Newest J/MS professor shows students how political satire can engage the public

By Jessica Lee —

Classroom lights go off, and a YouTube video from 2007 comes up on the big screen showing the viral classic “I Got A Crush . . . on Obama,” seen more than 120 million times since it was made by the satirical collective Barely Political.

Lauren Feldman speaks to her class about “Obama Girl.” Photo by Jessica Lee.
Lauren Feldman speaks to her class about “Obama Girl.” Photo by Jessica Lee.

As actress Amber Lee Ettinger poses and gyrates to photographs of then-candidate Barack Obama, new J/MS Assistant Professor Lauren Feldman asks students whether they think the music video might have affected the outcome of the 2008 election.

For her first course at J/MS, Feldman is teaching a lecture class of 35 about the relationship between news and entertainment and how the media has influenced public opinion and engagement with policy issues.

She is particularly interested in the less-traditional sources of political information—like political satire and opinionated cable news. Bring on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart!

Showing her class the provocative yet politically sensitive “Obama Girl” clip is very much in keeping with Feldman’s teaching style. “Be open to learning even outside of classrooms,” Feldman tells students.

Feldman comes to J/MS from the School of Communication at American University, where she was an assistant professor. She was an English major at Duke and pursued a job in publishing until she realized that publishing was not where she wanted to be.

“I worked in a textbook publishing company after I graduated, but I realized it wasn’t really a field for me,” she recalled. “I knew I didn’t want to pursue that career, especially when the publishing area is currently falling out of favor.”

It was only when she took a job in development at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute, one of the nation’s top science museums, that she decided to carve out a career in communications and writing. According to Feldman, it was just the perfect blend of the two academic fields.

University of Pennsylvania was her next stop as a graduate student to earn her masters degree and then Ph.D. in Communication.

“Graduate school really prepares you for an academic teaching career,” she said. “The Ph.D. program really helped me develop into an academic researcher as well as being a professor.”

Taught at American

While teaching at American University and acting as senior thesis project adviser, Feldman had the chance to work closely with students and enjoyed the experience. She even found satisfaction in writing recommendations, a chore most professors find tedious.

“Any student who did high quality work or pushed themselves in the class I would be happy to write a recommendation for,” Feldman noted.

Now, as the newest addition to J/MS, Feldman has an array of compliments for the vast variety of choices that the department and the School of Communication and Information provide for students.

“I love the structure of the school,” she said. “It houses many different departments under one roof.”

She appreciates that Rutgers is giving her the opportunity to collaborate with other researchers and provide the kinds of equipment and databases she needs to continue her research.

This research focuses on how partisan news media and political satire programs influence the particular perception of climate change. She hopes the findings will lead to ways to use media more effectively and communication to engage the public on the important climate change issue.