In the early 2000s, Mickey Mouse and his clubhouse unwittingly made their way into higher education, but not in a positive light. The U.K.’s higher education minister, Margaret Hodge, labeled classes she deemed trivial and irrelevant to the job market “Mickey Mouse courses.”
Among these academic programs considered Mickey Mouse-ish or “soft” — meaning frivolous and overly easy, as opposed to “hard” fields like STEM — is media studies.
A fairly new discipline, media studies can fall under an array of college departments, such as English, film, TV, visual media, American studies, or communications.
Students who take media studies courses or declare a media studies major analyze how the industries, practices, and content of mass media — which include radio, TV, film, newspapers, magazines, books, popular music, digital gaming, the internet, and social media — shape our perspectives of the world around us.
Free Online Media Studies Courses
University of Pennsylvania’s English for Media Literacy
Emory University’s Introduction to Social Media Analytics
Vanderbilt University’s Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative
University of Pennsylvania’s Hollywood: History, Industry, Art
Michigan State University’s What Is News?
New York University’s Media Law
Whereas some people believe studying a president’s tweets or Beyoncé’s fan base contributes nothing significant to society, many students and professors who actively engage in this type of study disagree.
According to the field’s defenders, students who take media studies courses aren’t just watching movies or playing around on Instagram; rather, they’re learning “the how and the why of communication” and its far-reaching effects on our cultures, communities, and democracies. And those lessons are anything but trivial.
I, too, echo these voices and think all students should take at least a couple of media studies courses before graduating college.
Why You Should Take a Media Studies Course
In comparison to subjects like math and literature, media studies is a relatively new field. In fact, it’s only been around for about a century, having taken off in the 1970s.
Despite its young age, media studies is a worthwhile discipline, especially when you consider the fact that we spend almost 12 hours a day interacting with media. Indeed, mass media are everywhere, shaping virtually everything we learn and determining what we talk and care about.
This is why I strongly recommend that students who are not majoring in media studies register for an elective media studies class or two at some point in their college careers.
But what specifically can you gain from studying this field? Here are five ways that taking a media studies course can benefit you, both in and outside the classroom.
The Benefits of Media Literacy
Ultimately, by becoming media literate, we can do the following:
Imagine our culture as more complicated than what 24-hour news pundits may suggest.
Assume a critical stance that takes you outside your own norms and preferences.
Actively participate in debates about mass media and culture as a means to encourage social progress.
So why not spend an elective or two in college improving your media literacy? As Philip Thickett, former head of Birmingham City University’s School of Media, argues, “[We] don’t live in a ‘mickey mouse’ world and media studies is certainly no ‘mickey mouse’ degree.”