Shaina McGeth gives her presentation on Celebrity Worship Syndrome during the last day of EAM 365 last term.
This piece is part of the DrexelNow series showcasing "A Day in the Class" for some of Drexel University's most interesting and impactful courses.
Shaina McGeth has an intense obsession with Taylor Swift.
In fact, she would admit that her obsession falls into the intermediate, “intense-personal” level of Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS). With this disorder, a person becomes overly involved with the details of a celebrity’s personal and professional life — like when McGeth, a fourth-year entertainment & arts management major, ranted about Swift being “snubbed” at the Grammys.
“I worship her, but not to the point that I should be arrested,” McGeth said matter-of-factly. “I think all us have a little celebrity worship in us.”
McGeth knows this, and was able to explore this topic, not just in her free time. Rather, she presented on CWS as her final project in her EAM 365 class, titled “Media & Entertainment Business” and offered through the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design’s Entertainment & Arts Management (EAM) program. Mirroring McGeth’s devotion to Swift, the class’s loose structure and diversity of what it covers allows students from Westphal and across the University to study their media obsessions — everything from cartoon and animation to the film industry’s production code and advertising.
“This class gives them exposure to the business side of all those fields,” said Larry Epstein, a professor in Westphal and the former head of the Department of Arts & Entertainment Enterprise, who teaches the class once per academic year. “They have a natural curiosity about these things and the business side of it and we teach them how to make a living in the field. I think that's why a lot of students come into the EAM program.”
Outside of final projects, Epstein employs a number of tactics throughout the semester to both explain the evolution of the American entertainment industry and connect that history with the current trends that are shaping the industry’s future — and do so in an engaging way. The first tactic is, rather than assigning a textbook, Epstein has students read and evaluate several case studies on everything from Twitter to Spotify to Pokémon Go.
“Whenever we do a case study — we do about one a week — everybody says something,” Epstein said about the way this promotes class participation — a primary grading factor for the course. “If you talk to any other teachers, getting 100 percent participation doesn't happen much. … So, I find the case study method very effective.”
Samantha Frazzetto, a third-year EAM student planning to graduate early, said case studies made the class material more accessible and provided valuable insight that the students wouldn’t get otherwise.
“These are all things in our lives that we don’t really think about, but that impact the jobs we want to get,” she said.
Second, Epstein starts a TV ratings exercise that carries through from the beginning of the term to the end. He has students watch trailers for a number of new shows coming out on big broadcast networks and the students vote as a class on which will be successful, or which will likely get cancelled before the end of the term.
The purpose of this exercise, Epstein said, is to not only better understand the TV rating system, but to also teach the students that not every media-consuming audience member is like them. This became apparent in a big upset in the predictions this term around the show “God Friended Me” on CBS. The class was sure it would tank, but it actually received a full season order within a month of its debut.
“Not everybody votes in elections the way you voted and not everybody watches the same TV shows. As a matter of fact, I would guess that most of the shows we look at, because they’re on traditional network TV, most of the students in the room don't watch, whereas network television is still much more popular in terms the number of hours people consume than streaming,” Epstein said. “And so, I want them to be exposed to that.”
Lastly, Epstein draws from connections gleaned in his more than 25 years in television broadcasting management roles to bring in guest speakers. This semester, the students talked with a number of relevant executives including Chris Palo, executive director of video for Time Inc./ Meredith Corp., and Westphal’s own Dean Allen Sabinson, former senior vice president of programming for A&E.
And some of these lecturers don’t just bring their expertise to class. McGeth was able to connect with Vince Damiani EAM ’13, a producer and director and co-owner of Philadelphia-based production company All That’s Good TV, for future production assistant opportunities after he offered the students the opportunity to apply for internships following his lecture.
“It was really great to network with him and have him in the arsenal for future opportunities,” McGeth said. “It’s nice that students are able to reach out to guest speakers that we had.”
At the end of final project presentations on the last day of class last term, Epstein made sure to tell students to connect with him and keep in touch. Facilitating the right connections to get students further in their careers and better prepare them for those careers upon graduation is one of the key components of this class and EAM programming at Drexel as a whole, he said.
“Now the fun starts because you don’t have to think of me as your teacher at this point, but someone who can help you in a variety of ways in terms of your academic career, your professional career and your efforts to find your professional path,” he said to the students.
McGeth said Epstein is a great person and teacher, and that she would recommend the class to the entire student body because it gives you “a little bit of everything.”
Frazzetto said Epstein is a tough grader, but a great teacher that she’s enjoyed having multiple classes with. She added that having students from different majors in classes like this widens the discussion and allows everyone involved to think about things in different ways.
“It’s a really great class to understand what goes into the media that we consume and how that impacts us on a day-to-day basis without realizing it,” she said.