From Elvis to Lady Gaga: Music and culture collide in innovative new course

13 August 2012

"In addition to enjoying rock music, we need to take it seriously", says Dr Rebecca Sheehan.
"In addition to enjoying rock music, we need to take it seriously", says Dr Rebecca Sheehan.

There is no denying the worldwide cultural influence of American popular music and rock 'n' roll. In an innovative new course from the United States Studies Centre, the sexual, racial and gender aspects of this mega-industry will be examined through the eyes of some of the music industries biggest influencers.

Commencing in Semester 2, Sex, Race and Rock in the USA (USSC2604) will delve into the cultural history of the United States through intersections of sexuality, race and rock music. The course will be taught by Dr Rebecca Sheehan, who sees it as the perfect balance between academia and popular culture.

"At least in stereotype, rock 'n' roll and the ivory tower are opposed", she says.

"This course provides a great opportunity to connect them. Music and its industries can't be understood in a purely academic way."

It is for this reason that Dr Sheehan has lined up some of the music industry's most influential and exciting personalities as guest speakers.

Guest lecturers include Executive Vice President of Universal Music Publishing International Andrew Jenkins; Editor of Rolling Stone magazine, Rod Yates, front woman of rising Australian band The Jezabels, Hayley Mary; Associate Professor Ian Maxwell from the Department of Performance Studies, who will be giving a lecture on hip hop down under, and the co-founder of MTV, Les Garland, who was also the Executive Producer of the Live Aid concert in 1985.

"Through the guest speakers I hope that students will gain a greater insight into the rock industry", says Dr Sheehan.

And it is an industry worth examining, as it holds a vast influence across the globe. In a time when there is a lot of discussion about the lessening of American global power in light of the rise of China's "economic might", Dr Sheehan believes that we should not overlook America's "soft power".

"Rock music has played a major role in America's global dominance, selling freedom, individualism and rebellion. It has also built communities of listeners and fans across national borders, transcending the bounds of the nation-state and empowering minority groups", she explains.

Popular music holds the unique dichotomy of being collective and personal.

"Music is personal - we each have our own relationship with it. So when we study sex, race and rock in the US we are not only studying American history, we are studying our own history," says Sheehan.

"In addition to enjoying rock music, we need to take it seriously."

Sex, Race and Rock in the USA is cross-listed with American Studies, Gender and Cultural Studies, Music and History. For further information and to enrol, visit the United States Studies Centre website.

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