Students at Northwestern University can enroll in a class based on the AMC series "Mad Men." Assistant professor of history Michael Allen says he uses the show, set in the 1960s, to enlighten students how "shifts in the U.S. economy after World War II brought social and cultural change." The Illinois-based university is not the only institution to seek deeper meaning in the tube. Here, a list of college classes for couch potatoes:
"Urban American & Serial Television: Watching 'The Wire'"
Middlebury College's class examined how the acclaimed series portrayed "urban America as a window into a number of social problems and conditions distinct to contemporary society." Students watched the entire 60-hour run of HBO's exploration of Baltimore urban issues, and were asked to blog and write essays about it. Academics "can't seem to get enough of 'The Wire,'" says Drake Bennett at Slate — Harvard, Berkeley and Duke are all offering courses on it, too.
"'The Simpsons' and Philosophy"
In a class that would likely leave Homer Simpson rolling his eyes, UC Berkeley students delve into the philosophical dimensions of Matt Groening's beloved animated series. The long-running Fox program represents "nothing less than a glimpse at the complex human condition, how we live now and make our way morally in an often confusing world," says Sam McManis in the San Francisco Chronicle. Students learn to answer questions such as, "Can Nietzsche's rejection of traditional morality justify Bart's bad behavior?" (The "short answer," says McManis, is "no.")
"'Lost' and The Infinite Narrative"
The famously cryptic ABC show inspired not only countless conspiracy theories, but also a literature course at the University of North Florida that looks at "Lost's" many allusions and recurrent themes. It's no surprise, said Adam Aesen at the Florida Times-Union. "With all the [show's] references to literature, physics, religion and even math, you almost need a master's degree to know what's going on."
"'The Sopranos' on the Couch: Analyzing Television's Greatest Series"
New Jersey's family of wiseguys were the subject of a course taught by professors at the University of Calgary back in 2002. According to the course's instructor, English professor Maurice Yacowar, the HBO drama is a "very rich and very serious-minded text." The episodes "really do stand up to the kind of analysis I'm used to giving for a Pinter play, or a Tennessee Williams play, or a Hitchcock film...."
"Urban Desires: 'Sex & the City' in Caribbean Cultures"
Graduate students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were encouraged in 2003 to use HBO's four gal-pals' adventures as a springboard to examine the "cultural dichotomy" of urban living and sexuality. The course focused on "the space of the city and how it intersects with issues of sex and sexuality in Hispanic Caribbean cultures." Not to be outdone, MIT taught a course, "Sex and the Institute", examining "the show's unorthodox treatment of issues such as marriage, dating, sex, gender roles, and career and family balance."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How the South's ugly racial history is haunting ObamaCare
- 10 things you need to know today: October 31, 2014
- If Democrats abandon immigration reform after Tuesday's likely loss, they will turn 2016 into a debacle
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Stop making fun of philosophy and read some philosophy
- Beware of Splenda: The backlash against artificial sugars
- What if Leo Strauss was right?
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- The economics of Halloween: By the numbers
Subscribe to the Week