In Defense of the “Sociology of Miley” Course

Let me say, first off, that I don’t think that Miley needs to be defended, because she rocks, but because the whole internet has gotten drift of “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus” course that is being offered at Skidmore, my lovely college, here I am defending the course, and, in turn, defending Miley. I’ve actually already defended Miley on my blog, here, https://sometimesiweartiaras.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/a-critical-response-to-the-miley-cyrus-controversy-or-why-im-still-a-fan/ so I’m not going to use this post to defend her, as much as I am going to defend the class, and Professor Chernoff’s decision to create this class. The web is now abuzz with this class, and now positive and negative opinions have surfaced. Many of these articles are backed up and have valid things to say, and many, well… don’t. The very first article that was posted was one of these uninformed articles, and was shot down by smart viewers and Skidmore alumni in the comments (which is definitely the best part of this article, check it out here: http://www.complex.com/music/2014/03/miley-cyrus-sociology-college-course).

Now, to the course itself. The course is called “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender, and Media” and has the following description:

From Disney tween to twerking machine, Miley Cyrus has grown up in the public eye, trying on and discarding very different identities onscreen and off. She provides rich examples for analyzing aspects of intersectional identities and media representation, including:

  • The rise of the Disney Princess
  • Gender stratification and the hyper-commodification of childhood
  • Transitions to adulthood
  • What happens to Disney stars as they age (see Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and more)
  • Allies and appropriation
  • Uses of culture across race, class, and gender
  • Bisexuality, queerness, and the female body

Ongoing media frenzy focused on Miley Cyrus’s public image, music, and body highlights the ways in which intersectional identities are shaped by pop culture and mass media. In this special topics course, we will explore core issues of intersectionality theory, looking at race, class, and gender, as well as taking a feminist critique of media, using Miley as a lens through which to explore sociological thinking about identity, entertainment, media, and fame.

A picture of the actual flyer that is posted around Skidmore’s campus, can be seen here (photo creds: Nevon Kipperman):

Miley Skidmore

Similarly, buzzfeed takes on a neutral position with this article, which highlights some of the aspects of this course description: http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/skidmore-college-is-offering-a-course-this-summer-called-the

Okay, so let’s think about this course description for a minute. Lots of websites have been saying things like, “This is why I won’t ever pay for my kids to go to college,” or “Stop wasting your parents’ money,” or “What an easy A class.” In response though, I’d say that this sounds to me like a very serious sociological course, and as a sociology major, it doesn’t sound like an “easy A” to me. This is one of those obnoxious articles I was referencing that has no evidence for their opinions: http://dlisted.com/2014/03/26/skidmore-college-will-offer-a-class-on-miley-cyrus-this-summer/. Allison, from dlisted.com, wrote the following, “The class is called The Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender, and Media, but it should be called It Looks Like You Need An Easy A, because any dum-dum with a wifi connection and Instagram already knows everything there is to know about Miley, Miley’s cooter, Miley’s sea cucumber tongue, etc etc et-fucking-cetera. Watch, I’ll prove to you how easy it would be to ace this class,” and follows it with some ridiculous claims about race and gender. My response, then, is, when is the last time you considered “gender stratification and the hyper-modification of childhood” or the “core theories of intersectionality theories” OBVIOUS things? Because saying “Gender: Miley’s driver’s license says F, but technically sleazy hillbilly gophers are genderless” is not sufficient, or politically correct, for that matter.

And briefly, I took one of Professor Chernoff’s classes last semester – it definitely wasn’t a cakewalk. It was called “High School Onscreen,” which could easily be criticized the same way this Miley class is, but isn’t because it sounds less dramatic. We watched movies from “Heathers” to “The Breakfast Club” to “Pariah” and many TV shows, including “Freaks and Geeks” and “The Cosby Show.” But we also read two books on sociological theory and the high school experience, wrote multiple papers, and had lengthy class discussions on gender roles, what it means to be a teen, and how the “American teen” identity has formed. And yes, at the end of the semester I wrote a twelve page paper on “High School Musical” and the changing American dream.

So, for all of you out there who think that this class puts shame on Skidmore and the liberal arts curriculum, you clearly don’t know what college, and liberal arts, is all about. College is about exploring new passions, discovering your interests, and finding new ways to look at the world – if learning sociology through a context of Miley’s rise to fame and knowing how to play the game isn’t looking at the world from a new perspective, then I don’t know what is. If you see this as a class on twerking and how to become infamous for scandalous clothing, then sure, this class might seem “wrong” to you. BUT, if you see this class for what it actually is, a sociological look at Miley’s controversial actions, how fame and infamy work, and the way society responds to a woman breaking the rules in all the right ways (because people like Charlie Sheen can break laws and all societal norms and expectations and still get less blowback than Miley), then maybe you should head on over to Skidmore this summer and see what’s up with “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus.”

Miley Cyrus

More opinions on the controversy of this class offering:

This one is my favorite: http://time.com/38460/miley-cyrus-class-skidmore-college/

BET’s take: http://www.bet.com/news/music/2014/03/26/skidmore-college-offers-sociology-course-on-miley-cyrus.html

A real newspaper with an interview of Professor Chernoff: http://www.saratogian.com/social-affairs/20140326/skidmore-to-offer-course-on-miley-cyrus

OR you can just Google any variation of “Miley Cyrus Skidmore College”

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