If you’re a binge watcher, you’ve probably wondered if there are benefits to your dusk-to-dawn marathon viewings of The Wire or Mad Men. If you’re a college student who’s all too familiar with Netflix’s “Are you still watching?” pop-up message, you may be in luck. Many renown universities offer courses that put some of the most popular shows on television into the classroom. Read on to find out which universities offer television-centric courses and prepare to restock your Netflix queue…
Consumerism and Social Change in Mad Men America, 1960-1963
Northwestern University: Evanston, Illinois
AMC’s Mad Men has gained critical acclaim and devoted fans by exploring the effects of consumerism and social change on middle-class Americans in the late ’50s and early ’60s. And Jon Hamm is pretty cool. According to the course description, students will study “the show as a point of departure to explore the relationship between consumerism, corporate culture, and social change in American homes and workplaces in the 1960s.” To situate the show within it’s historical context, weekly in-class viewings of the first season of Mad Men are complemented by readings from historical texts.
Philosophy and Star Trek
Georgetown University: Washington D.C.
“Do you have free will?” “Is Data a person?” “Could you go back and kill your grandmother?” These are just a few of the questions up for debate in Georgetown University’s “Philosophy and Star Trek” course. Don’t be fooled into thinking that students can ace the course simply by watching the sci-fi series. The course description explains that the class will read the works of prominent philosophers in order to analyze recurring metaphysical themes in Star Trek.
South Park and Contemporary Social Issues
McDaniel College: Westminster, Maryland
From sexuality to racism to consumerism, the controversial cartoon South Park hasn’t shied away from tackling hot topic social issues over the course of its 17 seasons. The course description for “South Park and Contemporary Social Issues” promises “students will gain a deeper understanding of how to analyze and critically think through the very real social problems addressed by the television show as well as gain new knowledge of the benefits of applying an interdisciplinary approach to contemporary social issues.” Class lectures include, “Social Construction of Reality and Mr. Garrison’s Fancy New Vagina,” “Muslims in America and Ginger Kids,” and “Business Ethics and Wall-Mart This Way Comes.”
The Office: Awesome, Awkward, Addicting
Oberlin Experimental College: Oberlin, Ohio
NBC’s hilariously awkward mockumentary The Office drew a devoted audience with its faux-realist depictions of interoffice relationships. Students enrolled in the course will study “the underlying themes, character developments and relationships, running plots, interesting film techniques, and the obsessive fandom surrounding the hit American comedy,” as the course description explains. The course description also stipulates “a love of awkward comedy and Rainn Wilson is a must.”
Urban American & Serial Television: Watching The Wire
Middlebury College: Middlebury, Vermont
Although The Wire is not a documentary, the show’s compelling depiction of urban decay in modern America over the course of five seasons has gained the attention of sociology professors from Harvard, Duke and Middlebury and several other universities. The Middlebury course “[examines] the show’s portrayal of urban America as a window into a number of social problems and conditions distinct to contemporary society, including the drug war, the underclass, urban policies and development, post-industrial cities, political corruption, urban education, and mass media coverage,” as explained in the course description. Photo: HBO
“California Here We Come” The O.C. & Self-Aware Culture of 21st Century America
Duke University: Durham, North Carolina
If you’ve found yourself feeling guilty for watching reruns of The O.C. on SOAPnet, just remind yourself that Duke University students are also tuned in. Students enrolled in ” ‘California Here We Come’ The O.C. & Self-Aware Culture of 21st Century America” will “explore the ‘hyper self-awareness’ unique to The O.C. and analyze Californian exceptionalism and singularity in history and pop culture, girl culture, 21st century suburban revivalism, the indie music scene, the meta-series, and more,” according to the course description. The course description also promises that the material will go beyond The O.C. and include discussions of MTV’s reality shows Laguna Beach and The Hills as well as Bravo’s The Real Housewives and The CW’s Gossip Girl.
The Future is Lost: The Television Series as Cultural Phenomenon
Tufts University Experimental College: Medford, Massachusetts
After Oceanic Flight 815 crashed on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in 2004, Lost quickly developed a cult following, spurring the creation of online communities by avid fans looking to discuss everything from plot development to philosophical and literary allusions buried in the latest episode. Students enrolled in this course will get to the heart of what it means for a television series to become a cultural phenomenon by investigating how Lost “spawned an empire of entertainment, marketing, and community that [eclipsed] the show itself,” as the course description explains.
Because Dave Chappelle Said So
Vassar College: Poughkeepsie, New York
“From Hip Hop to Paul Beatty’s White Boy Shuffle to Spike Lee’s Bamboozled to Dave Chappelle to Aaron McGruder’s Boondocks to Sacha Baron Cohen’s Ali G character, black masculinity seems to be a contemporary site of massive satire,” explains the course description for this Africana Studies course. Students enrolled in the class study the history of black male satirical and comic narratives and characters like the ones listed above in order to address questions such as: “Does satire have essentially masculine underpinnings?” “Is there a difference between a black comic text and a black satirical text?” “Have comic ideals changed much since the turn of the century?”
Philosophy in the Twilight Zone
Indiana State University: Terre Haute, Indiana
Rod Serling’s 1960s Twilight Zone places ordinary people in supernatural situations. Because each episode typically ends with an ironic twist in which the guilty are punished, the show makes for a great spring board for philosophical discussions, which Professor Bolinger brings into the classroom. According to the course description, students enrolled in this class “will examine the process of ethical decision making through reflection and discussion of philosophical dilemmas presented on the Twilight Zone. The course will introduce students to great thinkers in the field of moral philosophy and explore topics such as honesty, loyalty, love, and faithfulness, as well as narcissism, prejudice, and vanity.”
Muppet Magic: Jim Henson’s Art
University of California: Santa Cruz: Santa Cruz, California
Studying the beloved Muppets is a surefire way to add some whimsy to your college course load. The course description explains that students explore “the artistic and social impact of the Muppets on American puppetry, children’s television, and Hollywood film is explored through viewings, guest lectures, and analysis. Henson’s legacy in artistic innovation, mainstreaming of Puppet Theater for adult audiences, and establishment of puppetry in media and marketing.”
These courses won’t get you into medical school, they will help you feel less guilty about binge watching your favorite shows, which, let’s face it, you’re going to do regardless of whether you receive course credit or not.
All photos: Getty Images unless noted