Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta may not sound famous, but the University of South Carolina is offering a course next spring devoted to her -- and the sociology of fame.
Apparently one secret to becoming famous is to change your name. Germanotta now goes by Lady Gaga.
What else accounts for the soaring popularity of the 24-year-old global phenom? The question has intrigued and inspired Mathieu Deflem, 48, a sociology professor at the University of South Carolina at Columbia, who plans to teach a course called "Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame." He believes it is the only such full-time college course in the country.
He wants to explore what makes a person famous and what being famous means in today's culture. Or, as the course description puts it: "The central objective is to unravel some of the sociologically relevant dimensions of the fame of Lady Gaga."
This course could also be called "Obsession." Dr. Deflem said he was instantly entranced with Lady Gaga when he saw her on "The Tonight Show" in January 2009. Then he went to a concert in Atlanta. That led to his traipsing after her around the world to more than 28 shows. He owns more than 300 of her records on vinyl and CD, most of which are international releases. He has started a website, gagafrontrow.net, a respectful and adoring fan site with pictures and audio downloads of rare Gaga songs.
Dr. Deflem, a native of Belgium, has met Lady Gaga five times, which was easy in the old days (last year), but now he warns on his site: "Do not contact me about how to meet Lady Gaga. I don't know. I met her during meet and greets that were organized at the concerts (during the Fame Ball tour and the early Monster Ball tour), and once, per chance, at an airport. I am not in touch with her nor with her management.)
Still, he harbors hope that she might visit his class. "I will get the word out to her that I'm doing the course," he said, "but it might be logistically too difficult for her to come" because she will be on tour for most of the spring semester.
Her tour includes Atlanta, however, which is about a three-hour drive from Columbia. Perhaps the course will include a class trip.