Former Disney star turned rebellious teen pop singer Miley Cyrus has been making the news for everything from her twerking abilities to lighting up blunts on stage. More recently, she’s made headlines in a more surprising way: you can now find Miley on the course curriculum at Skidmore College in upstate New York. And no, this isn’t a belated April Fool’s Day joke. This is a legitimate course offering and it’s called “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender and Media.” The class will be taught by visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology Carolyn Chernoff, and according to the curriculum, Miley Cyrus “provides rich examples for analyzing aspects of intersectional identities and media representation.”
Some of the listed examples include uses of culture across race, class and gender; bisexuality, queerness and the female body; the rise of the Disney princess; as well as gender stratification and the hyper-commodification of childhood. According to Chernoff, who also created the course, “I created it as a creative and rigorous way of look at what’s relevant about sociology and sociology theory. Miley Cyrus is a surprisingly complicated cultural moment.”
Chernoff was inspired after watching Miley’s infamous VMA performance with Robin Thicke – but if you think that the class is going to involve listening to “Wrecking Ball” and practicing your best twerk – think again. Students in the course should have an introductory background in sociology and will have lots of writing assignments to look forward to. And if you’re looking for multiple-choice exams, you’ve come to the wrong place. Professor Chernoff told ABC News: “Unfortunately, the way we talk about female pop stars and female bodies, class matters, gender matters, sexuality and sexual performance matters, but race matters a lot [too] and the way we talk about white pop stars is quite different than how we talk about the bodies of women of color. [Cyrus] complicates representations of the female body in pop culture in some ways that are good, bad and ugly.”
If Miley isn’t your cup of tea, you may want to consider enrolling in “Politicizing Beyoncé,” a course at Rutgers University that uses the singer’s music and career as a means to “explore American race, gender and sexual politics.” Kevin Allred, the professor teaching the course, told Rutgers Today that the goal of his course and ones that are similar is to “shift students away from simply being consumers of media toward thinking more critically about what they’re engaging on a regular basis.”
The Beyoncé course won’t focus on Beyoncé’s political views, however. Those enrolled in the course will spend time discussing a wide variety of topics including the singer’s personal brand, her skin-baring outfits, and her attention-grabbing performances. Allred has said, “She certainly pushes boundaries. While other artists are simply releasing music, she’s creating a grand narrative around her life, her career, and her persona.”
Other universities across the country are offering equally unique courses based around various musical artists. Some of the classes that are available include “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame” (University of Southern California), “The Textual Appeal of Tupac Shakur” (University of Washington), “California, Here We Come” (on The O.C and self-aware culture in the 21st century at Duke University), “South Park and Contemporary Social Issues (McDaniel College), as well as “The Sociology of Hip-Hop: The Urban Theocity of Jay Z” (Georgetown University). With all of these different course offerings (and more) that are available, do any of the above interest you?
Or is there a particular musical artist or television show that you would like to see listed on an upcoming college curriculum?