Advanced degree in popular culture unique

William Channell and William Channell

The University offers the only popular culture graduate program in the U.S.

Founded in 1973, the program is as old as the entire pop culture department itself.

The two-year Master of Arts program doesn’t just focus on media, television and film, said Marilyn Motz, professor and coordinator of the graduate program.

“We also study other aspects of everyday life and expressive practices of everyday life,” Motz said. “Things that people do that are not elite culture but are also not mass-produced.”

Motz said people generally think of popular culture as only encompassing film, television, music and media, but in fact there are many more facets of popular culture.

“[Popular culture also encompasses] holidays, recreational activities and various sorts of creative practices that people do that are artistic and enjoyable and help us understand the world,” Motz said.

Motz said the wide specialization is incorporated into the coursework, which helps prepare students for a variety of careers.

“[What we teach] is shared by a number of different fields,” Motz said. “They’re getting a general framework of how we study the way cultural processes work. And that is basically applicable to any field they go into.”

Motz said a large part of what students learn comes from research for their theses.

“They’re getting practice in doing original academic research,” Motz said. “They’re saying something new in [their] theses.”

This wide specialization helps prepare students primarily for doctorate programs, though students are far from limited to going that route, said Motz.

“I just got an email from a student today who was just hired full-time at [a network news channel],” Motz said. “He had heard part of the reason he was hired was because he had the degree in popular culture.”

It is this history of success that has drawn students to the program.

Jacob Brown, a graduate student in the program, said he was attracted to the degree by the emphasis on both learning and teaching.

“The program is really focused on the dual aspects of education and learning,” Brown said. “So while we’re working on our theses, we’re in classrooms teaching.”

Brown said students serve as teaching assistants during the first semester of the program, and are then actual instructors for the remaining three semesters, teaching introductory popular culture courses.

“It gives us a nice foundation for working within academia,” Brown said.

Esther Clinton, a visiting professor in the program, said what makes the program special is how unique it is.

“The [other programs] are top-notch, they’re all very good programs, but there are other schools that have similar programs,” Clinton said. “[With popular culture], you have to go out of the country to get a similar program.”

Jeremy Wallach, a professor in the program, said the program is prominent in the academic world.

“A big part of popular culture, and popular culture’s profile in the academic world, is because of our graduate program,” Wallach said.

This could be because of the program’s publicity. The degree has been featured in SPIN magazine, Rolling Stone and the front page of the Wall Street Journal, Wallach said.

“We lend a lot of visibility to the University,” said Wallach. “Once [our students] get out, they make waves.”