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Not Just Entertainment

Celeste Lacroix, communication professor

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If its come out on TV or DVD, chances are Celeste Lacroix has an opinion about it.

This communication professor makes it her business to see beyond the superficial in today's entertainment, and to analyze the messages popular media sends.

Consider her complaint that "Gossip Girls," "Mean Girls" and "The Real Housewives of Orange County" give young women the idea that women are biologically encoded to be "backstabbing, evil and catty."

Or that Showtime's "Dexter," which follows serial killer Dexter Morgan as he stalks other serial killers, is rare in that it features a father serving as the protagonist's "moral compass." That's a big difference from the typical, bumbling television father sprung from the molds of Homer Simpson and Archie Bunker.

Or that "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" promotes a false sense of tolerance for homosexuals, given that the gay men are briefly brought in to improve a heterosexual's decor and wardrobe, before leaving to observe their changes from a television in a loft. The gay men are deified, according to her, for being able to arrange furniture or choose an outfit. And "while they're put on a pedestal, they're still separated," Lacroix says.

Her deep analyses beg the question: Why pay so much attention to what some consider pop fluff?

"People spend more time with television shows than communicating with their own families," Lacroix explains.

And, she says, people start believing that what they see is real.

Speaking of "Gossip Girls," "Mean Girls" and similar shows, Lacroix says that girls "see these depictions over and over again and say, 'Wow! This must be what women are like.'"

Students in Lacroix's classes write their own media criticisms on popular entertainment, and they're encouraged to publish their work and present it at conferences. That way, Lacroix says, students can say "I'm not just hanging out at a party and saying my opinion. I've engaged in a systematic critique of something and now I have something to share."

One recent student wrote about the rationalization of violence in the films "Mystic River" and "Gone Baby Gone." Another analyzed the musical score to the series "Planet Earth" and how it evokes the relationship between predator and prey. Still other students wrote about the use of the word pimp in rap music and the evolution of the vampire.

All of it fascinates Lacroix.

"Some of the most rewarding work I do is meeting with students in my office about the projects they're working on," she says. "It's incredibly time-consuming to grade these papers at the end of the semester. But I'm never bored."