Pop Culture Extra Credit: College Edition

A couple months ago, my alma mater, Emerson College, announced that starting in the Fall of 2016, there will be a new major available to students – a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Comedic Arts, AKA a degree in comedy. Emerson is a communication and arts school where being a musical theatre major doesn’t make you a nerd and Quidditch is the top sport. We’re known for having unusual or quirky things that you wouldn’t find at a “normal” college. When I first heard the news, I thought, ‘Oh, that makes sense’. The school already offers classes on things like puppetry and “Queer TV After Ellen Came Out”, so yeah, a comedy major sounds about right.

However, it was a much bigger question mark to the rest of the world who went to schools that had classes like Accounting and football teams. Emerson even got a mention from Seth Meyers who suggested students can “just take your tuition money and burn it in front of your parents.” Fair.

So with kids heading back to college over the next few weeks, I thought that there must be other schools out there that offer odd, or pop culture-centric classes. Luckily, the American educational system did not let me down. Here are just a few courses you can take right now – did you guys take any weird classes in college?

Emerson College {Boston, MA}

TV Creators: Understanding the Whedonesque

Description:

This course will use the career of Joss Whedon to introduce students to the variety of positions in the entertainment industry and their potential for fulfilling and creative work… By examining his work at various stages, students will better understand auteur theory, modern industrial entertainment production, and artistic production across media. Works covered include: Roseanne, Alien: Resurrection, Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a film and TV series, Angel, Firefly and Serenity, Dollhouse, The Cabin in the Woods, The Avengers, Much Ado About Nothing, Buffy: Season Eight, and Astonishing X-Men.

Class Notes:

Surprisingly enough, I’m not too familiar with the Whedonverse. The closest I’ve ever gotten is watching Dr. Horrible multiple times over. Back in my day, this class was specifically about dissecting Buffy, and not any of Joss Whedon’s other works. My friend (who shall not be named because in her words, ‘I have a reputation to uphold’) took the Buffy class and had this to say about it: “12-year-old me couldn’t believe she was watching one of her favorite shows in class to achieve a real college degree, but it was surprisingly one of the most demanding classes (work load wise) that I have ever taken.” As I think we’re going to find with the rest of these courses, it may sound silly at first, but it’s probably really interesting and a lot of work.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology {Cambridge, MA}

Topics in Comparative Media: American Pro Wrestling

well this is frightening

Description:

This class will explore the cultural history and media industry surrounding the masculine drama of professional wrestling. Beginning with wrestling’s roots in sport and carnival, the class examines how new technologies and changes in the television industry led to evolution for pro wrestling style and promotion and how shifts in wrestling characters demonstrate changes in the depiction of American masculinity. The class will move chronologically in an examination of how wrestling characters and performances have changed, focusing particularly on the 1950s to the present. Students may have previous knowledge of wrestling but are not required to, nor are they required to be a fan (although it is certainly not discouraged, either).

Class Notes:

Exactly what major is this class fulfilling? I particularly like the disclaimer at the end. ‘You don’t have to be a fan of WWE… except you should probably be if you’re spending money on this class.”

Rutgers University {New Jersey}

Feminist Perspectives: Politicizing Beyoncé

Description:

Calling all the single ladies: this exploration into Queen Bey’s influence on feminism, race, gender, and culture helps students become more aware of the way in which pop culture shapes society. Most classes that are named for celebrities deal with sociologies of fame or psychologies of human behavior, but Kevin Allred’s version zeroes in on politics. By juxtaposing Beyoncé’s song lyrics with readings by distinguished black leaders like Sojourner Truth and Octavia Butler, students ask and attempt to answer the question, “Can Beyoncé’s music be seen as a blueprint for progressive social change?” Yet the more appropriate question may be: Who runs the world? Beyoncé.

Class Notes:

Sign. Me. Up. The person who wrote this description is clearly a member of the BeyHive, so that’s already a plus. But like previously mentioned, this class sounds hard as shiiiit. But that’s what you get when you break down the genius that is Queen B.

Georgia Regents College {Augusta, Georgia}

Good Kids, Mad Cities

Description:

Taking its name from Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 album, this course will examine the role of urban living on the development of young people. In Kendrick’s case, “the streets sure to release the worst side of my best” (Lamar 58). By studying and analyzing various literature, films, and K. Dot’s album, we will consider what effects our characters’ surroundings have on who they become as adults. The cities we will be visiting, in our imaginations, are Dublin, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Class Notes:

This class should be offered at more colleges, TBH.

Middlebury College {Middlebury, Vermont}

Urban America & Serial Television: Watching The Wire

Description:

Frequently hailed as a masterpiece of American television, The Wire shines a light on urban decay in contemporary America, creating a dramatic portrait of Baltimore’s police, drug trade, shipping docks, city hall, public schools, and newspapers over five serialized seasons. In this course, we will watch and discuss all of this remarkable-and remarkably entertaining-series, and place it within the dual contexts of contemporary American society and the aesthetics of television. This is a time-intensive course with a focus on close viewing and discussion, and opportunities for critical analysis and research about the show’s social contexts and aesthetic practices.

Class Notes:

I would take this class for one reason, the same one reason I watch the entirety of The Wire in the first place: Mr. Idris Elba. God bless.

Colorado College {Colorado Springs, Colorado}

Queen Bees, WannaBees, and Mean Girls

Description:

Queen Bees, WannaBees, and Mean Girls explores the means and motives behind why women seek authority and the actions they are willing to take in order to hold onto it. Students will examine this concept through the use of literary works and movies, such as the 2004 film Mean Girls.

Class Notes:

Temporarily ignoring the fact that first sentence makes it seem like this class is slightly sexist, it would be interesting to take a look into this culture of mean girls. And obviously, the class would have to be held on Wednesdays.

American University {Washington, D.C.}

Contemporary American Culture: Hunger Games

Description:

The Hunger Games trilogy is a publishing phenomenon that has dramatically impacted American popular culture. Using the series as a case study, this course examines the interplay of class, politics, ethics, and marketing. Topics covered include oppression, feminism, food deserts, rebellion, the publishing industry, and social media marketing. 

Class Notes:

Hunger Games isn’t just for kids, y’all. I also read “food deserts” as “food desserts” and immediately started to think what significance desserts had in the books, scouring my brain to remember Katniss’ fave food – then I realized it said “deserts” as in, the lack of food pretty much everywhere besides the Capitol. The Hunger Game isn’t just for kids, y’all.

Georgetown University {Washington, D.C.}

Philosophy and Star Trek

Description:

Star Trek is very philosophical. What better way, then, to do philosophy, but to watch Star Trek, read philosophy and hash it all out in class? That’s the plan. This course will center on topics in metaphysics that come up again and again in Star Trek. In conjunction with watching Star Trek, we will read excerpts from the writings of great philosophers, extract key concepts and arguments and then analyze those arguments. Questions we will wrestle with include:

I. Is time travel possible? Could you go back and kill your grandmother? What is time?
II. What is the relation between your mind and your brain–are they separate items or identical? Can persons survive death? Could a machine someday think? Is Data a person?
III. What is a person? Must you have the same body to be you? Same memories? When do we have one person, and when do we have two (think of the episodes where people “split” or “fuse”).
IV. Do you have free will, or are you determined by the laws of nature to do exactly what you wind up doing (while believing you have free will)? Or both? What is freewill?

Class Notes:

This description is VERY thorough. Not only that, but seems questionable. For instance, why is one of the questions, “Could you go back and kill your grandmother?”. First of all, it should be “Would”. Second of all, what? Is this a plot point in the Star Trek series? If yes, WHY? Also, “What is a person?” ??? This could be a very deep and depressing conversation I personally wouldn’t want to have in a classroom setting.

Georgia State University {Atlanta, Georgia}

American Poetry: Kanye vs. Everybody

kanye vs

Description:

According to the syllabus, Kanye makes for a useful lens through which to “investigate the continuous development of African American poetry and poetics—the uses of language and literature to represent blackness and Americanness in particular—observing shifting meanings in and of the text with important considerations of race, class, gender, and sexuality.” Throughout the semester, students decode Kanye’s work and interviews, which Dr. Heath believes help draw a line from the Harlem Renaissance to the black nationalist era to current-day hip-hop.

Class Notes:

Can’t tell if Kanye would love this course or disagree with it so much he’ll interrupt during class to say just how much he hates it. Is that a dated reference? Him and TSwift are all good now? Ok.

University at Buffalo {Buffalo, New York}

Breaking Down “Breaking Bad”

Description:

“Breaking Bad” was one of the most spectacular narrative achievements in television. Its five seasons comprised some 60 hours of a single narrative arc, something no film or television program (cable or commercial) has ever accomplished… In this seminar, we’ll take a close look at all the components of the series; we’ll talk about what was done, how it was done, why it worked. There is one prerequisite: that members of the seminar have seen the series before the seminar’s first meeting. We’re going to be studying it, not greeting it. We’ll look at some segments during the semester, but only so we can deconstruct the work. I’ll expect participants to do class presentations on different aspects of the epic, and a term paper on a topic of their choice.

Class Notes:

Unlike the American wrestling course, watching the series IS a pre req to being in this class. Luckily, most people on this planet have watched Breaking Bad. There’s gotta be something meta about teaching a class about a show that features a chemistry teacher who isn’t the greatest teacher.

University of California, Berkeley {Berkeley, California}

Arguing with Judge Judy: Popular ‘Logic’ on TV Judge Shows”

Description:

TV “Judge” shows have become extremely popular in the last 3-5 years. A fascinating aspect of these shows from a rhetorical point of view is the number of arguments made by the litigants that are utterly illogical, or perversions of standard logic, and yet are used over and over again. For example, when asked “Did you hit the plaintiff?” respondents often say, “If I woulda hit him, he’d be dead!” This reply avoids answering “yes” or “no” by presenting a perverted form of the logical strategy called “a fortiori” argument “from the stronger” in Latin. The seminar will be concerned with identifying such apparently popular logical fallacies on “Judge Judy” and “The People’s Court”and discussing why such strategies are so widespread. It is NOT a course about law or “legal reasoning” Students who are interested in logic, argument, TV, and American popular culture will probably be interested in this course. I emphasize that it is NOT about the application of law or the operations of the court system in general.

Class Notes:

As the lawyer of this Cookies + Sangria duo, I’m sure Molly can support or oppose this much better than I can, but in theory, this class actually sounds more interesting than it should? Although I hate watching court show, I’m sure there’s a psychology to it that can be studied. Or just a reminder of how stupid Americans can be.

 

Kleenex Owes Michael B. Jordan A Lot of Money

If you don’t know who the guy above is, you need to reevaluate your life choices (and also reference my HBM post from a while ago). Michael B. Jordan has been in a bunch of critically and fan acclaimed TV series and movies, but for some reason has never received the true recognition that he deserves. In fact, he’s been acting since he was 12 years old, and managed to be one of the few child actors who has not only been successful, but hasn’t gone down the Lindsay Lohan/Amanda Bynes route.

Michael has especially proven he’s at his best when it comes to dramas, pulling out performances that tug at your heartstrings to the point where you’ll cry until you’re out of tears and then you remember that one scene and you cry all over again. Of course, it’s a testament to the projects he chooses to do and the writing of said projects, but really, it takes a special kind of actor to make you weep uncontrollably. Here are a few of my favorite performances by MBJ that have made be question my sanity after shedding so many tears for fictional characters (save Fruitvale Station).

The Wire

I just started watching The Wire a few weeks ago, and unfortunately knew the outcome of Michael’s character, Wallace (obvs, spoiler alert). Michael was just 15 years old when played a smart kid who ended up on ‘the wrong side of the tracks’ in season one. Wallace spent his days as a drug dealer in the low-income projects in Baltimore, but you could tell he had a heart, especially when he was taking care of the younger kids in the community. He tried to leave the dangerous world behind and even gave the police details about the drug organization, but once the leaders found out about his snitching, they ordered Wallace’s friends to kill him. What’s so heartbreaking about this is not just the fact that he died, but that he had so much potential. Michael played him with so much hope, so much desire to want to be better, and the last few moments of his life live on much longer than his 12 short episodes on the series.

Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights was the program that introduced me to this gem of a man. Although Michael joined the cast for the last two seasons, he made a huge impact on the show when the characters’ (and fans’) loyalties switched from the Dillion Panthers to the East Dillon Lions. When Coach Taylor  moved from a school with literally the best football team in the state to a school with no football team at all, he had to scramble to put together a group of guys who not only could play the damn sport, but wanted to do it in the first place. Someone who kind of involuntarily became the star quarterback player was Michael’s character Vince Howard. He was at his last straw with the law, and in exchange for not locking him up in jail, he promised Coach he’d play for the Lions.  While Vince’s father was off in jail and his mom a drug addict, he had no real parental supervision or role models to look up to – until Coach came along. Eric Taylor may have been a father figure to a lot of his players, but none more so than to Vince. In this scene in the fifth season, Vince is feeling a lot of pressure to essentially, be an adult. Coach, with his infinite wisdom, helps him out.

Eric Taylor: I first met you, you were climbing out of a police car. People said you were a punk, you’d never last in the field. You know they still believe that?

Vince Howard: Screw them. I work hard for everything I’ve got!

Eric Taylor: I know you do and you ought to be damned proud about that. I am. I’m proud of you. Your teammates are proud of you. It’s about character. It’s about striving to be better than everybody else.

Vince Howard: Coach, my dad just got out of prison. He’s staying with me in my house… and I can’t stand him. My mom, she asked me to forgive him. To be ‘better’. And you’re asking me to be ‘better’. I don’t know how to be ‘better’ because he never taught me how! He never taught me how to be ‘better’! He’s not around!

Vince Howard: And I’m supposed to be ‘better’ than them? I’m supposed to be ‘better’?

Eric Taylor: Listen to me. I said you need to strive to better than everyone else. I didn’t say you needed to be better than everyone else. But you gotta try. That’s what character is. It’s in the try.

Parenthood

Because it’s hard to turn down Jason Katims and also because Jason Katims is one of the greatest TV writers ever, Michael had a fantastic arc on Parenthood as Alex, the troubled teen turned responsible adult who dated Haddie and her horrible hair. I like to think that in some weird Katims universe, Alex is just a grown up version of Vince Howard. Alex is a recovering alcoholic who emancipated himself from his parents when he was 16 (the age of Haddie when they start dating), but now runs a local homeless shelter. Naturally, Haddie’s parents aren’t too excited about Haddie dating a 19 year old who attends AA and has his own apartment, but they come to love him as much as Haddie loves him. Alas, their course as a couple ran out, and surprisingly, it wasn’t their breakup that brought tears to everyone’s eyes – it was his breakup with Haddie’s mom, Kristina (played by the Emmy-snubbed Monica Potter) that felt like we were simultaneously breaking up with him too.

Alex: I just want to say I’m sorry for bringing you guys into my mess. I really regret that, Mrs. Braverman. I really do. I know that when we first started dating I wasn’t exactly what you guys expected.

Kristina: We’ve gotten past all that stuff. You’re like our family.

Alex: I know you probably already know this but you’re a really good mom. I lost mine a  long time ago, and I feel really lucky to have gotten to know you, Mrs. Braverman.

Kristina: You’re a good kid, You’ve been through a lot. And we love you.

Alex: I love you guys too. Can you just tell your husband I said thank you for everything? Tell Max I said keep working on his jump shot, okay?

Fruitvale Station

If you see one movie this weekend, make sure it’s Fruitvale Station. No doubt this will break your heart into a million pieces, but now, more than ever, Americans everywhere need to see this film. Not to mention, if the above examples haven’t convinced you that Michael B. Jordan is one of the best actors of our generation (and deserves all the awards), then this will.

Based on a true story, Michael portrays Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old two time convicted felon, who’s turning his life around in hopes for a better future for his girlfriend in daughter. The movie mainly focuses on the day leading up to the moment he was fatally shot and killed by a BART (subway) officer in San Francisco who believed he was involved in a brawl that broke out on a packed train. And it was all caught on camera.

Thinking about it, Oscar is the adult version of Wallace (basically MBJ likes to play the same character evolved over time). Oscar is someone who’s had a rough past, and just when he tries to leave it all behind, injustice occurs. First-time director Ryan Coogler could have easily made Oscar seem like an ex-con who was killed and had it coming. But he and Michael decided to give Oscar Grant the legacy he deserves – the lasting impression that he was a good boyfriend, father, son. He humanizes Oscar so that viewers don’t even get a chance to think that he possibly could be in the wrong and “deserved” to get shot. Plain and simple: an innocent man was pulled off a train and shot by a transit officer who thought he reached for his taser and not his actual gun. And Michael plays it in such a way that makes your heart sink into your body the second you hear that gunshot. It’s as if that one sound was the sound of all his potential, everything that he could have been, a better boyfriend, a better father, a better son – all gone in an instant.

And I suppose this goes without saying, but make sure you bring some tissues with you. You’ll need them.

Actors That Have Tricked You Into Thinking They’re American

Listen, we can’t all have a keen ear about these things. It happens to the best of us. One minute, you’re trusting the hardass CIA deputy director to Claire Danes, and the next thing you know he’s a classically trained British chap, who (semi-spoiler?) may or may not be a bad guy . What’s with all these actors and their constant lying? Shouldn’t we have a right to know if the people on my TV are American citizens?!?

Well my friends, I’m here to help you find out the truth. We don’t deserved to be lied to any longer and it’s coming to an end right now.

Hugh Laurie

British <- click to reveal their real accents!

Let’s start off with a pretty obvious one. Most people know him from House. I didn’t really watch House, but I had seen him and his convicing dribble as a psychopathic doctor. But when House became really popular, I realized I had seen Hugh Laurie before his breakout role. BECAUSE – he was the guy who sat next to Rachel Green on the plane when she was heading to London to break up Ross’s wedding. Hugh Laurie saying “Pheebs” is all you need in life.

Idris Elba

British

tall drink of water, amirite ladies??

First of all, smokeshow. Second of all, I was introduced to Idris when he was guest starring on The Office as Charles Miner. Incidentally, the gals of the office all fawned on him, especially Kelly & Angela (for some reason) that it was like they were thinking exactly what every woman at home was thinking. Then I found out he is British and it made him even hotter.

Ed Westwick

British

“I’m Chuck Bass.” Now imagine that with a British accent. The part was always an American, but when Ed came in, as seen in the video linked above, they asked him to use his natural accent as well. And for some reason, it’s just so much better as an America.

Damian Lewis

British

Nick Brody, terrorist? If you’re not caught up with Homeland, I won’t answer that question. But one thing we d know is that while he may not be a terrorist, he’s most certainly not originally from the U.S. And to make your mind blown even more, he’s married to Helen McCrory, the woman who played Narcissa Malfoy in Harry Potter!

David Harewood

British

This lit’rally blew my mind when I found out he wasn’t an American. I mean the deputy director of the CIA’s counterterrorism department isn’t actually from the U.S.?! Isn’t that illegal or something? This dude went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. No wonder he’s successfully tricked us into thinking he’s one of us.

Matthew Rhys

Welsh

Oh Kevin Walker. You were 1/2 of one of my fave gay TV couples of all time with Scott MacFarlane’s Scotty Wandell. After five seasons with the crazy Walker family in California, he moved on to being a Russian spy in the 1980s with Felicity in The Americans. He’s played such convincing Americans that I still can’t believe his accent when he starts talking.

Rachel Griffiths

Australian

Speaking of Brothers and Sisters, Matthew’s on-screen sister is also not born and bred in Southern California. Her other iconic roles in Six Feet Under and the cousin in My Best Friend’s Wedding were so flawlessly American that I legit almost forgot to to put her on this list.

Kevin McKidd

Scottish

McDream, McSteamy, McKidd? Surprise – Cristina Yang’s on-again, off-again hubby has a seriously thick Scottish accent. Like they recruited him to be a voice in Brave.

Jesse Spencer

Australian

Hugh Laurie wasn’t the only trickster on House. Smokeshow Jesse Spencer is now off being a smokeshow in Chicago Fire. He doesn’t even have to talk to get my attention. SIDENOTE: JESSE PLAYS VIOLIN.  AND SINGS. LIKE LEGIT. HELLO?!

Sam Palladio & Clare Bowen

British & Australian

What’s more American that being a country music star? Nothing (ok, maybe being President.). Which is why I feel jipped knowing that Nashville’s power couple are BOTH not ‘Mericans!

Tammin Sursok & Sasha Pieterse

Australian & South African

These two don’t really get along on Pretty Little Liars,  but they do have one thing in common – they’re not originally from the U.S. Maybe that’s part of the reason why they’re toururing the PLLs??! Could they actually be working together? OMG  I STILL HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S GOING ON IN THIS SHOW.

Georgia King

British

Most convincing American accent by a female actress goes to Georgia King in The New Normal – RIP. You should’ve watched it when we told you to.

Dominic West

British

I’m currently watching The Wire for the first time, and did not put it together that Dominic West, who plays Jimmy McNulty on the show, is the same guy from 300, John Carter, and The Hour. AND he’s British? Never would’ve guessed.