You will be glad to know that progress continues apace within the groves of academe. More than a year ago, it will be recalled, word came forth from the campus of Monmouth College in New Jersey about the establishment of a course devoted to exegesis of the television program "M*A*S*H." Now, difficult though it may be to believe, that has been topped: At California State University at Los Angeles, it is now possible to enroll in -- and receive credit for -- a course called "Music Video 454."
No, that is not a typographical error. "Music Video 454," taught by two assistant professors named Alan Bloom and Robert Vianello, is a 10-week course devoted to the oeuvres of Weird Al Yankovic, Twisted Sister, Cyndi Lauper and other luminaries of rock video. As described in a recent issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, the course has only one textbook -- the "Rolling Stone Book of Rock Video" -- and consists largely of watching rock videos, a strenuous intellectual exercise that, according to one alumnus of the course, "changes you." After this eye-opening experience, he says, "you can't just sit and watch TV like a mindless vegetable any more. You start to think."
Do you ever. "Music Video 454" is heavy stuff. "I don't want to have a class where people watch videos," Bloom says. "That's easy. That's cheap. I want them thinking." So he and Vianello really lay it on the students. "The teaching team's five-pronged approach," according to The Chronicle, "includes discussion of music video's history, aesthetic style, production processes, industry economics, and social impact." In 10 weeks, raw adolescents are transformed into mature adults. "This is terrible to say," one reports, "but after I took the class, I stopped watching music videos so much. I guess it's because I'm a lot more selective about what I like. When you know the process, your expectation goes up."
Like, wow. Isn't that what the community of scholars is all about? Say for Bloom and Vianello what James A. Garfield once said for another noted educator: "Give me a log hut with only a simple bench, Mark Hopkins on one end and I on the other, and you may have all the buildings, apparatus, and libraries without him." Just like Hopkins, these guys are into deep education. As Vianello says: "I like to think that what I do is teach critical thinking. I have an advantage in doing that because I teach television. And students know much more about television than they do about sociology or political science or the classical academic subjects. Liberal arts is no longer a tenable attraction at this university. You've got to produce people who are going to get jobs. But here we can enhance their career objectives and also teach them critical thinking."
That is right smack on the money: Don't teach students what they don't know; teach them what they do know. The point of higher education isn't to take the mind into terra incognita and make it comprehensible, it's to have a whole lot of fun -- for student and teacher alike -- and to fob it off as learning. Anyone who thinks that "let's study" is what people say to each other on campus is living in the past; the new slogan in the groves is "let's party!"
This has not escaped the attention of administrators and deans at the University of Yardley, a new institution of higher education now accepting applications for enrollment at its quaint, ivied campus in northwest Baltimore. Its first catalogue is now being assembled, and in hopes of easing students' paths toward the courses it describes, each course is being assigned a Fun Rating. The theory is that if students know how much (or how little) fun they can expect to get out of a course, they will be able to decide whether it is suited to their particular intellectual interests, not to mention musical tastes, sexual appetites and "life styles." Some samples:
*"Green Giant 211." A step-by-step analysis of how a noted manufacturer of canned and frozen peas turned its Green Giant Look-Alike Contest into an orgy of free publicity. No textbook required. Assignments consist of local-news videos and newspaper clippings that demonstrate media gullibility. Purpose of course: To develop news-manipulation skills. Three credits. Fun Rating: **.
*"Walkman 101." An introduction to the recording and use of audio cassettes, with emphasis on the acquisition and management of personal stereos. Students will be expected to master Fast Forward, Reverse, Tape Select, Input Select and Pause. Textbook: Walkman Owner's Manual. Reading time: Six minutes. Field trip: A 30-minute walk through Druid Hill Park while listening to Prince and fleeing muggers. Purpose of course: To master simultaneous walking and listening. Two credits. Fun Rating: *** 1/2.
*"Pinball 404." A history of arcade games, from rudimentary pinball through Space Invaders and Pac-Man. No reading, no thinking. Course requirements: 100 hours of acclimatization to both manual and computerized machines. Purpose of course: To raise pinball scores over 25,000 and avoid "TILT." Four credits. Fun Rating: ****.
*"English 502." A survey of the Elizabethan poets, with particular emphasis on the work of Robert Southwell, Michael Drayton, John Donne,Thomas Nashe and William Shakespeare. Textbook: "The Oxford Book of English Verse." Course requirements: Reading and analysis of poetry; 12 written assignments; term paper; final examination. Purpose of course: Education. Three credits. Fun Rating: 0.
*"Harry Reems 700." An examination of the life and work of the noted cinemactor. Particular attention will be paid to his towering achievement, "Deep Throat." Parallel viewing includes "Behind the Green Door," "Debbie Does Dallas" and "Erotica XXXXX." No textbook required. Class project: Production of a 30-minute videotape in the Reems manner. Full student participation. Purpose of course: If you need to ask, it's not for you. Six credits. Fun Rating:**********.
According to the president of UY -- a strange middle-aged fellow who declines to give his name -- response to the Fun Ratings from prospective students has been "overwhelmingly enthusiastic." One student told an admissions officer that she would consider no other university and would pray each night that her application be approved. "I never knew college could be so laid back," she told him. She asked if future catalogues might include courses in other matters of interest to her, among them video games, skateboarding, punk coiffure and Harlequin Romances. Not merely was he able to give her a hearty "You betcha!" -- accompanied by a shattering smile he had learned in "Anchorman 202" -- but he was happy to inform her that in the fall of 1987 UY will open its School of Recreational Shopping, with a full course of study leading to the doctoral degree. "Ooooooh!" she squealed. "And with field trips to Harborplace?"