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New Special Topics course puts the spotlight on food and media

Katie Pryor
Arts & Culture Editor

In a major as diverse as the Communications Department, students can expect to find a unique set of classes aside from the core broadcasting, public relations and theatre courses offered. One course being taught this semester is Comm 429, or Special Topics: Food, Popular Culture and Media, which meets once a week in downtown Lancaster.

“Unwrapped” host Marc Summers will be among the guest speakers of Dr. Woodall’s Special Topics class.
“Unwrapped” host Marc Summers will be among the guest speakers of Dr. Woodall’s Special Topics class.

Comm 429 is taught by Communication professor Dr. Lowery Woodall, who teaches radio and broadcasting courses and also serves as the faculty advisor for Millersville’s radio station, WIXQ. He has been teaching Communication Special Topics courses since last fall. The first of these classes was Special Topics: Pro Wrestling in fall 2013, with Special Topics: Science-Fiction class in spring 2014. With this Special Topics: Food course, Dr. Woodall went back to his graduate school days when planning the class.

“My mentor in grad school did extensive research on food and how it affects our lives,” said Dr. Woodall. “Food is such a huge part of our lives and culture but we don’t always think of the bigger questions – where does our food come from? What does our favorite foods say about us? What types of food are appropriate for what events? Not only did I want to pick a topic that would appeal to my students, but I also wanted to honor my mentor and reconnect with grad school.”

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When it comes to how it connects to Communication, Dr. Woodall explains that our notions derive from the mass media. “People may say things in pop culture aren’t important or ‘Oh, it’s just a TV show,’ but there’s usually more going on than just a television show,” he explained.

One example he gives on the impact mass media can have on food (and possibly vice-versa) is the famous scene in “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” where Elliott uses Reese’s Pieces to lure E.T. “Steven Spielberg originally wanted to use M&Ms, but Mars thought kids would be too scared of the alien. So, they went with Hershey’s Reese’s Pieces instead. Now Reese’s Pieces is one of the most popular candies out there.”

Although the concept of the class is interesting enough, Dr. Woodall has plans to keep the class fresh and relevant. Like his past classes, where he had former professional wrestlers and sci-fi television writers and authors, for television and literature, half of his class will be devoted to guest speakers such as food scholars and industry specialists. Andrew P. Haley, author of “Turning the Tables: Restaurants and Rise of the American Middle Class, 1880-1920”, will be speaking with the class via Skype, and Carole Counihan, a former Millersville University professor, will be visiting the class. Marc Summers, former host of Nickelodeon’s “Double Dare” and host of the Food Network’s “Unwrapped” will also be speaking to the class. “Marc Summers played a huge part in getting the Food Network off the ground and really knows how to glorify food and create these food fantasies,” said Dr. Woodall. “He’ll be speaking about how you can build a network with food as the focus.”

A representative from Hershey will also be speaking to the class on how to a brand and how to make it into a successful global brand. Additionally, the class will be taking a trip to York in October to view a speech from Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s, who will speak about how to promote a brand.

With this class, Dr. Woodall hopes that his students gain a better understanding of the impact and importance of food in culture and media. “The point of these Special Topics classes is to look at things in the media more critically and ask, ‘How much of an effect do these images have on us?’” said Dr. Woodall.

Dr. Woodall is already in the process of planning his next Special Topics class – Special Topics: Football and America, which will be open for the spring 2015 semester. The class will analyze the impact football has on the media, with emphasis of race, sex and gender, and he hopes to get guests speakers who have worked for the NFL.