I have heard of some crazy college classes but according to The Daily Beast, some schools are incorporating reality television series in their classes. With reality television dominating the air, apparently this was bound to happen. Are students so out of touch that they can only learn through the likes of Snooki and the casts of Survivor and The Real World? The article outlines one professor’s reasoning:
Dr. Amy Aldridge Sanford, an assistant professor of communication studies at Northeastern State University in Talaqua, Oklahoma, seems to agree. When she first pitched her colleagues on doing a senior-level, 16-week reality-TV course in the spring of 2006, Sanford—who wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on Big Brother—encountered some unsurprising reluctance. “I had to convince my department that I could get enough students in it,” she confesses, adding, “There are people in my discipline who think it’s ridiculous—that it’s not real research or going to stand the test of time.” Whether they’ve changed their stance or not, they’re probably not too concerned with enrollment anymore: Sanford says that while her courses typically have about 12 students, the reality-television class had to be capped off at 30 because it was so popular. (She imagines she’ll teach it for the rest of her career.) Sanford’s students have presented their papers—on everything from the representations of women on the early days of Candid Camera to the family dynamics in Morgan Spurlock’s 30 Days—at academic conferences.
Sanford’s focus tends to be on people she feels are marginalized—such as the women on The Bachelor. “Women are portrayed as much more desperate than men on the show,” she says. “They’re shown bawling their eyes out, saying, ‘This is the love of my life’ about a guy they met 10 minutes before.” (Other Bachelor discussions include the lack of racial diversity and the fact that there are so many more editions of The Bachelor than The Bachelorette.)
Her students also discuss The Apprentice, but Sanford’s angle is quite different from Easter’s. “We talk about how, before they were using celebrities, the women always had to use their sexuality to accomplish their task—especially in Season 2,” Sanford says. “Here we saw these incredibly smart investment bankers and attorneys dressed up like hookers to sell candy bars.” Other topics include the “shameless” product placement on all the shows, the first season of The Real World compared to the version we see now, and the racial and ethnic stereotypes on Flavor of Love and Jersey Shore—which are particularly important to break down, she says, in a place like Oklahoma where there are “a lot of white students who have had very few dealings with people of color.”
Enrollment in the reality TV course is full, no surprise there. If I could take a class analyzing the women of The Bachelor or documenting which brand of vodka the cast of Jersey Shore is drinking, then yes, I would enroll too. Are professors succumbing to students’ standards when they should be setting their own?