By Rob Carli
CHARLESTON, Thursday 18 November 2010 (AFP) - Pop provocateur Lady Gaga may be only 24 but she has already won a string of awards and can now add another feather to her many hats: a university course in her name.
"Lady Gaga and the sociology of fame" is one of the latest courses to be added to the curriculum at the University of South Carolina for the spring 2011 semester.
And it already has the campus buzzing.
"The case of the fame of Lady Gaga is sociologically relevant as a study in popular culture and the social conditions of the current culture of fame," said professor Matthieu Deflem, who will lead the course.
A self-proclaimed fan of the American music diva who has raised eyebrows with her over-the-top costumes, gravity-defying heels and stunning music videos, Deflem is also a huge follower of pop culture since the 1960s.
"The fame of Lady Gaga is a current occurrence that will also tie in with students' interests," said the professor, who has been teaching courses on international policing and terrorism for the past 15 years.
The 48-year-old professor has met Gaga five times and seen her perform live 29 times. And he argues that her meteoric rise to stardom is unique to today.
"Her fame has taken place over the past two years in a society which is very different from some decades ago," Deflem said. "Especially the influence of the Internet and technology will be relevant."
Gaga's 2008 debut album "The Fame," which features the song "Poker Face," has sold over 15 million albums worldwide, captured a number of awards, including no. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart and six Grammy Award nominations.
On her website, Lady Gaga charts her rise from the "precocious child" who would "dance around the table at fancy West Side restaurants using the bread-sticks as a baton" to the "exhibitionist, multi-talented singer-songwriter with a flair for theatrics that she is today."
She admits to making a name for herself in New York with her "wild, theatrical and often tongue-in-cheek shock art performances."
At 17, the singer, who took her name from the British group Queen's single "Radio Gaga," won early admission to the Tisch school of the Arts at New York University, and was signed for her first record label by the age of 20.
"My goal as an artist is to funnel a pop record to a world in a very interesting way," she writes on the website www.ladygaga.com.
"Pop culture is art. It doesn't make you cool to hate pop culture, so I embraced it... But it's a sharable fame. I want to invite you all to the party. I want people to feel a part of this lifestyle."
Lady Gaga has not been far from the headlines this year. At the MTV awards in September she shimmied onto the stage wearing a "meat dress" -- made entirely of raw steak.
And a few weeks earlier she held a rally in Maine targeting moderate senators in a bid to drum up support in Congress to overturn a US ban on gays serving openly in the military. "Born This Way," her second album, is due out in 2011.
Some students at South Carolina think the pop culture-themed class will be beneficial for the university, which is better known for a recent national championship in baseball and head football coach Steve Spurrier.
"I think the Lady Gaga course will have a positive impact on the university image because it shows the school is diverse and has courses that aren't necessarily standard," said business major Kirk Broome.
"There's also the old adage any publicity is good publicity so I think there's been a buzz around the nation that brings USC into people's minds."
But other campus instructors question whether such a course really has a place among more serious subjects.
"I'm sure such courses exist all over the world," said associate professor Ernest Wiggins of the journalism school. "The study of fame and celebrity is nothing new. It's been around for nearly as long as we've had celebrities.
"I've heard colleagues defend this course and others challenge the very notion of a course on Lady Gaga," he said. "I think it would be best to let the course happen and see what comes of it."
Lady Gaga argues that she owes her success to hard work, coming up through the New York club scene where she sometimes bombed and sometimes wowed.
"I learned how to survive as an artist, get real, and how to fail and then figure out who I was as singer and performer," she writes on the website.
"And, now, I’m just trying to change the world one sequin at a time."