Sociology professor will teach Lady Gaga course
In January 2009, Mathieu Deflem, a professor of sociology, was watching The Tonight Show and saw American pop music phenom Lady Gaga for the first time. Her performance instantly convinced him that she was "an extraordinarily talented and exciting new artist who was doing great things musically and creatively," he said.
This spring, Deflem will teach "Lady Gaga and the Sociology of the Fame" (SOCY 398D).
The course will introduce students to a sociological analysis of issues related to the work of 24-year-old Stefani Germanotta, a.k.a. Lady Gaga. A classically-trained child prodigy pianist, singer, and songwriter from New York, Germanotta began her meteoric rise in popularity about three years ago.
Students who take the course will study socially relevant elements in the rise of Lady Gaga to her current status as a pop music icon, but the course won't be about musicology, Deflem said. It will instead focus on relevant elements of the societal context of Lady Gaga's rise to fame, with students better able to engage in scholarly thinking about relevant aspects of popular culture, music, and fame.
"We'll be interested in how Lady Gaga has become this thing, this event, on a social level, and on a global scale," said Deflem, who anticipates that the course will one day culminate in a book, articles, and other pursuits. "She is a person who resonates so widely with so many people that she has 10 million followers on Facebook and six million on Twitter."
He sees the course as a way of making students excited about sociology and scholarship.
"Students will have to learn something serious," he said, "but they can learn something serious about a fun topic. To me, that will give them a certain sociological excitement, which is also needed because, to be honest, sociology can be boring.
"The lesson here for sociology is that we can do very good sociology that is very scholarly, very theoretically informed, and also methodically astute, but about something that is both fun and relevant."
Though some critics see American popular culture as being addled by an obsession with celebrity, Deflem views pop culture as relevant and an essential part of society that is worthy of scholarly study because it provides playfulness and relief from work. Without those kinds of outlets or "relief valves," he said, societies that would function on structure and rules alone would eventually collapse.
Deflem's Web site for the course is gagacourse.net.