This fall, drama professor Naila Keleta-Mae will shake up the critical minds of University of Waterloo undergraduates with a course on pop culture diva, Beyoncé.
Keleta-Mae says the videos from the best-selling artist’s most recent album, simply titled Beyoncé, are performances worthy of academic examination.
“This album in particular, from its way of presenting feminism to its digital release, provides rich subject matter in the field of performance studies,” she said.
Similar courses focusing on Beyoncé have already appeared on other campuses — namely Rutgers University and the University of Victoria.
But Keleta-Mae’s Beyoncé-themed course has raised eyebrows among colleagues, with some questioning its scholarly merit.
When asked about criticisms leveled that the course is a gimmick or lacking legitimacy, Keleta-Mae says she hears these complaints mostly from inside the academy.
“I have received an overwhelmingly positive response from those outside the academy thirsty to apply a critical lens to their everyday lives,” she said.
She argues that universities often perpetuate elitist assumptions that popular culture is too low-brow for the likes of the ivory tower.
For Keleta-Mae, this raises questions about who determines and how it is determined what is valuable and worthy of study in universities.
“Beyoncé is an obvious, compelling and somewhat unremarkable case for the study of gender and performance in a liberal arts program at a post-secondary institution,” she said. “What is threatening about studying an internationally influential female African-American artist? Why shouldn’t she be studied, especially in the area of performance studies?”
The professor says no matter the consternation about the course, Beyoncé’s impact is undeniable.
“She’s created a space in which she’s a capitalist feminist and she presents her feminism in this context of capitalism and consumerism.”
Students will analyze videos from Beyoncé’s most recent album, using feminist and critical race theories to reflect on the artist’s messages and create their own artistic responses.
“Students are expected to develop a proficiency in critically interpreting the videos and music as performance,” Keleta-Mae said, “and to apply theory and methodology to other ways that they see and understand gender and performance in their everyday lives.”