Like it or not, Miley Cyrus is a cultural icon. Before the world’s eyes, she has gone from a wholesome, long-locked Disney starlet to a lusty, pixie-ish pop princess. On the surface, Cyrus represents America’s ongoing obsession with youth, celebrity and sex. However, the popularity of Miley Cyrus can serve a greater purpose. At Skidmore College this summer, a Sociology course will be offered that utilizes Cyrus for an in-depth look at various aspects of modern western culture. Welcome students, to Miley Cyrus 101.
The class is actually a 200 level course titled “Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender and Media.” The students will be expected to look into such issues as cultural incorporation, the way childhood is turned into a commodity and the way media depicts the female form and identity. Professor Carolyn Chernoff will be teaching the summer class that starts in late May. Though plenty of sociology courses have revolved around such cultural figures as Michael Jackson, Madonna and even Jay-Z, there were some negative reactions to this course when it was announced. Chernoff also saw some positive reactions as well, and she is firm in her belief that teaching classes like this are an integral part of reaching out and educating through modern and popular examples.
Chernoff says that the rather vociferous responses simply prove just how powerful celebrities are. Not only do they garner massive attention, they are universally appealing enough to hold up a mirror and suggest that celebrities represent much of what our society believes and holds dear. That is what the study of sociology is all about. Using a huge name like Cyrus’s aids in developing focus on a particular theory being explored. Miley Cyrus 101 will offer a concrete example for some often abstract ideas.
When asked if she could not have just used Justin Bieber instead, Chernoff stated that Miley Cyrus embodies certain issues that are relevant to the course. By exploring the different phases of Cyrus’s popularity, core issues in sociology can be better applied. Chernoff will be employing videos and articles, as well as conversations about Cyrus’s more recent image. The students will discuss the reactions Cyrus gets in regards to her often controversial behavior. Through these exercises, the students can perhaps better comprehend societal approaches to gender, class and race.
When asked whether Miley Cyrus has been able to change people’s views on various issues or whether she is simply reflecting a change that is already happening, Chernoff believes that both are occurring. Society certainly cannot blame Cyrus for all of the ills plaguing it, nor can her environment be solely responsible for her sometimes erratic behavior. The dichotomies that are so easy to turn to, such as good girl/bad girl, do not serve society well when some critical thinking is required.
Miley Cyrus is a young woman who grew up wealthy and famous, she is attractive, “smiley” and as Hannah Montana, innocent. Now, she is growing up in the spotlight, discovering aspects of herself that she either likes or dislikes and has to be questioned about everything she does by a hungry public and media. In many ways, Cyrus is holding up the mirror to other women and saying, “Do I not look like you? Are we not all going through the same crap together?” Cyrus is a feminist rebel by her own design and many people are completely uncomfortable with this fact.
Miley Cyrus 101 is going to be stimulating and informative for those lucky enough to have registered in time to take the class. Every day the young artist gives her fans and the media something to talk about. Her Bangerz tour, put on hold by a mysterious illness, got back underway this week in Europe. Her youth makes her intriguing to an obsessed public, but it also makes her intriguing to herself. Perhaps Miley should take the class.
By Stacy Lamy