Sharpen your pencils, little monsters: The University of Virginia is offering a class on Lady Gaga called “GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender, and Identity.” Taught by grad student Christa Romanosky, the Lady Gaga class is a prerequisite course to essay writing on the theme of how the mama monster pushes social boundaries. Students will listen to Gaga’s music and watch her music videos, but also read about her influence on feminism and gender expression. UVA has also offered Harry Potter-themed classes to make prerequisite essay courses more interesting.Certainly, questioning gender roles and sexual norms should be done by every college student; since it’s a writing course, the Lady Gaga theme may be a way to feed the spinach, so to speak, to kids who would otherwise never sign up for a gender studies class. But are stylish topics really the best way to impart lessons for life — whether it’s writing lessons or gender studies lessons? Wouldn’t expository writing students be better off studying essays from The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly all semester?
You could argue that a critical analysis of Lady Gaga will teach students the skills to think analytically for life. But why not then use a meatier topic that gives students a more useful knowledge base? I’m not suggesting that pop culture is not worth analyzing — I write about it myself all the time — just that this particular pop culture moment is ephemeral and it will pass. Today, college professors are teaching Lady Gaga, 20 years ago they were teaching Madonna, and maybe five from now it will be Miley Cyrus.
Education doesn’t need to be old-fashioned, canonical and boring to be of value. I simply harbor my own regrets, though, for having taken courses in stylish topics and I suspect there will be a few students who eventually ask themselves, “Why the hell did I take that class on Lady Gaga?”