New Courses Examine Power through Comedy and Food Media

Whether it’s learning from YouTube tutorials, scrolling TikTok, or binge-watching our favorite late-night comedy and cooking shows, media consumption has softened the blow of the ongoing pandemic. It’s also served as a source of inspiration for two new Media Studies courses taught by Assistant Professor and General Faculty member Pallavi Rao

In Food, Media, and Popular Culture, students are assigned a combination of creative and critical work to dissect their own experience with culinary media. To accomplish this, they examine content from food writing, cookbooks, mukbangs, dietary media, food countercultures, celebrity chefs, travel shows, and competitive cooking programs. For her final project, Samantha Bonde (’22) created a cooking video that examines the experiences of women in the kitchen throughout history.

Just Kidding: Humor and Laughter Across Popular Media explores the vibrant world of comedy through different media forms in America. Structured by genre, students study a variety of content including stand-up and physical comedy, political satire, TV sitcoms, and memes. The course then challenges students to think critically about how humor works. “The question is never ‘Is this funny or not?’ That’s almost beside the point,” said Rao. Instead, students consider the psychology and cultural conventions behind humor. For example, inspired by Keaton Patti, Haoyang Li (’23) wrote an animated short video titled, I Forced A Bot to Watch 1,000 Hours of Anime by combining seriousness and absurdity to poke fun at the cliches and stereotypes of the anime genre. 

In both courses, Rao challenges students to explore the intersection of power and popular culture by asking big questions about representation, money, and embedded messages. She explains, “Popular media is very much a place where everyday ideas of power and power relations are played out. Giving students the tools to recognize that, engage with it, and perhaps even create their own content is something I hope they take away.” Both courses will be offered this spring.