Thursday, June 18, 2015

Game of Thrones As College?

By Professor Doom

     I’ve written before of the pandering of higher education, the creation of college classes not because they have any particular educational value, or any value in the jobs marketplace but because…they’ll sell. The sexualization of Harry Potter in exchange for that sweet student loan money may be the most egregious, but it’s hardly the only such course out there.

     I’m not opposed to new things, mind you. College courses on computers make much sense, even though computers have been around only a few decades. Similarly, coursework on genetics, electrical engineering, organic chemistry and many other topics seem quite reasonable to me, even if the subjects didn’t even exist a century ago.

     Those new subjects, of course, have far reaching consequences for humanity, and modern civilization. But any more, it seems courses are being slapped together for the sake of shameless pandering. Institutions of higher education are charging *thousands* of dollars for these courses, enough money to fund entire third world villages for a year, or fund a month long vacation in an exotic location for a student…and it’s very clear nobody with any integrity or interest in education is around to say “there’s no justification for this course.”

     The latest embarrassing course:

     Now, I really like Game of Thrones, it’s one of the few shows that I mostly pay attention to when it’s on, and the books are fascinating, because they’re not bound by the “made for TV” formula that makes it so hard for me to care much about TV shows. See, on a TV show, if you shoot a scene with an actor, you have to hire the actor, build the scene/set, set up the cameras, line up the choreography…we’re talking tens of thousands of dollars and hours of work for dozens of people. You’re not going to do that unless that scene is *important* to the show. Thus, TV writing is so ridiculously tight—crime shows are almost intolerable, because you know if a new character is on the show, and has a line, then that character is probably who did it…and the crime is always solved by the key piece of evidence that pops up 57 minutes into a 60 minute show anyway, making most everything before that point irrelevant.

     On the other hand, I like the Game of Thrones (more accurately, Song of Ice and Fire) novels more. In a novel, it’s ok to spend a page of text on a minor character in a scene in a place that might never be visited again, and novels aren’t ashamed of not finishing up on the last page (sequels make more money, after all). Thus, you have to actually pay attention to the written words, and discriminate the information you get; it’s a different process. But I digress…

Admin: “We’re removing this chapter from the course because the students don’t need this…”

---I received such mandates many times from administrators, often administrators with no knowledge of the subject they were eviscerating. Curiously, they only removed chapters that had difficult material. It’s curious that courses on material students couldn’t possibly need, but sell well, are never removed…

      Anyway, Game of Thrones is fun, but…college? The gentle reader is encouraged to check the ol’ want ads and see if there’s a position open for someone who’s proficient in the political structure and heraldry of Westeros. Is anything happening on that show that’s anywhere near as relevant to human civilization as the breakthroughs in the last few decades in the fields of computers, genetics, or the other “newfangled” topics on college campus? Yes, literature has its place, but has Game of Thrones really been around long enough to say it’s that influential?

Valerie Garver, the co-professor of the tax-payer funded course, told the Daily Chronicle that the show is about more than just the violence and nudity.
"It’s a really good example of a piece of modern culture that draws on how the past impacts the present," she said.

Despite the fact that the show is filled with flying dragons and giants, Garver claims the show "represents aspects of the Middle Ages much more realistically than other media depictions that purport to be more accurate."

     “How the past impacts the present” is absolutely a very important thing to learn but…why not use real history for that concept? Shouldn’t an educated person know about how World War II was a consequence of World War I, as opposed to Prince Oberyn’s getting his head exploded in a duel was a consequence of the rape and murder of Elia Martell years earlier in a fictional world? I just don’t understand how knowledge of real history is considered equivalent to knowledge of fictional history, even if the latter features many naked females.

According to the syllabus, students are required to watch episodes of the show and partake in discussions the franchise’s relation to modern cable television, history, and current events.

Jeff Chown, Garver's co-Professor, said the course has been quite popular on campus and that the entire roster filled up within an hour of class registration opening.

      “Quite popular on campus”? How much more shameless can you be about why this college course exists? They’re going to watch the show, then sit around and talk about it. Hey, I do that already with my friends. Standing offer: If anyone wants to pay me $2,000 to watch the show at my house and talk about it afterwards, I’ll happily take the money. There’s a place on my blog for you to contact me, please do so.

     I doubt a single person will take me up on the offer. And yet the course is very popular on campus, students are dying to sign up and pay thousands of dollars (of student loan money) for the privilege of doing what they’ll do anyway…at a taxpayer funded university, I might mention.

     Does anyone seriously believe this course could exist without the student loan scam? Would people really pay thousands of dollars of their own money to do what they can do for (nearly) free anyway? What will students learn here that they aren’t learning in other courses already? Just how many educators honestly believe a show that’s responsible for a new word being added to the English language, sexposition1, is really necessary for an educated person to know much about? Just how many employers believe mastery of “the material” in this course is key to hiring? 

    In times past, before a course could be added to a catalogue, the previous types of questions were asked, and answered by people that actually cared about education. Now, the only question about a new course is “will it sell?” and as long as an administrator thinks it will, the course will run. How is it a wonder that so many college graduates are unemployable?

1.    Sexposition is the use of sexual scenes to entertain the viewer while background story information is being given.

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