Yes, I know a fair number of my readers think that courses on vampires, Batman, and the like are perfectly valid things to have at a good university, and I’m not averse to academic studies of popular culture. But there are limits.
This is one of them. A student at the University of Chicago has organized a one-day academic conference on (Ceiling Cat help us) the television show “Jersey Shore.” I have watched bits of it in hotel rooms, and it’s about as dire a show as it comes: an MTV “reality documentary” about a pack of drunken, sex-obsessed youngsters who booze, brawl, and bonk their way through various cities. The student, who must have gotten university funding for this venture, explains:
“I think it’s very important for academics not to restrict their work to so-called “high culture,” but to seriously engage with popular culture as well,” Showalter said via email. “The images and sounds of pop culture surround us and entertain us, and for those reasons alone they are deserving of study. With regards to ‘Jersey Shore’ specifically, I believe the show is both a fascinating and innovative example of reality television, as well as a useful lens through which to examine many of the issues that animate contemporary life: problems around gender roles, ethnic identity, celebrity, the influence of mass media, the notion of ‘reality’ itself, and so on.”
The response on campus has been positive overall, according to Showalter, who said the conference part of the “uncommon” tradition U of C prides itself on. So far, the conference will include talks from University of Michigan Professor Candace Moore, University of Western Ontario Professor Alison Hearn and Gawker’s Brian Moylan. . .
. . . “I hope the conference attendees gain a new appreciation for Jersey Shore as a cultural document, realize that even shows that are derided as vulgar or lowbrow have important things to tell us, and learn to be more thoughtful consumers of pop culture themselves. I hope the conference inspires other students to fully pursue their academic interests, no matter how unusual they may seem to others.”
Oh, and for the record, Snooki is Showalter’s favorite cast member, though he said Pauly D. always has the best lines.
Where have we failed? Is this a good way to spend university money (or students’ time) on broadening our academic horizons? I don’t think so.
On the other hand, since I’m already here maybe I can give a paper, too. How about this: “Gym, Tan, and Laplace: How The Situation uses science to attract women.”