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From professor to global sensation: world goes “gaga ” for sociology course

27 May 2013 Springer Science+Business Media

University professor reveals the true story of his Lady Gaga course

When the course 'Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame' was announced at the University of South Carolina, it became the number one Lady Gaga news story, reported and discussed in a wide variety of internet stories and media outlets worldwide. The true story of the course is now described in detail in a new paper, “Professor Goes Gaga: Teaching Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame,” by the creator of the course himself - Professor Mathieu Deflem. The article is published in Springer’s journal, The American Sociologist.

Written as an autobiographical revelation, Professor Deflem’s paper recounts how the unprecedented attention devoted to the Gaga course gave its creator the opportunity to experience contemporary celebrity culture himself. He received requests to have his course broadcast, was given interview opportunities with some of the world’s premiere news sources and was even asked to be the subject of a photo shoot by a fashion magazine. Dr. Deflem was also bombarded by emails from students who wanted to take the course, even those who did not attend the university, or were not even from the United States.

Professor Deflem had realized the course might gain some popular attention but was surprised and shocked at the level of obsession with his teaching, as seemingly every newspaper, radio station, TV station and online media site - including social networks - reported on the course. Within days, Deflem described the volume and intensity of popular interest and media coverage – which rapidly spread globally – to be “overwhelming.” During the peak of coverage, the total number of online mentions about the 'Gaga Class' exceeded 800,000 – unheard of for a university course.

Lady Gaga herself also commented about the course in several interviews, including a special on 60 Minutes where she described herself as a student of the sociology of fame. Although the singer may not have known the course content, she did award Professor Deflem special recognition when he was portrayed as a character on a Saturday Night Live episode starring Lady Gaga.

The most staggering impact of the course was that it became a subject of the very fame it was studying. Deflem comments, "the course was able to rely on a technologically accelerated and culturally propelled obsession with celebrity and fame that characterizes the present time." As a result, the instructor became famous in his own right. While visiting Tokyo, Professor Deflem found himself recognized by several Japanese fans who called him “Gaga sensei” (‘Gaga teacher’) and asked for autographs and pictures.

There were some reports that questioned the validity of the course, or that lamented Deflem’s creation as a sign of the sorry state of higher education. One blogger commented that the course was a sign of the second advent. However, as professor Deflem notes, the academic value of the curriculum may be better summarized in one student’s posting on a professor-rating site: “Stay away from the Lady Gaga class. You have to do the readings and work your butt off…” More importantly, the majority of students who took the class vouched for the course and its instructor.

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