Students Tune in for Classes Based on TV Shows

By Catherine Groux
Posted November 14, 2012 11:00 AM

Many schools have based courses on TV shows.
Many schools have based courses on TV shows.
Students may have heard their parents tell them they are rotting their brains by watching too much TV, but across the nation, many colleges are turning to the small screen to teach bachelor's degree seekers about various topics. Below are four schools that have used television shows as inspiration for their courses:

Duke University - 'California Here We Come'

North Carolina's Duke University is currently offering an English course titled "California Here We Come," which uses shows like "The O.C.," "Laguna Beach" and "Gossip Girl" to teach students about the hyper self-awareness of pop culture, the school's website states. By analyzing these popular teen dramas, students can also reflect on themes like girl culture, 21st-century suburban revivalism, the indie music scene and Californian exceptionalism.

Northwestern University - Consumerism and Social Change in 'Mad Men' America

In 2010, Northwestern University announced that it would offer a course on the show "Mad Men," titled "Consumerism and Social Change in Mad Men America, 1960-1965." Michael Allen, the assistant professor of history who taught the course, said the TV show highlights shifts in the economy after World War II, and how this sparked both social and cultural change, Northwestern's website states.

"I'm a fan, not just of the drama, but also of the show's historical themes," Allen said. "As a historian, I work on politics from the ground up. 'Mad Men' provides a good understanding of how ordinary people participated in history and produced change in politics broadly conceived."

Harvard University - HBO's 'The Wire' and its Contribution to Understanding Urban Inequality

In 2010, Harvard University taught an urban inequality course on HBO's "The Wire," the school's website states.

"In our course on urban inequality at Harvard this semester, we want our students to understand the roots of the social conditions in America's inner cities," William Julius Wilson, a Harvard professor, and Anmol Chaddha, a doctoral student, wrote to The Washington Post. "To that end, we get some help from Bodie, Stringer Bell, Bubbles and others from HBO's 'The Wire.'" 

Still, Harvard is not the only school to teach students about "The Wire." According to Slate, Duke University, Middlebury College and the University of California, Berkeley also created classes on the hit HBO show.

Brooklyn College - 'South Park' and Political Correctness

In 2008, Brian Dunphy, an adjunct professor at the City University of New York's Brooklyn College, announced that he would teach a course based on the Comedy Central show "South Park."  Dunphy told NPR that college students relate to pop culture, humor and satire, so by bringing "South Park" to his classroom, he hoped he could get them to open up about issues such as religion and war.

"It's no different than an English class dissecting The Great Gatsby - except one uses foul-mouthed humor, the other one uses wonderful prose," Dunphy said.

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