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Major Stars — College Courses Based on Celebrities

Jay Z raps he hails from the school of hard knocks, while wife Beyoncé warbles about teaching in her “Schoolin’ Life” tune, and as it turns out, both musicians are the muses for some pop culture-minded professors. Take notes — these are real college courses that base their syllabi on celebrities:

WHO: Jay Z

COURSE TITLE: The Sociology of Hip-Hop: The Theodicy of Jay Z

SCHOOL: Department of Sociology at Georgetown University


WHO: Beyoncé

COURSE TITLE: Feminist Perspectives: Politicizing Beyoncé

SCHOOL: Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutger University in New Jersey

DESCRIPTION: Beyoncé Knowles is known as many things: singer, songwriter, actress, performer, wife, and, mother.  But, few take her seriously as a political figure. This course will attempt to think about our contemporary U.S. society and its current class, racial, gender, and sexual politics through the music and career of Beyoncé. On the surface, she might deploy messages about race, gender, class, and sexuality that appear conservative in relation to social norms, but during this course we will ask: how does she also challenge our very understanding of these categories? How does Beyoncé push the boundaries of these categories to make space for and embrace other perhaps more “deviant” bodies, desires, and/or politics? We will attempt to position Beyoncé as a progressive, feminist, and even queer figure through close examination of her music alongside readings on political issues, both contemporary and historical. We will juxtapose Beyoncé’s music with writings on black feminism and the black female experience in the U.S. (and beyond), to attempt to answer: can Beyoncé’s music be seen as a blueprint for progressive social change? In addition to close analyses of her songs and music videos, we will also look at related artists who, like Beyoncé, politicize the black female experience in the U.S. through their music and challenge society’s normative conceptions of what it means to be a black woman.

WHO: Miley Cyrus

COURSE TITLE: The Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender, and Media

SCHOOL: Sociology Department at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York

DESCRIPTION: The current media frenzy focused on Miley Cyrus (her public image, her music, and more) highlights the ways in which intersectional identities are shaped by pop culture and mass media. In this special topics course, we will examine core issues of intersectionality theory, looking at the interplay among race, class, and gender, as well as taking a feminist critique of media and sociology of media approach to the Miley “problem.”

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WHO: The Beatles

COURSE TITLE: The Beatles, Popular Music & Society (More than a class, it’s a Master’s Degree!)

SCHOOL: Liverpool Hope University in Liverpool, England

DESCRIPTION: This M.A. will examine the significance of the music of The Beatles in the construction of identities, audiences, ethnicities and industries, and localities; by doing so it will suggest ways to understand popular music as a social practise, focusing attention on issues such as the role of music in the construction of regional identities, concepts of authenticity, aesthetics, meaning, value, performance, and the use of popular music as a discursive evocation of place. Furthermore, in a consideration of popular music as a text, popular music semiotics will also be employed.

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WHO: Tupac Shakur

COURSE TITLE: Topics in American Culture: The Textual Appeal of Tupac Shakur

SCHOOL: Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Washington

DESCRIPTION: Explores a particular topic in American culture that highlights the methodological tools needed to integrate the interpretation of cultural texts, including literature, film, music, and art, with their historical contexts. This class explores the philosophical, historical and literary influences of the late rapper and activist, Tupac Shakur. We will engage with the topic and themes of the course in a variety of forms including the close-reading of texts, creative writing, writing about visual culture, etc.

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