Going Gaga

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This Halloween, Lady Gaga costumes were all the rage, but one fan has taken devotion to a whole new level.

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This fan, who has attended some 28 Lady Gaga concerts worldwide (so far!) and created an “adoring fan” website, happens to teach sociology and has developed a new sociology course, “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame” at the University of South Carolina, as reported in The New York Times (Oct. 29). It is often said that the tenure system is founded in academic freedom, allowing instructors to teach subjects without constraint, hopefully with the students’ best interests in mind. This example begs the question of where do you draw the line? Can a professor teach a course based on a personal obsession (or are all courses taught that way?) And what defines an academic pursuit? Is Lady Gaga an appropriate topic for a college course?


What are students expected to learn from the course? According to the instructor, “Students should also have garnered empirical knowledge of some of the most important social dimensions of fame as exemplified by the case of Lady Gaga.” Don’t get me wrong. I believe it is possible to teach a course focused on a superstar, as a way to connect to students using something that they can relate to in their daily lives – as long as the subject itself, in this case sociology, is the core purpose of the discussions.

A new academic, peer-reviewed journal has emerged, “Gaga Stigmata” that focuses on all things Gaga. Authors are invited to address the following, from a scholarly point of view:

How does Gaga’s art function, and what meaning does it produce? Why do Lady Gaga and her project matter? Critical writings may also consider and explore in depth the following:

* Gaga’s relationship to performance/conceptual art
* Gaga’s art and its dialogue with social issues (feminism, gay rights, gender, sexuality, race, etc.)
* Gaga and fashion
* Gaga and the disabled
* Close readings/dialogues of Gaga’s videos
* Gaga and the grotesque
* Gaga’s art and its relationship to post-humanism
* Gaga’s art and its relationship to technology (and bio-technology)
* Gaga’s art and its relationship to consumerism/capitalism
* Gaga’s art and its relationship to evolutionary biology
* Parallels or dialogue between Gaga’s art and the work of other artists in all fields
* Gaga’s art and its relationship to (dialogue with) Warhol
* Gaga and gender theory
* Gaga and postmodern theory
* Gaga and psychoanalysis
* Gaga and the spectacle

Focusing on superstars in academia is nothing new. There is a veritable body of academic literature devoted to Madonna, ranging from books to journal articles. I am not a musician or a musicologist, but I question the validity of a hypothesis that Madonna’s musical compositions are based upon “male” and “female” notes, as suggested in one thesis. Academic books devoted to Madonna include “Madonna: Bawdy and Soul” (University of Toronto Press, 1997) and “Female Gender Trouble: Pursuing the Perverse with Madonna” (Doubleday, 1991). This is but a small sample of the products of academic research on one female superstar.

What do you think? Is this going too far? Is it an example of a professor using a personal obsession to teach his students, or is it a creative way to teach his subject by connecting to students using an attention-grabbing superstar?

Trick or treat!

Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” has been parodied recently as “Lab Romance“.

A version of this article was originally published on The Huffington Post.

Comments

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    December 1, 2010

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  2. #2 f
    December 2, 2010

    A friend who was taking a fourth year art course relayed me the story of a girl who did a presentation on Lady Gaga. To sum up, she claimed that Lady Gaga was extremely talented and original, and her style of work was unique. She basically got lambasted by her peers when they pointed out that no, Lady Gaga’s style of doing things was actually not unique at all, and people like Michael Jackson, had already done much of the stuff that she’s done in her performances and attempts at fashion, etc.

    Lady Gaga’s simply this generation’s fad pop star. There’s lots of other performers who came before her that essentially did the same thing she’s doing, so to focus on her purely as if she’s some kind of artistic pioneer is, to put it mildly, unbelievably shortsighted.

    Amanda Palmer’s a better artist than she’ll ever be anyways.

  3. #3 K.M.
    May 9, 2011

    I think it is ridiculous that the professor would center the course around Lady Gaga. It is one thing to use something she has done as an example, but to have the subject of the course actually be Lady Gaga is not necessary.