Aug 7, 2009
Tired of boring ol’ Shakespeare? Try the Harry Potter class. Already, across the world, one could study “The Simpsons” or learn Klingon from “Star Trek”. At Princeton, a freshman seminar lab called “Getting Dressed” is available. “How to Watch Television” is an offering at Montclair State University, also in New Jersey. Yes, you did read correctly; these “courses” are offered at universities. Why not a college course on “Survivor” or “Teletubbies”?
1 – The Science of Harry Potter – Frostburg State University
Fans of the phenomenally popular children’s book character, Harry Potter, turned to Frostburg State University this year when University offered the seminar “The Science of Harry Potter.” The course, which examines the magical events in J.K. Rowling’s books and explains them through the basic principles of physics, received international attention after an Associated Press writer picked up the story. From there, reports of the FSU class appeared in newspapers and magazines across the nation and throughout Europe, Australia, Indonesia and China. Harry Potter fansites on the Web posted announcements about FSU. Even the 24-hour news stations, such as CNN, FoxNews and MSNBC, ran information of the unusual class on their bottom-of-the-screen news crawls.
Media outlets, including the BBC, Radio Europe and morning radio shows, hounded FSU Physics Professor George Plitnik, the mastermind behind the Potter course. He even received international e-mails Potter fans who wanted to take the class (including a woman in Romania!)
2 – Simpsons and Philosophy – Cal-Berkeley
– Aristotle and Socrates. – Kant and Descartes. – Nietzsche and Sartre. – Homer and . . . Marge, Bart, Lisa and baby Maggie.
“The Simpsons,” believe it or not, now grace the syllabus of at least one course at Cal, one of the country’s most prestigious public universities, home to Nobel Prize winners, renowned scientists and more famous authors than there are hemp clothing sellers on Telegraph Avenue. You’ll need to know more than Simpsons trivia – the class takes an in-depth look at how the long-running cartoon depicts social issues such as racism and politics. Passing the class, which includes writing a 22-minute show for the final exam, earns students two credits.
3 – Star Trek and Religion – Indiana University
Indiana University at Bloomington lists Star Trek and Religion as one of its course offerings in the Arts and Humanities section. As “an introduction to the critical study of religion by way of popular culture,” it is “possible to find [Star Trek] episodes whose themes are hostile to religion,” among other relationships between the sci-fi show and religion.
4 – Elvish, the language of “Lord of the Rings” – University of Wisconsin
At the most rarefied level, Tolkienism is a field of academic study, and conference participants leave their fur-tufted Hobbit feet behind. Tolkien’s vast created world of invented languages, legends, maps, poetry and creatures invites explication — and debate.
Fans in the Madison, Wisconsin area with a desire to learn elvish might be interested to know that the University of Wisconsin has created a mini course on Sindarin to be taught by UW grad David Salo .David Salo is a doctoral candidate in linguistics at the University of Wisconsin. He was the primary linguistic consultant to film director Peter Jackson for the Lord of the Rings movie series.
5 – How to Watch Television – Montclair State University
A few of the 57 Montclair students who packed the class last semester were disappointed when they learned How to Watch Television involved more than sitting in a lecture hall watching “Friends"
“This course, open to both broadcasting majors and non-majors, is about analyzing television in the ways and to the extent to which it needs to be understood by its audience. The aim is for students to critically evaluate the role and impact of television in their lives as well as in the life of the culture. The means to achieve this aim is an approach that combines media theory and criticism with media education”
Students get to watch popular shows – ”CSI,” later in the semester – but never with the same pleasure once they’ve heard Professor Gencarelli’s thought-provoking lectures on the effect the medium has on the culture.
Do his students appreciate what he’s teaching them? Perhaps, he says. By the end of the semester, they give him his highest praise: ”You’ve ruined TV-watching for us.”
6 – Getting Dressed – Princeton University
Seriously, some days getting dressed takes a lot more effort than it should. Enter Princeton’s “Getting Dressed” class, a freshmen-only course that lets students discuss controversial topics such as jeans, baseball caps, tattoos, flip-flops and Chuck Taylors. It’s more complicated than just figuring out what to wear in the morning, though. The class discussed how people use fashion to do everything from study history to assess character. Although it doesn’t appear that the class is offered any longer, Princeton does offer other interesting-sounding freshmen seminars, including “Google and Ye Shall Find?” and “Good to be Shifty: American Swindlers.”