Skidmore to offer course on Miley Cyrus
By Jennie Grey, The Saratogian
Posted: 03/26/14, 10:27 PM EDT | Updated: 2 days ago
SARATOGA SPRINGS >> Skidmore College, whose slogan is “Creative thought matters,” will offer an innovative course this summer starring Miley Cyrus and all her incarnations as a way to study sociology.
The course, called The Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender and Media, is a 251-level special topics course taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology Carolyn Chernoff. The professor encourages students to look past the colon in her course title and see what the class is really about.
“I was teaching a course called Youth Culture in and out of School, and the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards (VMA) became the twerk heard ’round the world,” Chernoff said. “I showed that video to my class, and the students had so much to say.”
Cyrus became the opening personality in sociological discussion on gender, race, class, economic status, identity, fame, sexualization, oppression and power. And the singer kept on doing newsworthy things worth fitting into the larger analysis.
In January, Chernoff delivered a lecture and mediated a group discussion on Cyrus and the cultural issues at the Skidmore Women’s Center. The lecture was called “The Rise and Fall of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender and Media,” and students’ reaction was positive.
Skidmore junior Layla Lakos, a sociology/philosophy major, first heard about the new Miley course on Facebook. Lakos laughed, but was intrigued all the same.
“You can study a lot of things based on Miley,” she said. “She represents how transient wealth and fame can be, and shows how possible it is to change your image.”
The professor then began to develop her summer course, meant to explore the cultural issues Cyrus sings of, dances through and acts wild about. “Miley is sometimes seen as a wild, terrible she-beast,” Chernoff said. “After the VMA performance, this young woman was seen as the end of all times.”
The professor compared Cyrus’s VMA antics to the “wardrobe malfunction” Justin Timberlake perpetuated on Janet Jackson during the 2004 Super Bowl. Timberlake’s reputation was not harmed at all, while Jackson’s career faltered after the incident.
When not twerking, Cyrus shows many other identities than the wild-thing persona, Chernoff said. Cyrus grew up in the public eye and famously starred on Disney’s TV program “Hannah Montana.” Part of her image is that of the innocent, enthusiastic Hannah.
Junior Missy Matteis, an education major, is doing her student teaching with a first-grade class. She said most of her students know who Miley Cyrus is, although they were likely unaware of the naughty versions.
“Miley would be interesting to analyze, to study for her place in society,” Matteis said.
Other Disney stars such as former Mouseketeers Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears have also had to break away from the wholesome tween image Disney projected for them.
“They’ve all had to rebrand themselves as wild, crazy, sexual beings,” Chernoff said. “This ties into the whole virgin/whore dichotomy.”
Lakos noted that Cyrus’s bad-girl actions were linked to marketing for an album release. Singer Beyonce, by contrast, doesn’t use sexuality to sell her albums, the student said.
Race is another point of discussion: “Miley is white but wants to appropriate a black sound,” Chernoff said. “She doesn’t discuss her white privilege.”
Some students were dismissive of the sociology class, mostly because they are dismissive of Cyrus. Senior Robin Shore, a pre-veterinary major, called the course a trendy way to attract students.
Lest such students think the course is all about watching the VMA video over and over, Chernoff said, “Sorry, dudes, but this is sociology. Learn to twerk on your own time.”
The course’s syllabus is still in development, but she will focus on discussions, papers and projects. She calls her courses deceptively difficult and says students find them challenging.
To analyze Cyrus in the context of today’s culture, students can easily get to primary sources such as songs, music videos, direct posts and quotations. Chernoff wants students to find a creative, rigorous way to analyze the world around them.
“Miley is a lens into cultural conflict,” the professor said.http://www.saratogian.com/social-affairs/20140326/skidmore-to-offer-course-on-miley-cyrus