November 19, 2004
College Curriculum Gone Wild

In what appears to be the relentlessly fraudulent pursuit of relevancy (or whatever), many of our institutions of higher learning have abandoned the curriculum of yore and burdened themselves with the rebellious idea that anything can be turned into a learning experience.

I recall during my first and last year at Wesleyan University, the gates of the inferno manifested in our college curriculum. In that year, a class simply called "Pornography" sought to make some investigative headway into the industry, its literature, and its culture. And surprisingly enough, kids paid $36,000 a year in tuition to do so. I am certain picking up a video rental membership would've spared them a buck or two. The course, which caused a bit of outrage among endowment funding alumni, included elements of video, fiction, and photography. And like all things academic, they even had guest lecturers: porn stars. A Hartford Courant article reported:

"Porn stars now work the college lecture circuit. Performance artist Annie Sprinkle, who packed a Wesleyan auditorium Sunday, extolled the value of prostitution and told students, 'The answer to bad porn is not no porn, but to try to make better porn.'"
It's no wonder our college degrees are failing us with such repugnant refuse being espoused as intelligent. The culmination of the course was a final assignment whereby students were instructed by Professor Hope Weissman to "Just create your own pornography". My beloved school would've been better off just calling the class "Hedonism 101".

I began with this story because in more recent events, Syracuse University has decided to throw its hat in the ring of the battle between reason and stupidity. As much as it pains me to admit it, I think stupidity might be winning.

When you think of rapper Lil' Kim, you don't think of the word "class" (in either meaning of the noun). But according to CNN, Syracuse recently introducted a course titled, "Hip-Hop Eshu: Queen B**** 101 -- The Life and Times of Lil' Kim". According to instructor Greg Thomas, the course seeks "to look into things that gender studies have been trying to grapple with" and requires students to read Kim's song lyrics as literary texts and analyze her iconography in videos and performances. Move over Maya Angelou, there's a new poet in town. Kim has even made a guest appearance to speak to the class about her music. A better working title for this course would be "The New Misogyny: how women hate themselves".

Those familiar to Lil' Kim know she is famous among many for her self-deprecating, sex-laced, raunchy and explicit lyrics. Image wise, she is a self-proclaimed female dog and has mastered the art of wearing as few clothes as possible. It should also be noted that Lil' Kim has given Michael Jackson a run for his money in the area of plastic surgery. If getting deep is worth anything in this analysis, it should be observed that all evidence points to the fact that this is clearly a woman who doesn't love herself enough if at all.

You may well remember awhile ago when a summer school program in Worcester, Massachusetts unwisely added Tupac Shakur's book of poetry to their required reading list. What I wrote in response to this and the topic of hip-hop in education still stands. The way I see it, the question here isn't whether or not aspects of hip-hop culture are worthy of academic dissection. The answer to that question is an emphatic "yes", without reservation. Not only is it no less worthy than every other artform, it would be intellectually dishonest to suggest contrarily as historically, every dominant aspect of culture has been well-surved by overpaid Ph.D students in search of a dissertation topic.

What is troubling is which cross sections of hip-hop culture "the powers that be" have decided to study. There are intelligent and conscious lyricists in rap, yet we want to intellectually dissect the refuse and play pseudo-deep like shaking your behind on the television has all that many layers of profundity. There's nothing profound about glorifying gang activity and filthy lifestyles. For all that has come out of hip-hop, surely there is more to offer than someone as grotesque and confused as Lil' Kim. The same could be said of Sigmund Freud, if you ask me. If foul language and sexually derogatory content wasn't allowed in college curriculum, half the English department would be in a tizzy.

There is a bigger picture at stake here. Can we afford to glorify such behavior in light of an ailing culture? What is the legacy we're trying to leave? Cultivating critical thinking is great, but not at the cost of passively endorsing detrimental behavior. There needs to be a standard on this thing we call "learning".

Other news on Syracuse's course
- SU Student calls class inappropriate
- The Base-Standard reports on Lil' Kim's Campus Visit

Posted by Ambra at November 19, 2004 02:38 AM


Ummm, OK. I took a hip hop course at my school two years ago and it studied the various aspects and history of hip hop. I took the course as a part of my major (comparative media) and I was excited for this class. Women and mysogyny plays an important role in hip hop (this should NOT surprise you), whether you agree with it or not. I agree there are some conscious and better messages that one could study when it comes to hip hop. However, one would be remiss to completely ignore and disqualify the role mysogyny has played in the genre and culture. Furthermore, Kim being one of the biggest selling female rappers is extremely important to the culture. We may not like who she is or what she does, but you can't ignore her if you are going to take a qualitative look at hip hop. Granted, I'm not sure if she needs a whole class dedicated to her.....but then again hip hop is so very complex. I felt that in my class, my Lil Kim Week was a bit short, and gender roles in hip hop could have been explored more.

In the grand scheme of things--it's a college class, not a congressional hearing. Just because there is a college course on Lil Kim doesn't mean we are "glorifying" or "endorsing" the behavior. Just like taking a class on Communism isn't glorifying and endorsing it, but is just a study on it. Yeah there are better parts of hip hop to study. But if colleges only taught on the "good" parts of any subject, we would probably be more self-righteous than we already are as well as naive and misinformed. I can perhaps understand ones arguement against teaching hip hop in college period, but I don't understand one saying teach this part, but not this part. What would the world be like if we only learned one part of World history? Math? Philosophy? Physics? You've got to see the whole picture and don't be afraid to delve into speciailized areas because it has questionable content.

Perhaps some folks need to take a step back and really try to look into the history and culture of hip hop instead of just judging it on it's surface and its latest lyrics. Pick up a book by Tricia Rose.

" There's nothing profound about glorifying gang activity and filthy lifestyles. "

You'd be surprised.

Posted by: Ethel at November 19, 2004 05:49 AM

Don't know enough about what Thomas will cover, to gauge what can be gleaned from such a course- but if the lyrical lineage to the provocative, if more subtle phrasings of Mae West, Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey are examined, the kids will no longer view LK in isolation. The case could be made that the only member of the Junior Mafia who merits scholastic examination is Biggie. His lyrics espoused the lure and paradoxes of floss in a way seldom heard since Cole Porter.

Posted by: Bijan at November 19, 2004 06:00 AM

These courses seem to just be cash crops for the universities. I mean, you can't fail a course on Lil Kim.

Posted by: Alex at November 19, 2004 06:09 AM

how can they leave out that paragon of virtue, Trina?!

reminds me of some of the extremely challenging "film appreciation" classes at a certain Houston private university...

Posted by: Glen at November 19, 2004 07:37 AM

Ethel So my next question then would be, "is there anything we can glean from glorifying gang activity and filthy lifestyles" that we couldn't get from studying the greater concepts of abandonment, black feminism, indoctrination, and post-reconstruction effects on self-image. 'Cause as far as I'm concerned, when looking at gangsta rap, gang activity, cult activity, and everything inbetween, it's all got the same root issue. Why study the symptoms of the cause in such depth? If of course, the ultimate goal here is getting some greater understanding, study the aspect of hip-hop that has exposed Lil' K's music for the cultural lie that is, not the music itself. You don't spot a counterfeit dollar by learning the innerworkings of fake money, you spot it by learning the innerworkings of real money.

Bijan: I see where you're going, but I HIGHLY doubt it's heading that direction. For example, having Lil' Kim come speak to the class? Proves just how off the focus really is. And unfortunately, there are few English teachers conscious enough to make this one work the right way.

Posted by: Ambra Nykol at November 19, 2004 07:52 AM

Ambra (or anyone else), no real criticisms, just questions:

Does any form of music deserve cultural study the way rich black people and rich, old, white liberals think hip-hop deserves? I love jazz, but some people make WAY to much out of it.

What part of hip-hop could have a lasting, positive influence on our culture that other forms of music could not provide?

Maybe I am naive, but listening to LK's speaking voice, I find it hard to believe she's just some ghetto whore. Are rich, white liberals in LA and NY just using her and others with her image to get rich?


PS Possible Biggie topic: How to Eliminate Your Enemies. (Sorry, couldn't resist:))

Posted by: Steven J. Kelso Sr. at November 19, 2004 08:47 AM

you have GOT to be kidding me.

Posted by: Gina R Johnson at November 19, 2004 09:09 AM

There are a number of legitimate issues that come up with pornography. One is the sociological study of those who oppose it, which includes not just Christians with their sexual morality objections but also feminists with their claim that pornography necessarily subjugates women and uses them as a means to an end. Thus the ethical and legal issues enter in, which are clear subjects of academic study. There are also the economic elements of the business of pornography and the examination of the media itself from a standpoint of those going into media (evaluating directing, cinematography, etc.). I see no reason why that couldn't be a contribution toward a well-rounded education with such an interdisciplinary course that exposes students to many fields of study with a topic that might interest them more than something else. I don't know if that's what the course did, but it's in principle a good course.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at November 22, 2004 04:04 PM

I say lets have a college course on any and everything. Why? Why not. If I weren't giving a speech on Tupac as philospher, I wouldn't have even stumbled on this garbage, waste of time essay. If people are willing to pay to learn about something, then I say f**k it, let them. I, personally have an undying thirst for knowledge that drives me to want to know as much as I can about any and all subjects. If I was Bill Gates' son and lucky enough to never have to worry about money, working for it or running out of it, I would take every course that I possibly could just to know. Also, men like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are nothing more than late-night comedy show punch-lines. Malcolm and Martin were TRUE black leaders that inspired people. I would venture to say that Tupac Shakur is the closest thing we've seen in our generation. So, to the writer of this essay and all those reading this webpage: Can you think of anyone who has inspired an entire generation and caused a true void when the people had to endure w/o them quite like Tupac? Please feel free to "holla if you hear me."......

Posted by: Johnnie D. at December 9, 2004 08:17 AM

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