Miley Cyrus studies? Not the gimmick it might sound

The pop star’s work may not be high art, but the US professor behind a new Cyrus syllabus believes it is a gateway to the analysis of race, class and gender

When Skidmore College, a liberal arts institution in New York state, announced last week that it was to offer a summer course about Miley Cyrus, the internet quickly laughed it off and used it as an opportunity to get “hometwerk” into a headline.

“The Sociology of Miley Cyrus” is only the latest university course to be based around a musician of note. Others that have used a cultural icon as a starting point for discussion include New Jersey’s Rutgers University, which runs a course called “Politicising Beyoncé”, Princeton and its “Bruce Springsteen’s America”, the University of Missouri’s “English 2169: Jay-Z and Kanye West”, and the University of South Carolina, where little monsters can study “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame.”

And it’s not just the United States that likes its learning with a side of lyrics – at Liverpool Hope University, you can take an MA in “The Beatles, Popular Music and Society”. But are these courses just an easy ride through further education, or are they a shrewd way of inviting students to engage with bigger ideas? Carolyn Chernoff, the professor behind the Miley Cyrus syllabus, believes the pop star is a gateway to discussing core sociological theory.

“I wish it were a savvy marketing move, but it actually is that I think Miley Cyrus is a really rich example of how race, class and gender are performed in the media,” says Chernoff.

“I think she’s a great case study. People ask academics and intellectuals to make our disciplinary theories and training relevant to the real world. And focusing a course on Miley helps to better critically read culture that’s all around us. I agree with [the academic] Raymond Williams that culture is ordinary, culture is everyday.”

It was after watching Cyrus’s performance with Robin Thicke at the MTV Video Awards last year, and the subsequent hullabaloo, that Chernoff started to put the course together. “The performance was so clearly drawing on certain tropes and stereotypes about a particular vision of black culture, but most mainstream pop culture reporters only discussed it in terms of gender and ‘bad, sexy Miley’,” Chernoff notes. “In that moment, it illustrated a lot of the types of cultural conflicts that I research.

“This is not a trivial thing. I have some smart students who are really interested in unpacking the social world and they would take this course whether it’s called ‘The Sociology of Miley Cyrus’ or ‘Intersectional Feminism and Modern Media’.”

Kevin Allred, from Rutgers’ Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, whose “Politicising Beyoncé” course pairs the pop star’s music videos with black feminist theory from the likes of Alice Walker, Sojourner Truth and bell hooks, suggests detractors should do their research before they judge.

“I’d say, sit in a class and see how we do this,” says Allred. “The biggest misconception is that I’m teaching dance moves or pieces of her biography and that’s just not the case. We’re using academic sources and the writings of noted black women through history to discuss gender, race and struggle, and using the music videos to talk about how they affect people today.”

Such classes are intense and Chernoff, for one, has little time for pupils who are expecting an easy A. Those who sign up will have to participate in three two-and-a-half-hour-long sessions a week for five weeks, as well as additional writing assignments, presentations and reading.

“I will remind students that this is actually going to be much more difficult than they might think,” she insists. “And if people don’t understand that, then they will certainly get it after the first lecture.”

Miley might be responsible for inflicting tongue-wagging and twerking on the masses, but perhaps an academic curriculum is her most surprising cultural contribution yet.

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments