Agreeing With Lemire: Too Good to be True?

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"I would also suggest (and I think Mom and Dad would agree) that a course preparing English majors for careers in book publishing has more inherent value than a course in deconstructing The Simpsons, or a media studies course that delivers the big news bulletin that advertising presents a misleading portrait of human life" (Lemire 212).

I honestly could not agree more with Lemire here.  While a course about The Simpsons where we get to watch episodes and talk about them may be a little more entertaining than a course about book publishing, I definitely believe the latter would be much more valuable to any English major.  I would love to take a class on book publishing, and I hear there is one that you can take at Seton Hill (of course, this means nothing to me, since I'm transferring next year), but just the idea that it exists somewhere would be so helpful.  Imagine what a teacher could tell their students who might want to be authors from just taking one class.  I think it would be great for any English major, and I can't wait until I can take a class like that somewhere.


Right now I'm teaching a course on the history and future of the book, and Dr. Arnzen teaches "Publications Workshop" which focuses on such topics as how to get an agent and how to get published in today's market. (You can also get some of that same information from Dr. McClain's "Magazine Writing" course.) Having said that, I also teach a course on "Video Game Theory and Criticism," and we do far more in that class than play games.

Were I to teach a course in deconstructing the Simpsons, depending on what level I was offering it, it would probably have more to do with the intellectual act of deconstruction (which, simply put, trains us to identify and challenge assumptions about power and privilege and language. What happens in a child's mind when she hears terms like "policeman" or "woman doctor"? Those terms perpetuate the idea that only men can be police officers, and that it is surprising for a woman to be a doctor.

Think of the "Pay no attention to the man behind that curtain!" scene in The Wizard of Oz, and you'll get some idea of what deconstruction is about. Were I graduate student who had the chance to offer a course on the condition that enough undergraduates signed up for it, I might very well do a little self-marketing by choosing an appealing topic. As an undergrad, I signed up for a course called "Philisophy of Science Fiction," and it was really about free will... the grad student who offered the course simply arranged the readings around the standard science-fiction idea of time travel, and we used various SF stories to come up with scenarios (sometimes in SF when you go back in time you can change the past, but other times you have to watch yourself do whatever you did before and no matter how you try you can't change it.. those are 2 competing ideas about free will). Anyway, we didn't watch any SF movies or read any SF stories in that class; instead we read philosophers who discussed free will. The SF focus helped make the class a bit more lively, but it was a philosophy class, which helped my ability to read complex texts, defend arguments, and think critically.

All this is to say that it's my turn to disagree with Lemire. He has a very narrow definition of "inherent value," and I'd argue that the inherent value of getting a class of students to think critically about something they've never thought about before has inherent value. A university education should have a mixture of practical courses and theoretical courses. Nobody will ever "need" to deconsruct an episode of The Simpsons in order to get a job, but the skills you develop while deconstructing popular texts can transfer to the ability to pick apart an opponent's speech in a political debate, to pick apart an opposing case in a court of law, etc.

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