This fall, Princeton offered a course on the sociological implications of Bruce Springsteen.
Then comes big bad Harvard, clearly jealous, and they’re all, “OK, Princeton, we see your bid for pop-cultural relevance and raise you… The Wire. So real! So gritty! Your move.”
Princeton’s response? “Model Memoirs: The Life Stories of International Fashion Models,” an African-American Studies/Comp Lit class (announced today) that will be taught next semester by Professor Wendy Belcher.
Here’s the description from the Registrar’s website:
Explores the life-writing of American, African, and Asian women in the fashion industry as a launching point for thinking about race, gender, and class. How do ethnicity and femininity intersect? How are authenticity and difference commodified? How do women construct identities through narrative and negotiate their relationships to their bodies, families, and nations? This course will include guest lectures by fashion editors and models; discussions of contemporary television programs, global fashion, and cultural studies; and student self-narratives about their relationships with cultural standards of beauty, whether vexed or not.
Sample reading list:
Alek Wek, Alek: From Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel
Irina Pantaeva, Siberian Dream
Jillian Shanebrook, Model: Life Behind the Makeup
Waris Diric, Desert Flower: The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad
Mary Gaitskill, Veronica
Linda Welters and Abby Lillethun, The Fashion Reader
Models often get unfairly pegged as airheads, and it might be similarly tempting to write off this class as academic fluff. But there’s always been plenty of discussion in the ivory tower about Beauty (its meaning, its evolution, its relation to Truth – ask an art history friend). When it comes to human beauty, it’s hard to deny that models have played a role in defining and communicating the concept’s changing standards.
Discussing what that role is, exactly, is likely a big part of the class. But even putting aside such high-minded academic concerns, there’s much that could be compelling about hearing the stories of women often paid to be mute projections of some larger feminine ideal. Beyond the usual backstage champagne-and-cigarettes stories, you can find some real human drama — for a more sensational example, I direct you to the tragic tale of Wallis Franklin — when examining models’ lives.
Also, Tyra Banks.
Of course, the course’s omission of male models leaves the door wide open for Harvard to one-up us again. But for now, Inkblots, savor the fierceness of victory.