Casualties are expected when Stanford students fight for seats in a new course studying Taylor Swift

Originally published at: Casualties are expected when Stanford students fight for seats in a new course studying Taylor Swift | Boing Boing


There have been college courses on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Beyonce, Game of Thrones, and whole other bunch of pop culture touchstones. Some day, there will probably be a college course on the phenomenon of having college courses about pop culture phenomena, if there hasn’t been one already. I have no issue with any of this.


As well there should be… I don’t really get this being used as evidence by some for the “failure” of the modern university. Understanding our culture and what is says about a particular historical moment matters, I’d argue.


How to reclaim music publishing rights 101? Mayyyybe.
Multiple choice quizzes about which ex celebrity partner her songs are about? Probably.
*Not my place to say where someone’s bucket of money should go, but I’d be more clambering to register to a program that was funded by celebrity money to elevate their field of research.

I doubt that… I’m sure that will be in the discussion, but less about gossip, and more about what the existence of this gossip says about what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. I get that it’s still sort of cool to dump on things girls like, but maybe we should start taking the culture they consume seriously? :woman_shrugging:

But we’re all okay with large corporations pouring money into STEM programs rather than research being funded mostly by universities or NES… As if that’s not problematic. A cursory survey of what kind of research was done during the Cold War, for example, shows how the defense industry shaped research in STEM fields then. Part of the Free Speech protests at Berkely were driven by corporate money funding the vietnam war, don’t forget. But today, we all celebrate when celebra-CEOs pour money into STEM fields for their own economic enhancement… That’s apparently, just fine, for Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and other corporate donors to shape STEM, not for the public good, but for their own aims.

And is there evidence of Swift paying people to cover her work? Is there some massive endowment she gave to Stanford? Or are people objecting merely because the topic is a woman artist, rather than the Beatles or Elvis?

The humanities are getting hammered, because far too many people are seeing them as a “luxury” rather than as an important part of full literacy in understanding the world around us. Far too many of us that teach history, english, especially literature and cultural studies, sociology, art, art history, etc, are doing it for peanuts already. There have been entire history departments cut to “save money”… I’d think after all that has happened, we’d finally start understanding just how important these fields are to support and fund, given what happens when people don’t understand the past or how culture works.


There is certainly that nefarious undertone of all hype surrounding the post secondary industrial education, shaping future cogs in the machine. (I’m really uneducated, which I’m sure is plain as day in my clunky replies and backwoods views, I’m guilty of.)
But Ivy League (*just found out that Stanford isn’t Ivy League) courses created to further idol worship of a clearly talented musician, who luckily had the comforts of a family home her well to do parents relocated to Nashville to support her career, whose humble beginnings were portrayed as just a girl sitting in front of her webcam busking away, I feel, gives the wrong picture of reality to girls who are card carrying Swifties.
*I should add that it’s just as misleading to think The Strokes weren’t boarding school brats who were already plugged into some heavy hitting rock musician families before they made their big break.

Well, but do you think that this is what the class is going to be? Despite the recent ruling, the Ivies have become more diverse thanks to affirmative action… it’s the more conservative view would reject studying mass culture, especially that which is largely consumed by young women, and demand we go back to studying dead white dudes only.

Of course, the class could ignore the context of Swift’s comfortably upbringing, and her already established connections to the industry - but most likely, a well designed class is not just going to be a mindless celebration of her work, but an even-handed exploration of her work, her impact, her public persona, etc. Given that it’s Stanford, I’m gonna guess that it’ll be the latter rather than the former. Cultural criticism, done right, isn’t about just boosterism or hating on a topic - it’s about taking it seriously, and seeing what threads you can pull out of it, to better understand the world around us.

There is nothing wrong with not knowing something, because you can always learn it… I try hard not to be a dick if someone doesn’t know something… I get that not everyone has an advanced degree. But the problem will be if you (in the general sense) don’t care to learn and stubbornly refuse to do so. I haven’t really gotten that sense from you, so… :woman_shrugging:

Let’s not forget that there is an XKCD for this topic, too (the topic of not knowing something):


I try to live by that idea.


I’ve never heard anyone portray Swift’s career as beginning that way. Justin Bieber, yes, but not Swift.

To be clear, I am not a huge fan of Swift’s music. I like some of her stuff, but most of it doesn’t do anything for me. However, as someone who knows just enough music theory to be dangerous, and can play guitar badly, she is mega-talented. The fact that I don’t personally love her music doesn’t mean she’s not great. She is. I don’t really like the Grateful Dead, either, but I can’t deny their talent or influence either. The popularity of hating on Taylor Swift has always rubbed me the wrong way, and I don’t really get where it comes from. I suspect misogyny is often a component, but I think some of it is the general hate some people like to dump on anything popular (see also Nickelback). So while I am not a huge fan of her music, I am a huge fan of her. She has gobs of talent, and has carved a path for how a young artist can successfully take control of their career back from greedy record companies. Hopefully other artists will follow that path, and I would be shocked if this course didn’t cover that aspect of her career. She also very successfully changed genres from mainstream country to mainstream pop, and that’s not as easy as you might think. Others have tried that shift and failed. That would also be worth studying.


I’m fully supportive of a reevaluation and rewriting of overlooked history, to see more cultural criticism of those white dudes and their actions behind the curtain, like idea theft in the sciences like The Alice Ball Method, for example.
I appreciate your level headed approach to teaching and acceptance of the pluralistic life beyond the walls of these institutions.
This particular Stanford course is called The Last Great American Songwriter, which must aim to inflate her body of work and could just as well have made a more accessible addition to The Great Courses library.
Do you think Taylor Swift had to sign off on or make some deal to allow Stanford to use her image in this course? Or is it fair-use?
Abel Tesfaye, who is admittedly riding the coat tails of the late King of Pop’s vocal style, put a little bit of his buckets of money into University of Toronto’s Ethiopic studies… I’m sure he could do a whole lot more and could simply be that public display of philanthropy for the sake of it since he took his money and moved to the US.
Granted, the way his persona subjugates women in his lyrics and newfound acting career, he might not qualify for such lauded research and doesn’t really leave me a leg to stand on in terms of misogyny…
Maybe I’m just sour that post secondary is out of reach for many. These celebrities are so rich they could cough and spearhead serious change… I think they could all fork out their wealth to make post secondary a reality for the people who want to inspire progress.

Again, the title of the course isn’t everything about it… It could be meant to be provocative, to set the course off on a debate about what it means to be a song-writer If there is a larger set of courses at the university, in either the musicology and/or English department (could be a cross-over course) that deals with songwriting as a topic, then this could fit into that set of courses.

This is part of the problem - pushing off a humanities education into a for-profit venture… this is why I and many others like me do not have steady, full time employment in academia.

Yes, it’s fair use. And the onus is on you to prove that she personally funded this class. These are more common than you think (as @danimagoo noted, there are other pop culture studies classes out there), and it’s usually driven by the work and interests of the professors. Like it or not, pop culture is something that people can and do study (myself included). The pearl clutching is playing right into the right wing narratives that seeks to bring back a “classical” education that does nothing but reinforce a right wing, male, white centric world view.

Let me point you once again, to how that’s what corporations have been doing for years, specially for STEM fields. They are actively shaping fields of study, so I’m not sure why when people who have historically been marginalized (such as this person, who I’m guessing is of Ethiopian/Eritrean extraction) do the same thing, it’s all of a sudden wrong. Endowing chairs and area studies have long been part and parcel of shaping narratives, for good or ill. But now all of a sudden, it’s bad? Plus, you’ve presented zero evidence that Swift endowed shit? So…

He was giving to a Ethiopic studies, not to those of his own career necessarily. Should we not study one of the oldest civilizations on history? Let me point to you, again, that there is a huge shortage of funding for the humanities (I assume that Canada has some similar issues as the US), and departments (especially those that probably get less support than other fields) will happily accept donations of this kind to be able to do the basics. If you want that to stop, then you and everyone else needs to support state funding of universities, across disciplines.

They could, but they don’t… corporations do. THAT is one of the real problems, not the chump change offered by a few rock stars…


Point taken.
I should clarify, I never meant to undermine his personal lack of qualification to fund that research of his cultural history… I think it’s admirable when people put their money into those overlooked fields of study to elevate awareness of culture.
I meant he might not qualify to be studied/researched in a course, like Taylor Swift…
Good point about celebrities having chump change compared to these corporations who have hijacked post secondary education.

There have been plenty of times where people without advanced degrees have been invited to teach college courses, based on their specific areas of expertise… Neil Gaiman teaches at Bard now and again. As well he should, given his mastery of storytelling and mythmaking. But I don’t know that he gave donations to Bard for the privilege… rather they invited him because he knows something about the field of storytelling.

But as far as I know, this is not a course taught by or funded by Swift, it is one about her career and it’s cultural meaning. If you have some evidence to the contrary, then please post it, so I can update my understanding here… :woman_shrugging:


I mean sure, songs about break ups, but imagine what you would study to actually understand Taylor Swift’s music and career. For instance, as Mindy noted she changed from country to pop. Why? What does that mean for her music and who will listen to it? A lot of her songs are co-written with Max Martin, a name you see on a ton of billboard hits…so what part does he actually contribute, and how does that end up shaping our musical landscape? How about her sexual assault trial against a DJ or her dispute about the ownership of her albums – how do things like that end up shaping the music scene?

Done properly, this would be a perfect thread to understand a ton about early 21st century music…more if you dive into her influences. So a good course in contemporary art and culture, which students can tell is going to touch on some songs they know and presumably like. Sounds great to me.


“Student Initiated Courses are considered ‘activity courses,’ and allow students to explore areas of interest or enrichment.”

I bet these students are like me when I found out I could take Riflery as a PE credit at K-State. It was a larger “area of interest” than any other PE course offered. It was graded, though. I got an A.


Speculation as to which boyfriend a song that she has not sung in a while, but then sang recently, refers to seems to be in my newsfeed constantly.

You’re doing it wrong.

Which, as we’ve established, is speculation about what will be in the course, not actual knowledge of what will be in the course…

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“The whole goal of the class is to dive into the art of songwriting, exploring the interplay between literary references and lyricism and storytelling in Taylor Swift’s entire discography, taking it one album at a time and trying to look at the evolution of using songwriting as a narrative form. It will draw parallels to classic works of literature and poetry in each album and gain a deeper understanding of the narrative power of music,” said Jeffs.

“I knew there were a lot of courses about classic literature writers from the 1800s, but never about a songwriter,” Jeffs said. “I wanted to draw parallels between novels and her songs, and how she can make an album with individual songs that build on each other and come to a climax,” akin to narrative arcs in classic literature, she added.

It sounds like more than a few week’s worth of work to me

Almost any class in college is often more than you can actually fit into a semester… Each semester, I have to teach ALL of us (or modern or ancient world) and I have to decide what to leave out, and what to keep. :woman_shrugging:


Are you saying that an academic course like this is somehow not as rigorous as a ‘real’ course?

Funny you should mention them….I have posted before on this forum that there have been graduate business courses taught on the Grateful Dead, because their unusual marketing techniques were both visionary and profitable.