Caitlin Lawson is a third year PhD student in Communication and Media at the University of Michigan. She is broadly interested in popular culture, with specific interests in celebrity studies and gender and the media. She is currently working on her dissertation, "Platform Feminism: Celebrity Culture and Activism in the Digital Age," which focuses on the recent proliferation of discussions of feminism in celebrity culture and its intersections with digital media. Past research projects explore how young women interpret Miley Cyrus’ new persona, focusing on their readings vis-à-vis race and gender. She received her BA in English from the University of Oklahoma and her MA in English with a concentration in film studies from the University of Central Oklahoma.
This Spring term, Caitlin will be teaching her course COMM 404.101: Celebrity Studies, a 2-hour (3 credit) seminar meeting on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursday from 3 pm – 5 pm.
Can you give us an introduction to your course?
In this class, we'll be focusing on the meanings of celebrity in modern American culture. A lot of people think celebrity culture is frivolous and meaningless, but this class will encourage students to think about the ways it intersects with and motivates discussion about important issues. To that end, we'll analyze and critique celebrities and celebrity culture and their meanings in terms of race, gender, class, and sexuality. For example, students will have the chance to think about current issues like the controversy around Beyoncé's music video for "Formation," Caitlyn Jenner's televisions show I Am Cait and its articulations of trans identity, and the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. Overall, our goal will be to think about the place celebrity has in our culture and how audiences can use it to think about and negotiate various social norms and values.
What motivated you to pursue this opportunity to teach a course of your own design? What is it about this topic that interests you?
I've been interested in celebrities for about as long as I can remember; since I was in grade school, I've been obsessed with following their fashion and personal lives, but I had never really given it much thought. However, during my sophomore year of college, one of my professors had us watch and analyze the gendered implications of Britney Spears music videos. I realized that these meanings could have a big impact on our culture - and had certainly had a big impact on me - and I wanted to understand them more deeply. That's why I came to Michigan to pursue my PhD in Communication and Media, and I'm excited to share this fun and fascinating topic with the undergrads here.
What would you say to students who are considering taking your course? Why should they take it?
First of all, I truly hope this class will be enjoyable. While we'll be thinking deeply about race, class, gender, and sexuality, we'll be doing it by talking about celebrity stories that students will be familiar with and hopefully find relevant and interesting. And the critical thinking and writing skills that students gain and hone will be useful not only in other classes in the Comm Studies program and in any future graduate work but also in their personal lives. They'll be able to plan and produce original research on the celebrity topic of their choice, and they'll also learn to think more deeply about the celebrity media they encounter everyday.
Is there a particular lesson plan or topic you will explore in the course that you are excited to delve into with your students?
While I'm excited about the class as a whole and can't wait to start teaching, I'm most looking forward to the open discussion periods at the beginning of each class. I plan to have one student bring in a recent celebrity story each day with a few discussion questions. We'll start every class by connecting those stories to our readings, various theories, and previous discussions. I hope this will help students feel invested in the course, give them a sense of ownership over their learning, and help me to make the class really relevant and useful to them.