Why College No Longer Blows: Television and Brrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnssss

Creative Commons Photo by Jackie Kingsbury.

There’s a story by Debra Levi Holtz in today’s SF Chronicle about a new course at UC Berkeley that analyzes AMC’s Mad Men. As Holtz puts it:

The class is part of UC Berkeley’s DeCal program, a student-run education undertaking that allows students to create and facilitate their own classes on a variety of often unconventional subjects. Considered a unique and “democratic” aspect of Berkeley’s undergraduate program, the program offers 150 courses each semester for up to two units of academic credit on topics that range from Harry Potter and “Sex and the City” to numismatics and swing dance.

For what it’s worth, I was a guest lecturer at DeCal classes at UC Berkeley several times over the years. I think this stuff rocks. But the article makes kind of a lot out of the “unusual” idea:

During the weekly class, the TV show is given the treatment normally reserved for works of literature. Words like “archetype” and “tragic” pop up frequently as students analyze Mad Men’s glamorous yet troubled characters. The class explores the politics and culture of the early ’60s and discusses themes such as the role of women in the workplace, class and society, marriage and family.

…which tells me that Levi has never talked about Scarface with coke-addled screenwriters or hung out talking Firefly with pseudo-intellectual science fiction geeks, or guys writing zombie apocalypse novels based on Lysistrata.

American Studies professors and people who smoke weed have been tearing pop literature and television apart for decades, doing wacky things like comparing Forbidden Planet to The Tempest and Star Trek episodes to Shelley’s Adonaïs — somebody stop them! They’re going cuh-raaaaayyyyzeeee!

Just how vast a No Man’s Land between literature and entertainment does the mainstream media think there is? Let’s not act like we’re reinventing the wheel here, shall we?

To my way of thinking, this stuff is a positive trend, but the fact that mainstream sources keep reporting that college courses deconstructing pop culture properties are somehow suspect — and need to be justified through extensive rationalization — makes me worry that the people who write newspaper articles believe what they see on TV neither has subtext nor is worthy of assault from a critical view.

Do people who write for the media actually believe what they see in the media?

And that, my friends, is a terrifying thought.

Oh, but did somebody mention zombies a minute ago? Yeah, funny they should come up around Casa Techyum, ’cause, like, that never happens. Did you know Professor Arnold Blumberg is teaching a zombie class in the Literature department this semester at the University of Baltimore? No shit!!!!  Now THAT sumbitch gets a Techyum high-cinco, not so much for teaching a zombie class as for bringing a severed head to class on the first day, an event the Baltimore Sun regales us with:

Arnold Blumberg plops the zombie head on a table at the front of the small theater.

“I brought a friend,” says the University of Baltimore professor, clad in an unbuttoned black shirt adorned with red skulls.

Blumberg is meeting his class for the first time and it seems appropriate that he greet them beside “old Worm Eye,” undead star of the 1979 Italian cult film “Zombi 2.”

It turns out he’s not just your garden-variety lit professor who teaches a zombie class. He’s a garden-variety lit professor who teaches a zombie class, wrote a book about zombies and a series of Dr. Who fan merchandise guides, and while we’re at it who blogs about science fiction, monster movies, and the politics of the word “geek” at his ATBPublishing blog.

The Baltimore zombie class got Prof. Blumberg coverage in the BBC, the Washington Post (who topped their article with the 28 Days Later trailer), CNET (which headlined theirs “Zombies to fill brains…” — DOH!!), and MSNBC (whose article mentions Georgetown’s internet-famous “The Philosophy of Star Trek” course and MIT’s “American Pro Wrestling” and soap opera courses) — among many others.

As mentioned, Blumberg’s class is taught in the literature department, but was at least partially inspired by the University of Baltimore’s new Pop-Culture minor.

Needless to say, government security around Baltimore has been tight since Blumberg’s class started. But a satellite-relay connection from Techyum offices deep in Cheyenne mountain to a Japanese surveillance satellite produced this photo of a few of the students lumbering out of Blumberg’s class:

Creative Commons satellite surveillance photo by David Kent, Flickr user Simple Pleasures.

…well, at least the crisis has helped them find Jesus.

Seriously, this is a wave sweeping the intellectual life of our nation faster than pink underwear! Don’t delay!!! Act now!!! Prepare, before these infectiously thought-provoking classes reach your institutional learning facility!!! Educate yourself, read up on the issue, and get your toys ready! Be sure to put out some decoys for the trigger-happy Freshmen, have your escape planned, and when midterms come please comply with all instructions from municipal authorities!

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2 comments on “Why College No Longer Blows: Television and Brrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnssss
  1. I’m like 100% sure you’re not in the “guys writing zombie apocalypse novels based on Lysistrata” category.

    I also need to point out that when you Google Image search ‘Arnold Blumberg’ you get a LOT of images of zombies.

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