels, i.e., with pictures).


This is the part that most confused me. Was this her parading around the ridiculous academic ventures she's encountered? Latino Literature? Protest? This is the frivilous nature of American universities? I can understand people having a problem with their kids studying TV or video games, but Latino literature? How is that not a legitimate field? (Not that TV or video games aren't legit, either.)
Nebula1400: "It's about power...."

Nebula1400, you won my eternal devotion with that (apt) reference -- one of my favourite through-lines in the Buffy-world.

“BUFFY: It's about power. Who's got it. Who knows how to use it. So... Who's got the power, Dawn? DAWN: Well, I've got the stake. BUFFY: The stake is NOT the power.” -- Buffy, #123, “Lessons”

“See ... I've had a lot of people talking at me the last few days. Everyone just lining up to tell me how unimportant I am. And I've finally figured out why. Power. I have it. They don't. This bothers them…" -- Buffy, #90, “Checkpoint”

”WILLOW: Buffy ... I gotta tell ya ... I get it now. The Slayer thing really isn't about the violence… It's about the power.” -- Buffy, #121: "Two To Go"

[ edited by Caroline on 2006-08-04 09:34 ]

[ edited by QuoterGal on 2006-08-04 09:44 ]
The wonderful thing is that it's probably one of the courses that sucks all the fun and enjoyment from watching the show. I tuned in every week to watch the adventures of Buffy and her gang, not because of some deep hidden subtext (Sidekicks and Satre - Whither Xander? zzzzz). The things that happened in Buffy? The writers thought they would be interesting, it was a sweeps week or cause they were making it up as they go along.

But then academic freedom is a precious thing, so I'll support the right for Buffy to be boring at university.
Come on. You can't have them analyse contemporary works or issues. If it's not at least 100 years old, it just isn't worthy of academic attention. They should analyse Shakespeare for the 1000th time (ie. mindlessly copying bits and pieces from existing sources without ever actually thinking about it), or describe the impact of falling rice sacks on American economy during the late 1800s (or at least be told about savage indians slaughtering oh so peaceful and innocent settlers).

Literature as social protest is a bad thing? Does she know what a fable is? (hint: no, it's not funny stories about cute animals) Teaching different points of views deserves criticism? (straying from more-than-well-trodden paths sure must seem scary to her)

Sure, it's easy to dismiss porn as filth, but there is a huge industry, so how about NOT ignoring something that obviously DOES have some impact? Why arrogantly dismiss modern literature/TV without ever wondering if maybe it might just touch the same topics in a way that's easier to digest for people that happen to live today instead of 300 years ago? Why not worry about things that matter TODAY (you would think something that can actually be helped is somewhat more important than yesterdays news).

Is that what conservative means? Stagnant? Insisting on living in the past and pretending the world didn't change or actively fighting these changes? Dreaming of a world where we still dwell in caves and stare at dinosaur bones, because they are more deserving of attention than those stupid cave paintings the other guys are doing (or even worse, that silly wheel-thingy all the dumb and uneducated cavemen are so excited about)?

Sure, you can wait 200 years to see if it stands the test of time before you bother to acknowledge it. Or you could have your own opinion and make up your own mind about what matters and deserves examination (or, *gasp*, expect your oh so poor and stupid children to be able to do that, too, instead of making sure the offered choices force them in the direction YOU want them to go).
Flame On ! * remembers this is Whedonesque * Err, Flame Off Again ! ;-)

The article is pretty insubstantial and, ironically given the first paragraph, doesn't seem to back up any of the author's assertions.

Correct me if i'm wrong but aren't grants to study very rare/non-existant in the US ? Which means that people are choosing to study and pay for these courses. As long as that's the case they should continue and if you are of a more conservative nature then don't take the courses. If everyone is then the courses will die through lack of admissions (I must confess i'm not of the opinion that these are courses which should be offered regardless of public support e.g. history, philosphy, politics and all the sciences - in which i'll include maths - are just essential to any functioning society whereas I personally feel that the world will keep turning without another analysis of 'Pornography through the Ages' interesting and worthwhile though the course may be).

More generally, nothing and I mean nothing should be outside the bounds of study and rational enquiry so long as it's taught responsibly and within the the law (and even then what's right and what's legal don't always jibe though I accept that's where things get very grey). Imagine Galileo just going 'OK, fair enough' when the Catholic church asked him to tailor his views about the solar system in 'Two Dialogues' or David Hume thinking "Hmm, certainly wouldn't want to offend any conservative sensibilities better not write 'Dialogues Concerning Natural Religions'". Madness and (as Trienco says) stagnation that way lie.

Also

Let's look at the American Literature Association conference, which I attended in May. I sat in on such panels: "La Reconquista: The Application of Latina/o Studies to U.S. Literature(s) & Criticism" (where an up-and-coming young Latina professor gave instructions and sample syllabi on how to make a survey class on American literature into a class devoted to Latina/o literature and issues


really bothered me. Isn't this basically the age old (extremely dubious) claim that 'they' are coming over here to steal our jobs/women/money just dressed up in different clothes (it's not jobs now it's literature classes but the sentiment is the same) ? Or, in other words, plain old racism couched in more sophisticated terms ?
The wonderful thing is that it's probably one of the courses that sucks all the fun and enjoyment from watching the show.


Well, that probably depends on the presentation. A good lecturer can make a lot of subjects interesting, and a detailed analyses of Buffy has the added bonus of having already interesting source material. Obviously it also hinges on if you like the type of analyses being done, but I for one, think I would enjoy indepth analyses of Buffy in - say - a philosophy class.

The things that happened in Buffy? The writers thought they would be interesting, it was a sweeps week or cause they were making it up as they go along.


Well, I think the writers did more than just write what they thought would be interesting. They wrote what they felt would resonate and as such they made complex characters with all kinds of diverging motivations which people could then relate to. And they created a world around those characters with its own set of rules and its own moral ambiguities (just think about demons which are okay to kill but, as we find out later, can be inherently good as well) to make interesting fiction which also says something about our world (it almost has to, if people from our world are going to enjoy it).

This is no different, I think, than what most classic writers did in works people now study in lit-class. So in doing so, the ME writers created layered art (sometimes as a byproduct of creating a good story, sometimes intentionally, I'd think) which is subject to analyses and study.

Just look at how we keep analysing subjects here on the black (the semi-recent 'Did buffy commit suicide at the end of The Gift?' discussion from a while back pops to mind). It's "bring your own subtext", after all.

So while I think that 'making it up as they go along' or 'sweeps periods' and whatnot certainly influenced what the writers did, I think they did intentionally create something lasting which would stand up to scrutiny beyond simple entertainment. Even if it was for nothing else than making the show worth while.
I just have to say that, speaking as a teacher AND a Whedonverse fan, I am thoroughly impressed by the intelligent discourse and well-wrought arguments/discussion here. I imagine the author of this misguided article might have to reconsider her opinion were she to troll Whedonesque! :-)
Simon must have had some awful professors. I would think professors who teach courses on Joss's work, or using his work, are more enlightened, less traditional professors who make coming to class enjoyable rather than a task. I have a friend (another academic) who went to an academic conference on the meaning behind Buffy and he loved it. The conversations were a lot like the conversations we have here.

I wonder if they broke down into "Ben is Glory" arguments at any point.
I tuned in every week to watch the adventures of Buffy and her gang, not because of some deep hidden subtext.

Exactly. The show, like any TV product, was made to entertain. Of course, being entertaining and being worthy of academic study are not mutually exclusive.

I wasn't able to read the whole opinion piece because I clicked something in the article and was promptly banished to a user registration page. Did the author ever specify why she believes Buffy to be an inappropriate study topic? I mean, media/film/TV studies are hardly new to academia.
1starbuckstown, the only thing she wrote relating to Buffy is the title. There's really no focus on it.

I don't think she exactly gets either that at all universities there is usually more than one choice for a class, especially a freshman level class, and not all profesors are "radical" in their thought...if you want something more traditional, go for it. There exists choice and that is beautiful.

I think something entertaining is even more so if there is discussion to delve deeper into it, especially with Joss' work, because it is so deep. The protagonists and antagonists of Buffy are so three dimensional that to NOT delve any deeper than the surface would be an insult. There is so much there to look at, and to apply to traditional principles of philosophy and thought.
I'm surprised that Joss never created a demon that could suck the life out of popular culture.
Like the one that turned Shakespeare, the most entertaining playwright in history, into the bane of American teenagers.
I picture students in the 22nd Century rolling their eyes and fighting off sleep as they're forced to watch Star Wars. Or drama majors, having filled up a blue book on the question of whether Hamlet is mad, then being forced to recapitulate the arguments on both sides of the debate regarding Spike's capacity for love prior to his ensoulment.
It is very easy for persons such as this author to pick on humanities programs, which by definition are broadly inclusive of just about anything cultural. And the unsuspecting person would then infer -- as such writers seem to want -- that all disciplines at their local colleges and universities are similarly "liberal" or force boondoggling courses on their equally unsuspecting (and apparently passive, unthinking, and undiscriminating) students. It's a call to arms. But apart from the fact that a huge percentage of faculty at colleges and universities are conservative, I could go through any course catalogue and cherry-pick "conservative" courses, as well. As so often happens these days, people see only what they want to see, or they twist the "facts" (so missing from this article, as many of you have pointed out) to try to make their case. This is just another case of scare tactics.

Most of us teaching at colleges and universities find ourselves trying our hardest to teach the basics of our respective disciplines and to motivate students who have learned little more in K-12 than how to pass multiple-choice accountability tests to engage more passionately with ideas -- regardless of the "rightness" or "leftness" of them -- than trying to proselytize based upon some particular political agenda. While certainly our own approaches to our material will inevitably color what we present regardless of our efforts just to "teach the facts," this is balanced by the positions of other faculty. I have yet to see an approved curriculum at a credentialed public institution where a student can spend four years taking courses in one subject area alone, or from one faculty member alone, or from one political perspective alone.
Technically, 'conservatism' only really means that people want things to stay the way they were during the first part of their own lives. It usually results in a tendency to view anything new as 'wrong', simply because it's new, and not what they're used to.

Among academics, this kind of closedmindedness and intellectual snobism goes hand in hand with that. Anything modern, or *gasp* even slightly popular, has to be viewed with contempt. A complete lack of understanding of the subject is of course, no deterrent.
What I find interesting is that she's criticizing a former op-ed contributer (who apparently encouraged new and less-canonized forms of study at university) for not backing up her thesis and providing examples, and yet I failed to see how she backed up her thesis at all. All she did was trot out the typical sort of "can you believe they teach this!" list of courses and calls for papers that that's meant to shock more traditional sorts. Usually such lists can indeed find some pretty weird stuff - if you look at all the millions of courses and paper calls and symposia by all the universities out there, of course you can find some pretty odd (or at least odd-sounding) ones. But, as others have mentioned, most of these actually seemed pretty interesting to me (abortion as performance art does seem a bit strange, but I'd want to defer making any judgments unless I knew the actual content of the course or paper). Courses or papers studying Latino literature, or social-protest literature, or Brokeback Mountain, or Michael Moore, or an Inconvenient Truth... Why not? The only thing she seems to find offensive is that these deal with subjects that represent a political philosophy (or culture, in the case of latino lirerature?) that she disagrees with. But commenting on and examining the ways these ideas show up in culture is a great task for students. And while courses on BtVS might admittedly seem strange to a non-viewer, we all know that there is in fact a rich subtext there worthy of analysis (though I tend to agree with Simon on such things sucking the enjoyment out...) - and I'd hate to see universities become nothing more than museums for old, accepted, canonized literature. That has a place, but so does pop culture, film, TV, etc. And all those media can be useful grist for analysis about gender, race, culture, violence, representation, etc.

I can certainly see there being an issue were a professor to actually require that a student's views mirror his or her own, but despite all the conservative outrage, I think that occurs much more rarely than they'd want people to think. And, of course, you'd assume the kids signing up for such courses are ones who actually have an interest in pop culture, or gender issues, or film, or TV, or whatever. It's not like they're being required to study Buffy instead of Milton.
Perhaps the demon who sucks the life out of popular culture could be paired with a Pedantry Slayer, played by Quentin Tarantino, whose scripts show how the discussion of subtext in popular culture (see the debate over Madonna's "Like a Virgin" that opens Reservoir Dogs, for example) can be entertaining enough to actually become popular culture.
I can see how students can find Nietzche boring, to the point of avoidance, but explaining Nietszche through Fight Club? That's significantly more entertaining. Even a look at whether the film got it right, or got it wrong. It doesn't even mean you need to watch the film, maybe just clips. Showing a Shakespearean tragedy through new methods is nothing new -- Kenneth Brannaugh did it with a movie years ago. Julia Stiles did it with "O" (Othello). Why should discussing elements of Shakespearean tragedy be any different if it is related to say, Buffy? In fact, an interesting assignment for students would be to have them take the classic Shakespeare tragedy and put Buffy characters into it, write a paper about how these characters would fit into a Shakespeare story, challenge students to fit characters with roles in a play that would fit their character in the show.
Good points Browncoat - I had missed the idea of using popular references to enliven discussion and engage students on the topic. Several of you who are in academia said much the same thing. And to be honest, I remember taking some classes in college because of the interesting ways that professors related the topic to modern ideas, issues or stories.

I was also very appreciative of the fact that in my small, liberal Liberal Arts College that professors graded me on what I wrote and how I wrote it rather than on whether it agreed with their worldview. Otherwise I'd never have graduated - maybe that's it, they passed me so that I'd take my libertarian arguments with me!
from Ms. Grabar's piece: "I sat in on such panels: "La Reconquista: The Application of Latina/o Studies to U.S. Literature(s) & Criticism" (where an up-and-coming young Latina professor gave instructions and sample syllabi on how to make a survey class on American literature into a class devoted to Latina/o literature and issues)..."


Oh, the horror!

SAJE: “Or, in other words, plain old racism couched in more sophisticated terms ?”


Yep. Smelt like that to me, too.

(And "up-and-coming"? Oh, the nerve of some people, who apparently don't know their places.)
At different points in time Albert Einstein and Noam Chomsky (just to name a couple) were up-and-coming professors.
Things like subtext and metaphors are like porn. You know them when you see them. And like porn, while some people like to buy the magazines, it's not necessary to understanding why nudity in interesting poses provokes such a viseral reponse in humanity in general.

To stay in salacious mode, when someone very attractive comes up and asks you for a light/the time/whether or not etchings are of any interest to you....when you respond you are responding to subtext. It's the secondary story of what's going on that's probably far more interesting than smoking/a clock/ or cheap art. Writers and various other creative types use subtext because apart from giving an excuse to move the story forward, they also know that apart from a few poor souls with mental illness that preclude them reading social signals...we as humans are hardwired for things happening as undercurrents.

When directors/artists/photographers/writers use things like symbols/metaphors/iconic imagery they do so because even there, there's a cultural expectation built in that when we see these things we get that something bigger in scope is being shown. When the World Trade Center went down, the most powerful image was not of the towers themselves, but of the many horrified sooty faces of many different ethnic backgrounds looking on that summed up exactly the scale of what we were truly seeing.

Understandings of these things help everything from discussions on culture, artist intent, to figuring out what a politician is really saying. Frankly, I have no issues regarding BTVS being taught in colleges and universities, I think it's importance goes far beyond a pop culture reference point to help students feel comfortable with concepts being taught.

But I can't help but wonder if the students are making the connection between their own pop culture and the larger sense of Culture.(Are they equipped to anymore?) Not too long ago I read a review on Amazon where someone was decrying Gone With The Wind, her take was that Scarlett had said she didn't love Rhett so Rhett obviously was stalking Scarlett. One has to wonder if this person had been schooled via the young adult novels(where Timmy is a torn teen trying to say no to drugs), TV(where even meaning has no meaning), high school(Shakespeare is offered to honors seniors)to college where a humanities courses often parades as Drug Use in Cinema, or yes, probably a great deal of the Buffy courses. There is a real sense that scholarly pursuit matters less than handing in a paper. I fear that Buffy exists only as a pop culture debit card for schools to use to get these kids into class. But if the kids never learn that their pop culture actually matters on many levels, then Buffy will simply be a way for people like the author to sneer and say they were right.
Yet, you know if most of us were to enroll in a course on Buffy, WE would revel in delving deeply into the series, its parallels in literature and history, it's use and revision of the English language (much as Shakespeare played with the language and coined new terms), etc. We do as much everyday on this site. Imagine the dynamic in a classroom filled with us discussing Buffy and philosophy or politics or linguistics or gay characters or whatever...

Of course there might be people who think they could take a course like that for easy credit, but it doesn't necessarily have to be light fare. I sometimes teach a course that could be accused of this, because we watch a movie or TV episode each week and discuss it afterward. The course, in spite of this, wasn't light or easy (in spite of using and episode of Buffy and one of Deep Space Nine in it). We get into workplace issues, labor history, women's issues, the issues of who dictates what culture is and isn't, what political forces influence and or control the arts, the cut-throat business world and how it affects the individuals in it, and much, much more. The course is not light fare or trivial in any way, and after reading my students' evaluations of the course, most of them said they learned a lot they hadn't known before taking it.

[ edited by Nebula1400 on 2006-08-05 00:23 ]
But I can't help but wonder if the students are making the connection between their own pop culture and the larger sense of Culture.(Are they equipped to anymore?) Not too long ago I read a review on Amazon where someone was decrying Gone With The Wind, her take was that Scarlett had said she didn't love Rhett so Rhett obviously was stalking Scarlett. One has to wonder if this person had been schooled via the young adult novels(where Timmy is a torn teen trying to say no to drugs), TV(where even meaning has no meaning), high school(Shakespeare is offered to honors seniors)to college where a humanities courses often parades as Drug Use in Cinema, or yes, probably a great deal of the Buffy courses. There is a real sense that scholarly pursuit matters less than handing in a paper. I fear that Buffy exists only as a pop culture debit card for schools to use to get these kids into class. But if the kids never learn that their pop culture actually matters on many levels, then Buffy will simply be a way for people like the author to sneer and say they were right.


I gotta say, ramses 2 that's a very tough question. Where do we draw the line and where do we find ourselves making pop culture our only culture, and being too distant from the traditional methods of teaching that were good enough for our mothers and fathers. Though, one should ask, the methods that are traditional to us now, were they traditional to those who came before us? Studying protest literature is interesting now, and we see social commentaries like Upton Sinclar's The Jungle and we can read satires, but was it so common back in the 50's when some of our parents were in school? Radical thought and idea may always be radical to those who are practicing it.

As for the people who really decry Gone with the Wind because Rhett must be stalking Scarlett, I think there's a good chance they're the ones scooping fries. Unfortunately for Mitsy, she might be in college but without some real use of her brain, she's not staying there for long. College is only as challenging as your brain will make it. If you're struggling in freshman-level classes, that is either the class being too challenging or you not making the effort. Sadly enough, usually it's the latter. I've seen people cheat in freshman level humanities. Cheating, in your first semester, just to survive and get a 2.6 GPA!

A lot of the problem with the higher ed system is that students are simply not putting their brains into it -- and sooner or later professors have to wonder what it will take for these certain kids to learn. The majority of kids do fine in challenging courses. It's these kids who latch onto pop culture as the only culture that are having difficulty in learning -- and you see a lot of that with kids whose babysitter was the TV, or even whose parent was the TV. Kids who were plunked in front of the TV instead of being given a book. You also see that with a lot of kids who aren't taught very well from an early age, kids who graduate high school with a 5th grade reading level. That just shouldn't happen -- but it does.

So we use pop culture to relate old ideas to new methods. But the problem is, there are those kids whose only culture is pop culture, and they need the most help.

The article writer should take a cue from what I'm about to do...provide documentation!

From the Washington Post:

Though struggling students might be able to read words on paper, experts said, they lack the ability to explain or analyze what the words mean.


In Maryland, 33 percent of incoming high school freshmen will need extra help in reading, according to results from the 2006 Maryland School Assessments released last month. In Virginia, 24 percent of last year's freshmen needed additional support. And according to 2005 test results in D.C. public schools, 71 percent of middle and high school students needed special help with reading.


71 percent of middle and high school students need help with reading?! That's just insane! The article talks about race and socioeconomic status as two of the reasons for the struggle. But books...unfortunately, the bigger issue is that education is sometimes traded in for a television and a few hours of peace.

Nebula1400 do you remember in "The Freshman" when Buffy sat in on that class by the snooty mean professor who yelled at Buffy, because she talked during his rant? And he was saying how they weren't there to watch movies for credit? He strikes me as the kind of professor we'd all hate but love at the same time.

[ edited by Browncoat on 2006-08-05 00:24 ]
I remember one of my favorite teachers in HS had us read Beowulf and then split us into groups and each group had to come up with a modern movie that used the same character archetypes and plot points. We then had to argue our case in front of the class and the group that made the best argument had their movie shown to the class. We all really enjoyed it and it brought Beowulf to life for us while asking us to think critically about pop culture. I'm pretty depressed by how stuffy and dull Chaucer and Shakespeare become in many formal classrooms. I mean, does anyone bother to tell the kids what all that "swiving" is about? No, they just read right over it and don't realize they just missed a huge bawdy joke. Is that really teaching a subject? To water it down through translation and omission? Instead lets all clap the beat of iambic pentameter and take the joy out of the language and the fun out of the story.
Also, pet peeve as a librarian here, this prof does not do her research. Although they did begin to relase the old Anita Blake stories in graphic novel format (in July of this year) they are novels and new ones are still being published. Maybe she just decided her reader's wouldn't have read them...

You need to log in to be able to post comments.
About membership.



joss speaks back home back home back home back home back home