I have spent many an hour studying Jon Hamm’s raw, natural manliness. But is studying “Mad Men” in the ivy-colored halls of academia an equally frivolous pursuit? The University of California at Berkeley, a.k.a. a school with free-thinkin’ hippie roots, offers a two-credit class in which students analyze “Mad Men” like a work of literature. The class is part of Berkeley’s DeCal program, in which students organize and facilitate the classes; other two-credit other course topic options include James Bond, Batman, advanced Scrabble, “Sex and the City,” Harry Potter, swing dancing, and mushroom identification. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, the “Mad Men” class “discusses themes such as the role of women in the workplace, class and society, marriage and family.” The class syllabus posted online reveals students discuss episodes and read supplemental texts and materials, like Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, Meditations in an Emergency by Frank O’Hara, and YouTube videos of Jackie Kennedy, Bob Dylan and Marilyn Monroe.
It’s probably meatier academically than mushroom identification and swing dancing. Still, I’m skeptical of using stylish topics in the classroom because they become old news so quickly. If the goal is to learn about how America and how the world changed during the 1960s, why rely on a fictional TV show? Hopefully, the analytical skills students refine during the class will keep with them forever, but 10 years down the road, they’ll also know a helluva lot about a TV show that’s off the air.