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What reality TV can teach us 

The Kardashians may be able to teach us something besides glossy fashion and marriage drama, according to Alice Bardan, PhD

April 1, 2022

Alice Bardan, PhD, is into film and literature and TV shows. Originally from Romania, she’s especially interested in films about migration and refugees. Her research focuses on immigration, racial issues, women’s roles in society, and identity.

In her classes, she engages students in these conversations by exposing them to everything from classical literature to reality TV. Yes, reality TV. “With ‘Lysistrata,’ we talk about the power of women’s collectives, women’s anger and the ideological expectations that were placed on women in classical society,” says Bardan. “Then we look at those same ideas but within contemporary culture.” 

Alice Bardan, PhD, teaches composition and social sciences research using everything from classical literature to reality TV
Alice Bardan, PhD, teaches composition and social sciences research using everything from classical literature to reality TV

To do that, Bardan taps into reality TV. Her students are already watching these shows, but they probably aren’t examining what they say about — or how they influence — our culture.

“It’s totally fine to just enjoy shows like ‘The Kardashians’ andWife Swap,’ but I want my students to also think about what these shows tell us that’s different from or the same as what’s been done before. They may find something valuable in something others call trash. Maybe they see someone succeeding and not letting themselves be bullied by others, someone with confidence in themselves. Each viewer will have a specific investment in watching the show.”

While Bardan teaches composition and the basics of social sciences research — how to formulate questions, where to look for scholarly articles, how to master the art of crafting a thesis — what she’s also doing is teaching students how to sort through complex issues, form their own opinions and defend those opinions. “Writing is about being able to put subjects into context, reflect upon and analyze what’s happening.”

In some courses, Bardan asks students to pick a controversial topic they feel conflicted about, like a universal wage. Then she has them to do research to form an educated opinion. “I’m training them how to not be afraid to take a position. I ask them to let themselves be challenged by other ideas and weigh both sides before deciding where they stand, so their choice will be informed, and they can defend their decisions.” 

As students begin working on their theses, they will write and rewrite to craft arguments that are clear and compelling and that convey to readers why their ideas matter. With practice, they become less shy and more confident in their ability to express themselves.

For Bardan, teaching students how to articulate their ideas and stand their ground is a critical skill for life as well as research. “We make decisions every day — in our personal lives and in our careers. It’s important to be able to make informed choices and be confident in our direction.”