Lady Gaga 101: University Of South Carolina Offers Sociology Class On Pop Star Fame

November 3, 2010

People cheering at a concertMove aside zombies, Lady Gaga is taking over the classroom spotlight. According to a University of South Carolina press release, the school will be offering a class about the classically-trained pianist, singer and songwriter from New York.

"Lady Gaga and the Sociology of the Fame" (SOCY 398D), will be offered this spring and taught by longtime USC sociology professor Mathieu Deflem, who is also a huge Lady Gaga fan. Contrary to what some people may think, the class will not be about musicology; nor will it be a literary criticism course. Instead, it will focus on the societal context of Lady Gaga's rise to fame.

"We're going to look at Lady Gaga as a social event," said Deflem to USC student newspaper, The Daily Gamecock. "So it's not the person, and it's not the music. It's more this thing out there in society that has 10 million followers on Facebook and six million on Twitter. I mean, that's a social phenomenon...So the central question of the course is, this fame, which is ironically also the theme of her first records, how can it be accounted for? What are some of the mechanisms and some of the conditions of Lady Gaga's rise to popularity?" Later he added, "I see it more like there's people who have this very individual thing. Frank Zappa had it. Prince had it. Miles Davis had it. Jimi Hendrix had it. And Lady Gaga has it."

Despite the fun, lighthearted topic, Deflem said the workload will be very demanding. Students will have multiple required readings on music, pop culture, sex and gender as well as other sociology themes. According to the course website, the class with have a traditional theoretical approach and will pay special attention to the role of "business and marketing strategies; the role of the old and new media; fans and live concerts; gay culture; religious and political themes; sex and sexuality; and the cities of New York and Hollywood".

Although Deflem has been a sociology professor for 15 years, the Lady Gaga class is a departure from his usual topics--criminology, policing and the sociology of law, noted The Daily Gamecock. Nonetheless, he is confident that he will be able to sociologically analyze the pop music star.

As The New York Times pointed out, Deflem is well-versed about Lady Gaga. After first seeing her on "The Tonight Show" in January 2009, Deflem travelled around the world to watch her perform live 28 times. He owns more than 300 of her records, most of which are international releases and has started a respectful fan website, gagafrontrow.net, with pictures and audio downloads of rare Gaga songs. He has even met her five times, though he clarified that he does not know her personally.

While some may question the relevance of pop culture and Lady Gaga in academia, Deflem argued that pop culture is an essential part of society. "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," he said in the press release.

Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin


"Beyond ABCs of Lady Gaga to the Sociology of Fame," NYTimes.com, October 28, 2010, Katharine Q. Seelye

"Lady Gaga and the Sociology of the Fame," gagacourse.net, October 1, 2010

"Professor goes Gaga," dailygamecock.com, October 26, 2010, Jake FitzGerald

"Sociology professor will teach Lady Gaga course," sc.edu, October 22, 2010

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